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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Zombie Lake (1981)

"If You Think The Nazis Have Gone Under YOU'RE DEAD WRONG."


During World War II, a squad of German soldiers was ambushed by the French Resistance and had their bodies dumped in a nearby lake. Little did the local villagers know but the lake was once used for Satanic rituals. Years later, the soldiers rise again, now blood-thirsty zombies hungry for human flesh.


When two of the sleaziest and most notorious European directors of the 70s put their heads together for a collaboration featuring Nazi zombies, you'd expect the results to be bad but in a good way. Spanish exploitation director Jesús Franco was initially signed on to direct but after disagreements with the producers, he left the project to go and make the similarly-themed (and equally as terrible) Oasis of the Zombies though his script was still used and he got a credit as the writer. French exploitation director Jean Rollin stepped in at short notice to take over production. The two men were more famous for their sexually-charged horror films with copious amounts of sex, sometimes bordering on the soft core and always pushing the boundaries of exploitation. Surely a film about Nazi zombies couldn't fail in their grubby hands? Well Zombie Lake not only fails but fails like never before. In all my years of watching horror, I can't recall a film which borders on the incompetent as much as Zombie Lake. Even the extremely gratuitous and frequent naked women are wasted in this appalling mess which comes off like some man's perverted pet project.

Zombie Lake might have used Franco's script but it's literally nothing but a very slow combination of zombie set pieces with the flimsiest of plots linking it all together. A film featuring Nazi zombies should not be as dull and as dreary as this but Rollin makes the sleazy story feel arduous in its execution, almost as if they had nothing outside of the key selling point. The narrative barely stretches across the running time and with no central character to anchor the film around (the Mayor is probably the only one who stands out), then all you get is a sporadic collection of scenes edited together; some make sense and some don't. Attempts are made to put different spins on the usual zombie tropes, including having them remember their past and one of the zombies even tries to protect the illegitimate daughter he had with a local woman. It matters little in the grand scheme of things.

The script isn't at fault for some of the glaring cinematic issues on display, with poor sound production, continuity errors, really awful editing which jarring cuts between scenes and camera work that smacks of laziness. If the people behind Zombie Lake can't even get the basics of film making right, then regardless of the script, acting and everything else on show, there's no way to compensate for them. Not only is the same footage shown from multiple angles to trick the viewer into thinking they've seen something different, but stock footage is recycled from other Franco films too. They really didn't care what they were doing here, as long as they got something in the can by the end of the production schedule.

The zombies attack plenty of people during the film but most of the attacks happen in the lake so all you see are the naked women being dragged underwater (I'm sure some of the zombies get in a few gropes and boob grabs just to add to the seediness of the film). In fact, these skinny dipping scenes appear to be the only ones that Rollin took any real interest in directing - I bet the actresses had to do a few takes where they're spread-eagled underwater in front of the camera! Zombie Lake resorts to constant nudity to try and keep the viewer entertained. Practically every female under the age of thirty gets naked at some point during the film. Just when you think the film will run out of ladies to strip, up pops a girls' basketball team which stops off at the lake in their bus and proceed to skinny dip. I'm all for a bit of nudity in a horror film but there's a distinction between artistic inclusion, gratuitous inclusion and seemingly some perverted older men just including them to get themselves off.

Zombie Lake has arguably the worst zombie make-up of all time here and that's not exaggerating. The German costumes seem authentic enough but the zombies themselves are simply covered in green paint - but only to the neck line, which is laughable given that most of the soldiers are wearing open-necked costumes. The make-up department seems to have missed plenty of spots on the actor's faces too, especially behind the ears. It doesn't even stay on the skin very well either so in some scenes where the zombies are making contact with their victims, their green skin rubs off. Think of a Halloween party you've been to where someone has been dressed as a zombie - chances are that their make-up was one hundred times more believable than this. The worst thing is that the zombies are constantly coming out of the water too. Paint + water? Who thought that was a good idea? It starts to run the moment the zombies emerge from the water. I don't actually recall any flesh bites or skin punctures at all - usually the staple ingredient of a zombie film. Instead the zombies just close in on their targets and then some red liquid usually squirts out of visible plastic tubes around the dead person's neck as the zombies seemingly kiss their victims.


Final Verdict

The lure of constant nudity is definitely not enough to make anyone watch Zombie Lake. Its quite simply one of the worst zombie films of all time, one of the worst horror films of all time and one of the worst films of all time. Aside from how boring it is, the barrage of technical issues and shoddy production values really make this unwatchable.


Zombie Lake

Director(s): Jean Rollin

Writer(s): Julián Esteban (story), Jesús Franco

Actor(s): Howard Vernon, Pierre-Marie Escourrou, Anouchka, Antonio Mayans, Nadine Pascal, Youri Radionow, Bertrand Altmann

Duration: 83 mins


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