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Zombie Lake (1981)

Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/26/2013

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/4/2013

In the late '70s, Dawn of the Dead was released in Europe and it became a smash hit, in no small part because Italian director Dario Argento was involved in the making of the film and helped to promote it. The success of this film lead to imitations and rip-offs, to the point that many of the movies were hyped as being sequels to Dawn of the Dead. (Zombi 2, I'm looking at you...) The bottom line is that everyone wanted to get in on the act and European zombie movies were coming out of the woodwork...just like zombies. France didnít want to get left out of this mad rush, and thus we have 1981ís Zombie Lake.

A small town in France is plagued by an unusual problem. The local lake (itís more like a pond really) is full of Nazi zombies. The zombies kill a young woman who goes skinny-dipping, and then decide to hit dry land to kill some more women. The Mayor (Howard Vernon) seems to be aware of this issue, but doesnít want to address it until a reporter (Marcia Sharif) comes to town. We then learn that during World War II a group of resistance fighters ambushed the Naziís occupying the area, killing them and throwing their bodies in the lake. Now, decades (?) later, the Naziís are back for revenge.

For years, Iíd read about how Zombie Lake is, and I just had to see for myself, and yes -- it is that bad. The film was directed by Jean Rollin (here credited as J.A. Lazer), who is known for his atmospheric vampire films. Rollin is an acquired taste, as his movies focus more on visuals and mood than on the actual story. Well, he misses on all points with this movie. The film was co-written by prolific Spanish filmmaker Jesus Franco, so part of the blame must lie with him. No matter where you want to point fingers, this movie has far more cons than pros.

The movie has so many problems, that Iím simply going to run through them, as thereís no ďrightĒ place to start. First of all, in what year is the movie supposed to be taking place? It sort of looks like the 1960s, but we learn that a Nazi soldier fathered a child with a women in the village during the war and the child is no more than 10-years old. So, itís 1955, disguised as the 60s, but taking place in 1980? Again, the film opens with the zombies attacking the nude swimmer and we kind of get the feeling that this hasnít happened before and yet the townspeople donít seem shocked by it. We never know for sure if this is a new occurrence and if it is, what made the zombies begin attacking now? Why do the villagers keep calling the zombies ghosts? Donít they know the title of the movie that they are in? The zombies are just guys in Nazi uniforms and green makeup, which rubs off on their victims. They keep coming out of the water, as the same shot is repeated over and over, and shuffling around, only to return to the water. Why canít they stay on dry land? Thereís absolutely no character development here, save for The Mayor, and he canít seem to decide if he wants to keep the story hidden or not. The finale is the most lackluster in zombie movie history, as the locals come up with a plan to kill the zombies and the zombies seem to go along with it. And you canít just off-handedly talk about getting napalm like they sell it at the corner store.

Is there anything good about Zombie Lake -- any kind of silver lining at all? In a word, no. Besides being incredibly dim-witted and illogical, the movie is very poorly made and the editing is ludicrous (even for a European film), as the movie will suddenly cut from scene-to-scene with no rhyme or reason. I guess that devotees of Jean Rollin will want to check this out, even if it doesnít feel like his usual movie. Those who love rampant, misplaced and not-titillating nudity may want to see Zombie Lake, as the movie is filled with it. Seriously, I know that this kind of thing was common at the time, but this movie is ridiculous. As someone who likes zombie movies and usually finds something to enjoy about European horror films from the 80s, I looked forward to watching Zombie Lake. What I found was a movie which was all washed-up.

Zombie Lake may be the first movie to feature a zombie family reunion on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Redemption Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.66:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. Iím sure that Redemption did the best that they could with this transfer, as theyíve given it a good bitrate. But, the print used does show defects such as scratches and black dots. There some obvious moments where splices were made in the print. Having said that, the level of grain is mild and many of the scenes are quite sharp. The colors look good, and only a few shots could be considered too dark. The HD transfer certainly brings detail to some shots -- just look at how we can see the makeup appliance coming off of the first zombie! The Disc carries a LPCM 2.0 channel audio track which runs at 48 kHz/16 bit and at a constant 1.9 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, with some mild hissing and popping. The track isnít very lively, but the dialogue is always audible and the movieís cheesy music sounds fine. The English subtitles are easy to read.

The Zombie Lake Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. The "English Credit Sequence" (2 1/2 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like, as it offers the opening titles in English instead of French. It's interesting to note that the movie's title here is "Zombies' Lake", as if the zombies own the lake. I have to say that a land dispute would have made for a more interesting movie. We get two "Alternate Scenes" which were shot for television audience. They are the same as the opening and the sports team attack scene, but this time the "actresses" keep their clothes on. We get two TRAILER for the film, one in French and one in English.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.