Review Date: February 15, 2013
Released by: Redemption Films
Release date: February 26, 2013
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Full Frame 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
Originally they arose from the waters, sending shock waves of terror amongst unsuspecting visitors on a remote island. Then they once again emerged from the depths but this time attacking a female basketball team taking a dip in a pond-sized lake. And finally, after the waters had dried up and only now appeared as a mirage under the heat of the sun, they have decided to dig their way back to the surface through the billions of minute grains of the sands. These are a rare breed of zombie who have only surfaced these three times before their reawakening to the screen in 2006. Forever cursed, forever hated, forever dead and undead, this is the oh-so-barren horror sub-genre of the Nazi Zombie. And in this deserted oasis of zombie film history one man's name is attached to two of these early entries, the Jean Rollin-directed Zombie Lake
and his own attempt behind the lens, Oasis of the Zombies
Jess Franco's Oasis of the Zombies
is a unique film for the director, here seemingly influenced to continue on the Nazi zombie genre after writing Zombie Lake
. Prolific for handling multiple productions over the course of a year, sometimes even surpassing the volume Uwe Boll might pump out these days, Franco was an auteur. And an auteur no matter how rushed his productions were. Mostly working in genres dealing with eroticism, or blending in eroticism, it is quite unusual to find the director working strictly in horror and not blurring the line too much. Taking cues from his friend Jean Rollin and wrapping his film deeply in atmosphere, Jess Franco, here under one of his many pseudonyms as A.M. Frank, takes us on a journey for the treasure of the living dead in Oasis of the Zombies
Oasis of the Zombies
opens with a French title card that warns that the film may not be suitable for those under the age of 13. This is amusing because the majority of Franco's output is fairly adult-orientated. Two young women in leotards and short-shorts take their red Suzuki, which is covered in oversized stickers representing JVC and the VHS logo on the hood, 300 miles into the African desert (aka the Canary Islands, a popular Franco film locale). Here for some sight-seeing, the ladies wander too far into an oasis and disturb whatever it is that lies below. Trudging through the sand amongst the palms they spot various relics from dilapidated military vehicles but fail to recognize the swastika clearly displayed on an orphaned truck door. But by then it is already too late and they are attacked by these undead Nazi zombies.
After the opening credits we meet the burly Kurt (Henri Lambert
) and his wife Ingrid. While she waits outside, Kurt pays a visit to his acquaintance Captain Balbert to find out the location of an oasis where supposedly a treasure of six million worth in gold awaits undisturbed below the sand. This treasure was being extracted by a small German squadron occupying the region in 1943 and only Balbert knows of it's possible whereabouts. After some small talk, Balbert reveals the location on a map and Kurt stabs him in the hand with a poison-tipped pen. And with a few pumps of the pen's plunger Balbert drops dead.
Meanwhile back in London, Robert Balbert (Manuel Gélin
) learns of his father's death after he is delivered a note on the college campus he is attending. He also learns from the letter of his father's history, the secret about the gold, and that he single-handedly took on a battalion of tanks and German soldiers in the African desert and escaped alive (most of this flashback is cut together with lower-quality stock footage from a 1971 Italian war film called I giardini del diavolo)
. After stumbling around the dunes and passing out, Balbert was rescued by a group travelling on camelback and taken to a nearby Sheik's (Antonio Mayans
) palace. Robert, upon reading his deceased father's hidden revelations, is startled to also learn of somer rather personal family news.
Robert relays the news of the buried gold to his college friends and they decide that six million is more important than writing their exams, so the four of them hop on a plane to the sandy locale to begin the treasure hunt. Meanwhile the double-crossing Kurt and his team are already out digging at the location. After arriving and sight-seeing through some local bazaars the college kids wind up meeting some documentarians and run into Erika (France Lomay
), a professor's intern or doctor of some kind, that gets called away to check out a sick European who turns out to be Kurt going through the motions and mumbling Blabert's name. Robert hears this and demands to know where this oasis is. “He met the walking dead” utters one of the locals.
Robert and his friends now find some further information about the location through a much closer relative of Robert's and journey out towards the oasis in search for the treasure, but instead are greeted with rotting arms by the living Nazi dead, some with horribly applied liquid latex faces. With death reaching up from below the sand-swept dunes, Robert and his friends will have to employ some tactics they learned back on campus to survive. Will they uncover the gold before they too return to the sands of time?
Oasis of the Zombies
features some stunning locations and better shot composition than a fair share of Jess Franco's work, but it does move at a snail's pace with minimal dialogue and little action, but that's not always a bad thing here. The actors are all competent enough and no one is excruciatingly terrible, although some of their hair styles are a hilarious bad. Such as Ronald (Eric Viellard
), who sports one of the worst mop-tops ever. There are no real Franco regulars here and he seems to be trying something new, even if it doesn't fully pay off in the end.
With it's minimal story structure, Jess Franco lets his camera linger capturing the characters interacting in their surroundings, whether they are walking around, having a conversation, or the sand is just rolling over the dunes. Production design is also more subdued and balanced than you'd expect considering the budget, even with lots of desert hues mixed in with the bright contrast of '80s style. Oasis of the Zombies
, now glimpsed in high definition, looks like a fairly well prepared Jess Franco production and doesn't appear to be as rushed as some of his canon. It's definitely not for everyone, and most people seem to give it a pass, but it may be worth revisiting for those willing to give it another shot. The film also seems to draw more from the French-influenced horror genre, with a ghostly ethereal atmosphere rather then mounting zombie terror. This may be another off-putting stylistic choice that some viewers may not be in the mood for, but I think actually benefits the film. It's not really violent, it's not scary, and there isn't a whole lot of zombie mayhem, but it manages to still create a somewhat memorable tale of Nazi zombies determined to protect their stolen fortune.
Oasis of the Zombies
is presented in a widescreen aspect ration of 1.66:1 in full 1080P HD. Redemption Films' transfer of this archive negative, like their other Blu-ray titles so far, presents the film quite authentic to their original elements and looks fantastic in motion. The image is crisp and clear and doesn't feature a whole lot of post clean-up, so film grain is strong and prevalent, scratches and specs present, and the occasional brief warp during some of the scenes. Colours seem natural and black levels are well balanced. As noted above, Oasis of the Zombies
does feature some inserted stock footage from another film, and this footage is clearly a step down in quality compared to the originally shot elements, looking much muddier, scratched up, and having slightly less definition. Overall this is another extremely impressive transfer from Redemption Films and I hope they continue to put this much love into these lesser loved or discovered films when presenting them in HD, making sure they look authentic without overly touching them up in post.
Audio options allow you to select either the original French audio or the English dubbed version, both tracks are uncompressed linear PCM 2.0. Seeing as this film was never meant to surround the viewer in sound these stereo tracks are ample enough, both sound clean and clear. Daniel White's musical score offers a slight ethnic flavour in key tracks, while most is used to create an ethereal atmosphere with vibrating and pulsating organ sounds. Dialogue, sound effects, and music are all well balanced and nothing gets lost in the mix.
If you were indeed looking for gold in this oasis, you'd be a fool. It would have been nice if they included the alternate Spanish cut entitled La tumba de los muertos vivientes
which included extra scenes staring Lina Romay, but sadly it's not. The only special features to be found here is the film's original theatrical trailer presented in glorious high definition along with other high-def trailers for Redemption’s other currently released Franco films such as Female Vampire
, and the Jean Rollin-directed Zombie Lake
. The Oasis
trailer features some hilariously odd music cues including that of some '60s-esque French pop near the beginning and lines from the English dubbed dialogue including “Your fly is open.” Easy to read English subtitles round out the package.
Oasis of the Zombies
was a film that I found extremely boring and tedious upon my first viewing some years ago. I was at first hesitant to revisit the film, but after getting to know Jess Franco's signature style and growing to appreciate his aesthetics I was hoping to have my opinion changed. Oasis of the Zombies
is still tedious and slow, but it was nowhere near as excruciatingly horrible as I remembered it being. Featuring latex-caked zombies with earthworms on their faces and rotting eye sockets, the Nazi zombies here are actually quite original and grotesque even though the gore in the film is very minimal, and Franco actually takes a bit of a detour from his typical style by taking more of a nod from Rollin's work and it at times breaches on arthouse rather than grindhouse. It's actually not terribly paced if you can get involved in the story and although it doesn't contain Franco's expected sleaze or eroticism, Oasis of the Zombies
is surprisingly atmospheric despite being fairly watered down and unfocused. Containing some alright performances by the competent enough cast and some great locations the film fits well in the Nazi zombie cannon, with both previous entries containing similarly slow set-ups and pay offs. Not Franco's best work by a long shot, but still a work distinctly different for his usual output. However, if you don't enjoy Jess Franco or have no knowledge of his work going in, Oasis of the Zombies
will be more than a chore for the uninitiated to sit through.
Movie - C
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - D
- Running time – 85 minutes
- 1 Disc (Blu-ray)
- French LPCM 2.0
- English LPCM 2.0
- English Subtitles
- Oasis of the Zombies theatrical trailer
- Female Vampire theatrical trailer
- Exorcism/Demoniac theatrical trailer
- Zombie Lake theatrical trailer