Nazi zombies spill out onto Blu-ray, Eurocine-style, in Jess Franco’s OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES.
Robert Blabert (Manuel Gélin, ONE DEADLY SUMMER), a French student studying in London, discovers his true heritage upon the death of his father Captain Blabert (Javier Maiza, DIAMONDS OF KILAMANJARO). In WWII, Blabert and his men were ordered to intercept one of Rommel’s convoys (footage from Alfredo Rizzo’s HEROES WITHOUT GLORY/I GIARDINI DEL DIAVOLO intercut with Maiza and other extras running around firing guns and hurling grenades out of the frame). Blabert, injured in the ambush at the Drour el Ousour oasis, was the only survivor and was nursed back to health by a sheik (Franco regular Antonio Mayans, REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER) and his lovely daughter Aicha (Doris Regina, CAPTIVE WOMEN). It was not until the war that Blabert discovered that the ambushed convoy was carrying millions of dollars in gold (six million on the English track, sixteen million on the French) and that Aicha had died in labor giving birth to his child. Robert and his college friends Sylvie (Caroline Audret), Ronald (Eric Viellard, THE LADY AND THE DUKE, who looks like the actor who played Rusty in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION), and Ahmed (Miguel Ángel Aristu, PICK UP GIRLS) decide to go in search of his sheik grandfather to find out the location of the oasis and the treasure (despite the legend that the dead Nazi soldiers still guard the gold). They are not alone, since former German officer Kurt (Henri Lambert, TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS) – who murdered Robert’s father to find out the where the convoy was intercepted – and his comely partner (Myriam Landson) have already made it there and have discovered that the legend is true. Despite the warnings of the sheik, Robert and his friends – along with anthropologist Professor Zanicken (Albino Graziani, MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD), student Erika (France Jordan, CECILIA), and his film crew – head off to the oasis in search of gold and find terror.
Franco is on auto-pilot for the most part here, seeming to care very little for the principal young characters or the zombies for that matter (portions of the film were reportedly directed by producer Marius Laseour, presumably the “London” scenes while the oasis stuff was shot by Franco since a number of his 1980s Spanish films were shot in the Canary Islands during this period). Gelin (son of actor Daniel Gelin, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) isn’t a particularly involving lead (who should be twenty-plus years older if the film is actually set in 1982), and it’s just as well that softcore/hardcore actress Jordan gets billing over Robert’s love interest Audret who makes no impression at all. The elder cast of Lambert and Maiza – as well as Mayans (too young to have a grown daughter in the flashbacks, and not made to look old enough in the present day scenes with some toothpaste combed into his hair) who also served as production manager – have a certain degree of poise, and Franco seems to respect that. The only scenes which exhibit some of Franco’s style (and he does have some) are the flashbacks and some of the desert island vistas. Gore is limited to some dabs of blood, and some animal entrails lifted up from a zombie feast (the head of another feasting zombie is conveniently in the foreground so the make-up artist did not have to bother fashioning a wound), and the zombie make-up is slightly advanced over the greasepaint of Eurocine’s earlier entry ZOMBIE LAKE (1981) with the exception of one decayed face which appears to actually be a puppet-head rather than a make-up application. The credited cinematographer is Max Monteillet (LIVING DEAD GIRL) and he probably shot the Laseour-directed footage while Franco’s scenes were shot by the director himself and his regular Spanish DP/supporting actor during the 1980s Juan Soler Cozar (MACUMBA SEXUAL). Franco regular Daniel White’s score appears to consist mainly of organ noodlings for the “suspense” and “horror” scenes with the rest filled in by what sounds like Musee de l'Homme archival recordings of Middle Eastern music (starting with the main title sequence).
OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES was one of a handful of Eurocine titles to be picked up by Charles Band in the early 1980s for his big-box Wizard Video line with an attractive if misleading cover. That fullscreen transfer looked rather rough even though it was produced so close to the time of the film’s production (likely an effect of Laseour’s careless photography of his scenes, the condition of the war stock footage, and the shooting conditions for the Canary Island desert scenes). In the late 1980s, Trans World Entertainment (then distributing a number of Band’s Empire Pictures productions) re-released the film on VHS as BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES (presumably this release served as the basis for Cheezy Flick’s unauthorized DVD-R release). Presumably Films Around the World somehow wound up with limited rights to this film since it is their digitized tape master – which features the original English title card rather than Wizard’s replacement one – that streams on Netflix alongside the superior (albeit decade-old) SD digital versions of the other Eurocine Franco titles. Image’s 2001 DVD featured an improved – though not by much – anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) PAL-converted transfer with English and French mono tracks (no subtitles unfortunately). The only extra touted on the back cover as an English language title sequence, but the titles on the feature presentation were already in English and there were no other extras to be found other than brief liner notes on the one-sided chapter insert.
Redemption’s 1080p24 widescreen (1.66:1) master appears to be taken from the same 35mm element as the earlier transfer, with the same damage; but it unfolds at its intended framerate with superior detail (where there is some to be found as many of the sunny desert exteriors include close-ups of faces without any kind of fill lighting). The presentation does begin with a French language age advisory, and the English language credits seem to have been newly laid onto the background (the ugly frame tear that appeared during the editor credit on the Image disc occurs during the continuity playbook on the new transfer) and the credits for “special effects” and Éclair laboratory have been omitted. The same splices and jitter are evident (particularly during the flashbacks both in the stock footage and original footage) while some damage is less pronounced but still present. The same damage appears in Wizard’s cropped transfer, suggesting the same element has been used for all of them or the handling and processing of the film at the time of post-production was really crappy. The Wizard tape did however have a slight footage difference from the Image and Redemption versions. After the opening credits end in the latter versions, the camera pans across the city shot before cutting away to the exterior of Blabert’s Tripoli residence. On the Wizard tape, the pan was omitted and instead there were three quick additional shots of the oasis before the cut to Tripoli.
Brightness levels spoil the “midnight” desert scenes (shadowed daytime shots look more convincing). Detail, however, is improved enough to reveal some nice close-ups and medium shots (although the focus is simply off in a couple shots, particularly one of the first close-ups of Mayans where his eyes are distractingly out of focus). English and French tracks are included again – in LPCM 2.0 – but Redemption have also been thoughtful enough to include optional English subtitles (and the film certainly plays more seriously in French – especially when the name Robert Blabert is pronounced with the appropriate accent – with subtitles). The English subtitles also clarify some plot points: during Kurt’s death scene he does a lot of crying and shouting as he staggers around; however, on the French track he mentions the oasis, the living dead, and Blabert which explains how Robert is able to ascertain that Kurt has something to do with his father and the treasure.
A trailer has been floating around the web that bears the title THE OASIS OF THE LIVING DEAD – in the same lettering used by Eurocine for the title cards of CANNIBAL TERROR, the DEMONIAC cut of EXORCISM, as well as the French and English versions of ZOMBIE LAKE; but the title on the trailer (2:58) included here is OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, although the content appears to be the same. Trailers for ZOMBIE LAKE, FEMALE VAMPIRE and EXORCISM/DEMONIAC are also included. Sadly absent from this Blu-ray is the Spanish edit of the film LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVENTES. That cut featured a slightly different edit of the opening sequence (the titles appeared over a reveal of one the zombies’ faces) and replaced all of the scenes featuring Lambert and Landson with versions of the scenes with Eduardo Fajardo (LISA AND THE DEVIL) and Lina Romay (FEMALE VAMPIRE) in the same roles. These scenes were shot afterwards since Fajardo never shares the frame with the other French actors. The Spanish version also featured an alternate score by Daniel White and Jess Franco under their joint Pablo Villa pseudonym. Franco also served as editor, while Romay is credited as assistant editor. The Spanish version has only been released on VHS and non-anamorphic letterbox DVD in Spain (evidently, Eurocine have all rights but the Spanish ones). (Eric Cotenas)
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