Riding high on the Italian zombie craze following the release of Dawn Of The Dead back in the late 70s/early 80s, Zombie Lake can easily be lumped in with all of the other imitators trying to cash in on Romero’s masterpiece. But while Zombie Lake doesn’t excel at it’s attempts at great filmmaking, it doesn’t stand entirely with all of the other run of the mill zombie flicks that came out at that time. It makes at least an attempt at creative filmmaking and story telling beyond gut munching and boobies. Which I’m both okay with, by the way. Once I got past the fact that people were swimming in a lake which had lily pads in it and a mud bottom (both gross me out…who knows what kind of aquatic predator is lurking in those lily pads or under the mud?) I found myself enjoying this movie. Sure, it had shortcomings. Quite a few, in fact. But what movie doesn’t? It was fun and cornily sincere, like a love letter written by a twelve year old, or those feverish promises of eternal love whispered while getting to third base. Enjoy the "Zombie Lake In A Minute" clip I added, by the way.
The plot is something like this: there’s this lake in rural France where young woman are turning up dead in/around and/or going missing in the area. The locals are of course staying quiet, until a newspaper reporter from The Big City (Paris, I’m guessing) finds out a grisly secret: a lake just outside of the village is said to be haunted by the ghosts of Nazis who were killed by the French Resistance and dumped there, and whenever they’re disturbed (usually by the frolicking of young nakey women) they of course brutally murder whoever disturbs them. A classic ghost story if do say. Nothing cutting edge, nothing greatly original, but fundamentally simple and elegant.
Points are given to Zombie Lake for at least attempting to be creative and somewhat different from typical zombie flicks of the time. Elements of Gothic horror crept in; for example, a one of the zombies had, in life shortly before being killed, fallen in love with a girl from the village and spent the night with her, and thus finds out after coming back from the dead he is a father. The shots of him being reunited with his daughter are unfortunately almost laughable in their absurdity, but credit must be given for at least deviating from the norm by adding such an element to the story. I also found the not quite a twist of the lake having been avoided for centuries due to pagan sacrifices around it to be entertaining; instead of just being Nazis coming back for revenge, which is kind of cool on it’s own, we are instead informed that it is a sort of Pet Semetary scenario in which the lake is already haunted and evil or whatever, and the Nazis coming back to life are merely the most recent continuation of that. The scene where the reporter asks a local tavern full of patrons about the lake was pregnant with possible clichés of the record skipping, and villagers suddenly becoming silent and stoic about their towns haunted past ala The Slaughtered Lamb scene in An American Werewolf In London, but instead gets sloppily hit on by some drunk dude. (Note: I am in no way badmouthing An American Werewolf…Hands down my second favorite movie of all time.) And the quasi shootout at the end when the villagers decide they’ve have enough of their beautiful women getting drowned by zombies and take a stand against undead horniness by engaging in a sort of OK Corral gun battle against the advancing horde of zombies is corny but effective.
The main attention getter of this film, however, was the cinematography. For something so low budget, the cinematographer made excellent use of the woods around the lake to capture a feeling of eerie claustrophobia, and while the point of view of the zombies stalking their victim shots have almost been beaten into the ground, here they were utilized brilliantly. The underwater shots, while obviously being shot in a tank and not actually in the lake, were thus lent a dark and brooding feel reminiscent of an Argento film. And the scene of the zombies shambling through the winding back alleys of the village was downright creepy. The use of rapid zooming to heighten suspense and emphasis a shocking moment worked flawlessly, a technique from that era of films that I absolutely love. The cameraman took his time following the characters, lingering upon things worthy of lingering on, and just made the film look beautiful. There were times when some of the editing was a bit amateurish, which I’ll get to, but largely the cinematography was amazing. The beginning of the film has a sequence of a young woman going for a swim who (shockingly) decides bathing in the nakey is a better idea and strips down and suns for a moment before taking a dip. There was something strangely pornographic about that scene, and not just because there was a naked woman. The lighting, the production value, the music, and the way the camera lingers over her boobs…I half expected a heavily mustachioed gentleman to stumble upon her and teach her to love again. Alas, no gentleman, mustached or otherwise, showed up, and instead we are treated to her being pulled underwater and drowned (maybe eaten?) by a zombie Nazi. As I said before the underwater scenes in this movie look absolutely amazing, almost dreamlike.
Now what DIDN’T I like about this movie? For one, it seemed a bit rushed. Some of the scenes were obviously sloppily cut, and the previously mentioned awesome cinematography would occasionally slip into a bit of bad cameramanship (?) that should’ve been caught in whatever passed for post-production. The scene where the Nazis invade France was confusing at best, as I wasn’t entirely clear as to what was going on. Why did the one soldier run over to stand in front of a wall and then simply fall down dead? For that matter, why did several soldiers simply fall out of a truck and lie there? I blame the director, and blame him hard. The scene where the one zombie finds his daughter was original, yes, but also really, really badly done. And the make up…wow. The greenish pancake makeup obviously stopped at the hairline and at times rubbed of on stuff the zombies were touching. I don’t expect much in the way of professionalism, but at times the effects were trying. The use of the same clip of zombies shambling down an alleyway five times in a row, interspaced with shots of villagers looking terrified, was criminally bad. And while yes, I do like naked girls frolicking in water and splashing each other, it seemed almost like a shot a nakey girl was used as a wipe scene. Oh well.
See this movie. I got it for ten bucks and it was totally worth. I was going to ask my girlfriend to watch it with me and decided it against it, which in retrospect was probably a good idea, so it’s not really a date movie but more a “it’s raining and I’ve got two hours to kill” type movie. Don’t really expect to be blown away, but allow yourself to have fun. In terms of Italian zombies movies, I’d say it was better than Hell Of The Living Dead but not quite City Of The Living Dead. So yeah. Zombie Lake. Enjoy.