Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oasis of the Zombies (France, 1981)

"Let’s get some bottles to make Molotov Cocktails like at school."
(Statement made by some zombie fodder during the climactic scene.)

A productive filmmaker, Franco has made films that are surreally great, such as A Virgin among the Living Dead (1973); films that are intriguingly bad, such as Succubus (1968 / trailer) or the celebrated Vampiros Lesbos (1971 / trailer); and films that are simply shitty—Oasis of the Zombies is the last. It is an exercise in patchwork narrative and padding, and regrettably plays like one.
According to most sources, the legendary Italian filmmaker Jess Franco was given this project after he left the equally ridiculous but oddly more entertaining Euro Z-zombie flick Le Lac des morts vivants / Zombie Lake (1981 / trailer). The legendary French filmmaker Jean Rollin ended up finishing Zombie Lake, which has longed gained a rightful reputation as one of the most laughably engaging Eurotrash fiascos.
To put it simply, Franco bailed from a slow, hilariously crappy French film to make a not very hilarious but still crappy and slow and very boring European film. (Twice over, in fact, as he filmed this flick in two versions at the same time, one French and one Spanish, with minor cast changes.) As hilariously bad as Zombie Lake is, it pales in comparison to Oasis of the Zombies, which is far from amusing even though it is dumbfounding bad. Going by the location, number of extras, trucks and explosions, Oasis of the Zombies probably even had the bigger budget of the two films, but Oasis of the Zombies also has worse dubbing, more consistently inane dialogue and plot development, less gore, less breasts, less zombie action—or action in general—less continuity, less logic, and less anything else that might help make it an enjoyable viewing experience.
Oasis of the Zombies begins with a short intro scene of two young female tourists wandering around an oasis in their nylon disco shorts and tank tops. Although the zombies only attack at day-for-night for the rest of the film, here they do away with the girls in broad daylight and without even ripping off their tops—in fact, for a Eurotrash film of the 80s, remarkably few tops get taken off in this film. Once the credits are over, we meet Kurt (Henri Lambert), a former Nazi colonel out to locate a shipment of gold lost in the desert. He goes to see Captain Blabert (Javier Maiza), gets the information he wants and promptly kills Blabert. Following some stock footage of London, we meet Blabert Jr, Robert (Manuel Gélin), who returns to the family house when hearing about the death of daddy. Going through the family papers, Robert learns of both his roots and the oasis in a long flashback that reveals how his father fought the Nazis during the war and barely escaped with his life; saved by Bedouins, he was nursed back to health by Aisha (Doris Regina), the daughter of his host, Sheik Mohamed Al-Kafir (Antonio Mayans). As thank you, he popped her cherry and returned to war, only to return two years later to find Aisha dead and himself a daddy. Oh, he also learned that the oasis is damned and that those who die there never really die. (Only half true: of all those that died there in the war scenes, it seems that only the Nazis came back.)
The flashback over with, the flick returns to the 70s where, even as Robert and his privileged school chums are deciding to blow their final exams to hunt for the 6 million, back at the oasis Kurt barely escapes the clutches of flesh-hungry Nazi zombies that munch on his wife Ingrid (Myriam Landson) and his two helpers, one of whom shouts “Stop or I’ll shoot” but never does. (The zombies sure have remarkably modern haircuts under all that grime. But then, just like in Zombie Lake, temporal reality is a moot point in Oasis of the Zombies: the Babert son Robert, for example, is only around 20 when simple math should have had him in his mid-30s.) Robert and company arrive in Egypt (?) and the film is padded with some "exotica" shopping scenes and such before they meet up with another team of Europeans also in search of the oasis, the blonde Erika (Juan Solar) and Professor Konrad (Albino Graziani). Tagging along with them to a hospital, they arrive in time to see Kurt's prolonged and over-acted death scene during which Robert drills him about the location of the oasis. A badly shot topless swimming scene later, the two groups leave on their separate ways in search of the secret oasis (which, oddly enough, was on the map of the two gals killed at the start of the film). Robert ends up finding his grandfather, Sheik Mohamed Al-Kafir, who shows him the way to the oasis although he knows it means sure death for the teens. At the oasis, they find an injured Erika and Prof, who babbles about the living dead before passing out. The next day, however, the sun shines and everything is fine so everyone giggles and laughs and digs for treasure. The sun goes down, and after a badly shot sex scene the zombies come for dinner, announcing their arrival (as always in the film) by snorting like pigs....
The climactic scene is not very exciting to say the least, made worse by the bad cinematography, editing, focus, sound and everything else. The gore is truly gore light, so any and all money shots are as anticlimactic as they are unimpressive. Most die, a few get away, and then, thankfully, the film ends.
To give credit, at times the background music, particularly when it is so slightly tinged with an Arabic flavor, is very good—much better than the film itself. But the interludes of good music are rare: most of the time it sounds like an atonal organ being played by a five-year-old. The film lacks any and all suspense or tension, and visually it can best be described as an ocular accident; Franco's patented style of Doris-Wishmannesque intercut objects, pan shots to nowhere and meaningless zooms (often out-of-focus to out-of-focus) do little to improve things.

When it comes to oasis zombie flicks, skip this turkey and watch Dawn of the Mummy (1981 / trailer). Dawn of the Mummy might be a pretty lousy film in itself, but in comparison to Oasis of the Zombies, it is a masterpiece of filmmaking.

Full Film at the Internet Archive:

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