Nazi zombies declare war on nubile French girls in Eurocine's and Jean Rollin’s waterlogged ZOMBIE LAKE.
When a girl who went skinny-dipping in the local lake fails to return, the mayor (Howard Vernon) and villagers of a small French town fear the worst; and their fears are confirmed when another girl turns up with her throat ripped open. Katya (Marcia Sharif), a nosy journalist, turns up in the village looking for the background story on the “Lake of the Damned”. The mayor happily informs her that, during WWII (cue stock footage intercut with the locals darting around the woods), the locals ambushed a bunch of Nazi occupiers and dumped their bodies in the lake; now, it seems that they have risen from the waters for revenge (mainly targeting the village’s comelier residents, as well as a volleyball troupe who conveniently turn up for some nude frolicking). The key to stopping the fairly subdued zombie onslaught may be Helena (Anouchka, daughter of producer Daniel Laseour and wife Ilona Kunesova, who is credited with continuity on a number of Eurocine productions), the illegitimate daughter of one of the now-zombified soldiers (Pierre-Marie Escourrou) and a local girl (Nadine Pascal, Franco’s EXORCISM) whose welfare seems to cause a schism in the blood-drinking ranks.
The production history of ZOMBIE LAKE is fairly muddled. It began with Jess Franco slated as director, but – according to Robert Monell, who interviewed Franco about the film – the director balked at the story and location changes required by the shrinking budget (Franco reportedly conceived of a Nazi zombie story with his favorite Dr. Orloff character somehow involved, and scouted locations in Switzerland). Jean Rollin was quickly hustled into the director’s chair (accounts of additional direction by Spanish director Julian de Lasema may be a Spanish co-production concession, but Franco regular Antonio Mayans shows up as one of the zombies). Whoever was ultimately responsible for the project (Franco is credited with the story under the pseudonym “A.L. Mariaux”) certainly cannot be accused of being over-ambitious with no budget (Rollin pops up as a detective, and was probably thankful that few outside of France's "Midi-Minuit Fantastique" crowd would have recognized his face at the time). The only professionalism comes effortlessly from Vernon who not only dubs himself in the English version, but plays the entire thing with a straight face. What beauty there is in the photography is the result of the locations rather than Max Monteillet’s – who also shot Rollin’s LIVING DEAD GIRL – flat photography; and the green greasepaint zombie make-up not only doesn’t cover the necks and wrists of the zombies – who possess none of the menace of SHOCK WAVES’ similarly waterlogged zombie super-soldiers – it also can be seen peeling off of their faces once they’ve emerged from the water. Daniel White provides a loungy title theme (appropriate to the skinny-dipping prologue), but the bulk of the score is made up of dissonant cues from THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (and probably ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN) with White’s romantic FEMALE VAMPIRE theme trotted out for the scenes with Anouchka and her zombie father. Pretty much any review of ZOMBIE LAKE points out that soldier’s daughter should be middle-aged rather than a school-age girl; however, the French track reveals that the present day part of the story is actually set only ten years after the war. The problem is that the filmmakers seem to have taken no effort to set the film in the 1950s (not only do the clothes look more recent, reporter Katia runs around the village with a 1970s-era Nikon camera).
Like OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (and several other Eurocine titles), ZOMBIE LAKE was picked up by Charles Band for his big-box Wizard Video rental line. When Image released the film on DVD in 2001, Eurocine provided them with an attractive – albeit PAL-converted – 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer with English and French audio options (no subtitles sadly); however, the source used featured a credit-less version of the opening sequence onto which Eurocine added computer generated versions of French credits in a plain font (and with an error or two) and the title LES LAC DES MORTS VIVANTS. Redemption’s new 1080p24 widescreen (1.65:1) transfer features the original French title sequence opticals, although the onscreen title here is LES LAC DES ZOMBIES – also the title on the accompanying French trailer – even though all of the vintage French poster art online use the MORTS VIVANTS title. The same print source appears to have been used for the HD transfer; so detail is improved and the colors are a bit more vibrant. The same dupey seconds-long patch of footage in the previous transfer when Vernon greets the reporter is also on view here, but ZOMBIE LAKE seems to have always (undeservedly) been one of Eurocine’s best-preserved titles. English and French audio options are included again – here in LPCM 2.0 mono – but Redemption has thoughtfully provided English subtitles. The French track with subtitles is definitely the least painful listening option, although you’ll lose one crotchety local inquiring of the missing girl “Didn’t she tell you… where the fuck she was going?” (one wonders whether Eurocine’s English dubbers were having fun where they could on the likely low-paying assignment). When Katya asks the mayor about “The Lake of the Damned”, he responds on both tracks that the real name is “The Goddamned Lake”; however, the French track makes it sound like a cursed place while the English track makes it sound like a local attractive nuisance.
Like the Image DVD, Redemption includes covered takes for two of the film’s nude scenes for the television version: the opening skinny dipping (2:02) and the volleyball frolick/attack (3:58). The English ZOMBIES’ LAKE title sequence (2:32) unfolds over the shots of the girl arriving at the lake and stripping down as it did on the Wizard tape (although that tape replaced the title card with a video-generated ZOMBIE LAKE title card against a static frame background). The English credits on the Image DVD were for the TV version, so the titles just unfolded on a black screen (apparently no covered take of the opening was shot). The trailer on the Image DVD seemed unfinished as it unfolded without any credits, but Redemption’s disc features the same assembly (in English and French, and both running the same 2:55 length) with the “Eurocine presents” (or “presente” in the French version) and their respective ZOMBIES’ LAKE and LE LAC DES ZOMBIES title cards. Trailers for Jess Franco’s OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, as well as Jean Rollin’s THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE and THE DEMONIACS round out the package. If ZOMBIE LAKE is really your idea of a guilty pleasure, then there’s really no better way of seeing it than Redemption’s Blu-ray. (Eric Cotenas)
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