Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
French filmmaker Jean Rollin left behind a legacy of fantastique films with his signature poetic flourishes, such as The Rape of the Vampire. His 1981 film Zombie Lake, however, is devoid of any creativity or poetic trimmings. It is simply a cheap zombie movie with lots of t&a peppered throughout. Kino/Redemption released Zombie Lake the same day as Jess Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies. That’s certainly no coincidence since they’re pretty much the same movie in different makeup. Both feature Nazi zombies, a bastard child, and World War II. Both movies are crappy and terribly slow, but I did enjoy Zombie Lake a bit more thanks to its frequent zombie attacks and colorful small-town characters.
The story goes back to Nazi-occupied France. The German forces are stomping their ugly boots through a small village when one of the soldiers saves a local woman from a mortar attack. Because love knows no allegiance, the French woman and the Nazi solider make love in the hay. When he returns with his troop nine months later, he discovers that the French woman he banged has suffered complications during childbirth. On her deathbed, she gives the soldier a terribly cheap looking necklace as a token of her appreciation. “You Nazis rolled through my village and killed a bunch of people. Then we banged and now I’m dying from giving birth to your bastard. Here, take this necklace.” Before the Nazis can leave the village, a force of French resistance fighters slaughtered them all and rolled their corpses in the lake.
The village’s mayor tells this convoluted yet tender tale to a journalist interested in writing a story about the “damned lake.” Ever since the incident the lake has been supposedly cursed. We already know it is because the film opens with a Nazi zombies emerging from the lake and killing a naked woman. They seem to have a taste for females who are either naked or in their bikinis. It’s their comfort food. So they bumble around town eating women in various stages of undress and that’s basically the movie.
There’s a tortuously corny subplot involving the soldier from the flashback who’s now a zombie. He finds his illegitimate daughter who recognizes the cheap necklace he’s wearing from a picture of her mother. They hold hands and look fondly at each other. He probably smells awful but that doesn’t seem to bother her. Seeing his daughter brings back the humanity in him and he helps the townsfolk defeat the undead horde. But, let’s be honest, it’s really about naked girls getting eaten.
Rollin’s zombies are some of the most hilarious I’ve ever seen. They’re all painted turtle green but they all have the same heads of hair they dead when they died. The contrast looks absolutely ridiculous. The paint isn’t waterproof either, so when they slog themselves outta the lake it’s all runny and patchy. Because of the heavy makeup around their eye sockets, their eyes look enormous like they’re surprised all the time.
What the movie does have going for it is that it doesn’t feel remotely like a standard zombie movie that’s simply biting Romero. This distinctive vibe could’ve originated from Rollin’s own style, but it feels more like he just had no clue how to make a zombie movie. It was a departure for him that didn’t pay off. I also like the villagers, who have a surly authenticity about them. The pace and dull story absolutely kill the film for me though. Zombie completists will definitely want to check out, but for those hoping for a scare, look away.
Kino/Redemption Films presents Zombie Lake in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. Like with their Oasis of the Zombies release, there is no digital correction – the minimal amount of dirt, specks, and scratches were left in tact. The colors look great and all of the imperfections serve to enhance the film’s sliminess. The 2.0 audio is free of any noteworthy disturbances and sounds fine.
ENGLISH VERSION OF THE FRENCH TITLE SEQUENCE for some reason.
ALTERNATE SCENES: two scenes that were edited for television in which bikinis were added to the females who are nude in the uncut version.
TRAILERS for Zombie Lake, Oasis of the Zombies, Rape of the Vampire, and Demoniacs.