A decade on from the end of the Nazi occupation of France, a small rural town finds itself engaged in another war. A platoon of dead German soldiers are beginning to return from their unholy water grave – a cursed lake where the Spanish Inquisition held black masses and sacrificed children to appease evil spirits that would rise up in search of fresh blood.
At first, the town’s Mayor (Howard Vernon) refuses to take action, despite reported attacks on local women and the instance of a city journalist to investigate. But when a women’s basketball team is massacred and a local homicide squad arrives, the Mayor rally the townspeople to drive the Nazi soldiers into a infernal trap…
This 1981 Spanish-French horror film, which is also known as Le lac des morts vivants, was supposed to have been directed by Jesus Franco. But when he bailed Jean Rollin (Female Vampire) was roped in to put it together. But it’s a soggy mess.
Franco favourite Howard Vernon looks so bored as the Mayor of a picture postcard but deadly dull French town lives in a castle folly decorated in gargoyles; while the locals (made up of extras) seem to spend every waking moment in the town’s one and only tavern.
Lime green makeup is the only attempt at special make-up for the film’s zombies, so they end up looking like a bunch of Shreks in Nazi clobber – and certainly pale beside Shock Waves’ genuinely scary barnacle encrusted Storm troopers (that film’s highlight).
Interestingly, the zombie attacks come off as quite sexual, with lots of passionate kissing rather than any primal flesh tearing. Given Rollin’s penchant for eroticism, I wonder if this was his only creative contribution to the film, which some off a bit Benny Hill in its ludicrous attempts at titillation by chucking in nudity at every turn.
In a riff on Frankenstein and little Maria from the Universal classic, there’s a side story in which Helena (Anouchka), the 10-year-old daughter of one of the Nazi zombies befriends her undead dad (Pierre-Marie Escourrou, TV’s Une femme d’honneur) who ends up having to protect her from his bloodthirsty pals. This is actually more interesting than the main story, and provides the film with a moving (read: melodramatic) ending in which little Helena helps to release her dad’s restless spirit from its eternal torment.
The last 20-minutes sees the zombies walk very slowly into an ambush to the tune of an avant-garde score made up of drum and a harpsichord. It’s a bizarre choice, and just as patchy as the film as the music ranges from some melodramatic piano and string to jaunty la la la tunes every time there’s a nude swimming scene. And when the screen isn’t swelling with muzak, the incessant birdcalls are really grating.
Which leaves me with this last question: How would you react if your dead Nazi soldier dad came back as a pond dwelling green-tinged zombie?
Zombie Lake is out on DVD in the UK from Screenbound & Black House Films