After our review series of the 15 parts of the 5-film “Zombi” series, I thought we were done, and you probably weren’t interested in reading me being annoyed by crappy zombie movies, but this is sort of a cousin to one of my favourites, so it snuck in. Its relationship is to the classic “Virgin Among The Living Dead”, even though it was made 8 years later – the distributors of “Virgin…” realised it was a bit short for release with all the nudity they’d had to take out, so asked Jean Rollin, who they were employing at the time to make this, to shoot some extra footage to bulk it out a little. If you’ve seen “Virgin…” on VHS, chances are you saw the version with Rollin’s extra scenes – every time Christine falls asleep, it cuts to a “dream sequence” where a woman with long blonde hair is being chased through some gardens by a bunch of zombies. Quite a good bit, as it turned out, even if it had no relation to the rest of things.
The earlier movie’s director, Jesus Franco, was actually hired to direct this, and left after arguments with distributor Eurocine. Rollin was hired with a few days’ notice, and split directing duties with Julian de Laserna, both of them using the pseudonym “J.A. Lazer” as Rollin was apparently deeply embarrassed by it (he realised as soon as he read the script it was not only going to be terrible, but was also a cheap ripoff of “Shock Waves”, the original Nazi zombie movie from a few years earlier). Then, to really complete the weirdly incestuous little circle, Franco made his own Nazi zombie movie, “Oasis Of The Zombies”, in 1982.
Was Rollin right to be so embarrassed by this, though? Of course he was. You want a movie where the romantic lead is a dead Nazi? You got it! You want a lot of naked women swimming, shot from underneath so it seems more gynaecological than erotic? You got it! You want maybe the worst zombie makeup ever, which is bright green and is never applied to necks, arms, the hairline or indeed anywhere other than faces and occasionally hand? You know you got it!
A young woman decides to remove all her clothes, lay around in the sun for a moment, then go for a swim in a lake, which doesn’t look like a lake for swimming in – covered in lilypads, dirty-ish water, and so on. There’s also a skull-and-crossbones warning sign, but she ignores that, throwing it to the ground even. Absent any other reason, the sight of a vagina is enough to cause a bunch of Nazi zombies to reanimate, and they swim up to the surface and kill her. I’ve checked to see if I missed a line about some environmental change, or a witch casting a spell, but I don’t think so. They were just horny!
The zombies eventually realise they can hit the nearby village up for some fresh meat, and every now and again they’ll wander out of the lake (their home base, obviously) and do some killing. They’re kindly helped at one point with maybe the most gratuitous scene in this or any other zombie movie, when a bus full of female netball players stops by the side of the lake to do some camping, and, like all women do, strip naked and go for a swim together. It goes on for so long I genuinely thought the movie was going to drop the whole zombie thing and just become a naked netball-er story.
The other part of the movie is the friendly Nazi story. A reporter goes to the town to ask about the legend of Zombie Lake, and the Mayor (Howard Vernon, the John Carradine of Italian cinema) tells her about what happened to the village in WW2. A Nazi saved a woman from bombing, and they fell in love. He had to go and leave to oppress some Jews, but on the way back 9 months later, sees he has a child, and the mother is sick. But he can’t stop, off to defend Berlin from the advancing Allies, and then his entire platoon is killed by Italian partisans on their way out of town.
This brings us to the most curious part of the movie. The reanimated Nazi wanders back to his girlfriend’s old house and meets a girl of about 10, who it turns out is his daughter. He gives her the necklace that the mother gave him, and they develop a sort of relationship (I thought this bit was crazy, and I’ve seen a whole bunch of crazy recently). Now, the fashions appear to be contemporary to when the film was made, so…how long’s it been in this world since the end of the war? It can only be 1955, at the outside, but no effort at all is spent to make it look like anything other than 1981. A genuine puzzler, and not just because, you know, we’re supposed to be touched by this tale.
Women are, as always in Italian horror cinema, absolutely useless, existing entirely to be naked and scream. No-one makes the slightest effort to save themselves, including one woman who continues to try and fix her stockings while a zombie is attacking her! Luckily, there’s a stupid lazy ending, which includes a fight between our friendly Nazi and one of the bad ones, over the fate of the girl, which is at least original I suppose. While this is happening, you can marvel at how well preserved the uniforms and especially the metal helmets of the soldiers were, from their decade or more at the bottom of a lake.
Everything about this screams hack-job. Rollin is not exactly renowned as a great auteur, and with two days notice and (obviously) not much money, it’s safe to say no-one was trying their hardest. My favourite thing – well, you need to try and entertain yourself somehow – is the dubbing. Shot in French, the English dubbing job is hilarious, with the need to match the mouth-movements of the actors leading to some brilliant dialogue that makes no sense whatsoever. The only other fun to be had is watching how easily the “central characters” die, almost as if no-one was in the slightest bit bothered about making it make sense or do any of the things that normal movies do.
So, of interest to people who really, really love full-frontal female nudity and literally no-one else. What a spectacularly dull movie this was.
Rating: thumbs down