Oasis of the Zombies (1982)
"There's no rest for the wicked in the desert of the living dead"
A group of students searching for treasure buried by the German army in the African desert during WWII comes up against an army of Nazi zombies guarding the fortune.
Not content with letting fellow Euro exploitation director Jean Rollin butcher the Nazi zombie sub-genre with the abomination that was Zombie Lake, Jesus Franco (who wrote Zombie Lake and was originally slated to direct) took his turn in the director's seat with Oasis of the Zombies It seems to have been a race between the pair to see who could make the worst zombie film ever made. In the defence of Franco, there are two distinct cuts of this film and the one most readily available is the French cut, which is the one I've reviewed here. The Spanish cut, named Treasure of the Living Dead, is a rare find and reportedly has an extra twenty minutes of footage, different cast (Lina Romay is credited as appearing but is not in the French cut at all!) and more effective gore. However the French cut has sixteen minutes of footage not used in the Spanish cut and filmed by someone else. Confused? In the end, I don't think it would matter which cut you saw as both versions utilise the bulk of the same material...and said material is ropey.
Oasis of the Zombies is a poor film, if not an overly terrible one - hard to really decide which is worse between this and Zombie Lake. It never once promises to capture the exploitative idea of Nazi zombies guarding a horde of gold in the middle of the desert, with the plot largely just revolving around that central concept without knowing how to approach it. The execution is highly clunky, perhaps as a result of the obvious low budget that Franco was forced to work with and the limits to what he could actually do on location (the Canary Islands not doubling very well for the African deserts). But then he is guilty of his usual pitfalls - unnecessary zooms, out-of-focus shots and close-ups of eyes - which add absolutely nothing to the film, as well as plenty of jarring day-for-night photography. It's all very good having a trademark 'style' (if you can call it that) but it needs to add something to the picture. Franco seems to have been too busy indulging in his tricks without looking at the sum of his parts, which is literally zero.
Oasis of the Zombies is talky but how else were they going to fill the massive amounts of time between zombie appearances? There are lots of dialogue scenes of people talking monotonously to each other, well away from the oasis in the comfort of the urban locations, and as many travelogue scenes of people eventually walking across sand.....lots of sand. Even at a slim running time of eighty-two minutes, this seems like shameless padding. There is a long flashback scene which takes up a lot of the middle section, featuring Germans fighting, driving tanks and being blown up in a desert battle. You may think this is where the budget went but it's culled from a film called Heroes Without Glory. Besides which, I want to see zombies, not Saving Private Ryan. At least the desert locations provide a sense of isolation for the film and it makes a change from being stuck in woods or desolated cities and being chased by zombies. The only remotely decent shot Franco pulls off is one of the zombies' silhouettes shuffling down the sand dunes towards the camp against the setting sun. It's a hint at the potential that could have been tapped a little further with the location.
Oasis of the Zombies has a cast of characters so dull that by the time they get to the oasis, there's little distinguishing who gets attacked and when. And you won't care. There's just no energy or drive to make anything exciting. Even worse is that Franco doesn't even live up to his usual exploitative ways here. There's little in the way of gratuitous nudity, a lack of any sort of sleaze and perversion of any kind and a total absence of pushing any sort of boundaries which at least his earlier Euro-horrors do. It's almost as if Franco is clueless when it comes to proper horror films without the writhing orgies of women undressing before him. Take for instance the opening scene in which two nubile young women get out of their jeep to stretch their legs in the oasis. Any other Franco film and they'd have been going at it hammer and tongs in the sand!
It's no coincidence that Oasis of the Zombies' best moments are when the titular fiends are on the screen. Blink and you'll miss them as they're not in it for much, save for the pre-credits scene, another scene midway through and the finale - two middling attack scenes in total. The zombie make-up is well done, with a few of the corpses looking more decomposed and mutilated than others, with just a hint of Fulci about them. They slowly walk around and swarm their victims, though they do have to rely on said victim's ability to trip over at inappropriate times or their stupidity to just stand there and wait to die. But that's it, we barely see anything remotely gory. No money shots of throats being bitten out or flesh being torn away. Some of the official plot synopses conjure up images of a feast of flesh but we got scraps - but even these scraps seem like a God's send when you've sat through the rest of the film.
When you watch Oasis of the Zombies, you'll realise just how good Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters or de Ossorio's The Blind Dead series of films are for this type of genre material. Oasis of the Zombies is trying, even for seasoned horror veterans who've scoured the bottom of the bucket for stuff they haven't seen before, and there's very little to recommend here. I still give it the edge over Zombie Lake however. And whatever you do, never indulge both in a back-to-back Nazi zombie fest. Never. Life is too valuable.
Oasis of the Zombies
Director(s): Jesús Franco
Writer(s): Jesús Franco (screenplay), Ramón Llidó (story)
Actor(s): Manuel Gélin, Eduardo Fajardo, France Lomay, Jeff Montgomery, Lina Romay, Myriam Landson, Antonio Mayans
Duration: 82 mins