Thursday, March 19, 2009

Zombie Lake / Le Lac des morts vivants (France, 1981)

Founded in 1937, by the 70s Eurociné was one of Europe's most active and exploitive trash film manufacturers. Still regurgitating an occasional film today, the company was most productive from the late-60s well into the 80s, when it spit out one low-budget Eurosleaze project after the other involving such honoured (?) names as Brigitte Lahaie, Lina Romay, Howard Vernon, Paul Naschy, Georges Montgomery, Christina Von Blanc, Jess Franco and Jean Rollen. The last two are the "creative team" behind this 1981 film, Le Lac des morts vivants, an infamous turkey better known by its international title Zombie Lake, although Jess Franco is reputed to have bailed from the project early on. He nonetheless is credited for the script, which is supposedly based on a story by Julián Esteban, who had written the demurely titled Franco film Sexo caníbal the year before.
Jumping on the bandwagon of the then-current popularity of gut-munching zombies instigated by the original Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the innumerable Italian rip-offs that soon followed, Zombie Lake cribs the basic concept of water-logged, homicidal zombie Nazis from the much better Shock Waves (1977) and moves the action from the Caribbean to the French countryside, where the legendary cuisine – and all those European nymphets that are so happy to get naked at the drop of a hat – simply makes the zombie Nazis much more hungry. (The following year Franco was to dry the gut-munching un-dead National Socialists out and move them into the desert for the equally notorious Oases of the Living Dead.)
In what looks to be the late-70s (going by the clothes, hairstyles, cars, interiors, signs, etc) but should be about 1957 (in accordance to the plot), a small town in France is suffering from a nearby cursed lake populated by zombie Nazis. It seems the lake is a once-sacred location that only allows eternal rest to the dead that are burned and enter the lake as ashes. At the end of WWII, however, local partisans ambush and kill a group of retreating Germans and throw their bodies into the lake whole. Thus, the Nazi dead can never rest and rise up occasionally in search of French food. Often they need not even leave the lake, for the superficially calm waters entice all young nubiles that pass-by to strip down to full-frontal shots and swim. (Thus giving the viewer some nice swimming bush shots when the green-faced Nazis start groping the girls from the bottom of the swimming pool where the “lake” scenes were obviously shot.) The blonde Nazi zombie eventually stumbles into the bedroom of 12-year-old Helena (played by Anouchka, the daughter of Eurociné's CEO Daniel Lesoeur) and they both figure out that they're related: He was bonking her collaborationist mother, who died when she was born. So when the other zombies try to make lunch out of her while the two are out for an afternoon stroll, he protects her, and as repayment little Helena collaborates with the villagers to destroy all zombies.
Zombie Lake is reputed to be a truly and incredulously incompetent piece of visual flotsam, and there is little more one can add to that, other than that to describe the film as such is actually a massive understatement. In comparison to Zombie Lake, every other bad film in the world surely must look like a piece of cinematic art. The script, which is not only padded excessively but is full of characters that disappear and events that lead nowhere, is an underdeveloped mess that makes more sense on paper than on the screen. Furthermore, the acting and direction and editing and make up are hilariously incompetent – in truth, there really isn't anything about the film that in any way gives an inkling of any professional experience or cinematic values.
True, the girls get naked a lot – basically, whenever they are about to die – but even this slight vicarious thrill is outweighed by the pain Zombie Lake inflicts upon one's retinal senses and intellect. (Were a copy of Playboy not both much more continuously enjoyable but intelligent as well?) Of course, the unbelievably extreme ineptitude of the project does also make Zombie Lake a relatively funny film, but one can only laugh so long at mental retardation before one starts doubting one's own self and sense. By the end of the film, one can't help but feel a sense of relief that it has finally ended.
Legend has it that Jean Rollin was brought in the last minute to make the film after Franco bailed, and that the master of French lesbian vampire cinema had but two weeks to cobble the film together. Were it not that Rollin actually has a small throwaway (and padding) part in the film as an investigating policeman from Paris, his involvement could be doubted, for little in Zombie Lake evidences Rollin's usual poetic touch – but then, perhaps he simply drank too much with the inebriated-looking townspeople that populate the film.

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