aka Zombie Lake
(Le Lac des Morts Vivantes)
Director – J.A. Laser [Jean Rollin], Screenplay – A.L. Mariaux [Jess Franco], Story – Julian Esteran, Producers – Marius Lesoeur & Daniel White, Photography – Max Monteillet, Music – Daniel White, Special Effects – Michael Nizza, Makeup – Christiane Sauvage. Production Company – Eurocine/J.E. Films.
Howard Vernon (The Mayor), Pierre Escourrou (German Soldier), Anouchka (Helena), Marcia Sharif (Katya), Robert Foster (Morane), Youri Rad (Chanac), Nadine Pascale (Helena’s Mother), Jean Rollin (Stiltz)
In a small French village, zombies rise from the local lake and attack people. Katya comes to town, wanting to write a book about the lake that the locals have named Hell Lake and believe is haunted. The mayor tells her the story of the lake. During World War II, the town was occupied by German soldiers. The locals rose up against the Germans and killed them, dumping their bodies in the lake. Now the zombified Nazi soldiers emerge from the lake and begin killing the locals.
During the 1970s, a cult grew up around French director Jean Rollin (1939-2010) for his fetishistic, strikingly poetic vampire films. The films that most of the Rollin cult rest on are his earliest ones that consist of The Rape of the Vampire (1968), The Naked Vampire (1970), Le Frisson des Vampires (1971) and Virgins and Vampires/Caged Virgins (1971). Beyond that point, Rollin made numerous films in either the horror or sex genres throughout the 1970s and 80s. (See below for Jean Rollin’s other films).
The Nazi zombie film is a sub-genre that has turned up with persistent regularity since the 1970s. The fad was kicked off by the modestly effective US-made Shock Waves (1977). There was then a cluster of such films made in the early 1980s with Night of the Zombies (1981), Jess Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies (1981) and Zombies’ Lake. The genre underwent a revival in the late 2000s with Outpost (2007) and Dead Snow (2009), both of which have produced sequels, War of the Dead (2011), even as a Found Footage film shot in First Person Shooter perspective with Bunker of the Dead (2015). (For a more detailed overview see the essay Nazis in Fantastic Cinema).
Veteran Spanish exploitation director Jess Franco was originally signed on to direct Zombies’ Lake but left after disagreements with the producers and went off to make his own Nazi zombie film with the abovementioned Oasis of the Zombies. Franco still writes the screenplay where he is credited as A.L. Mariaux. Jean Rollin stepped in to take over as director with only a few days’ notice. Much of the directorial work was shared between Rollin and assistant director Julian de Laserna where they are credited as J.A. Laser. For many years after, Rollin purportedly refused to acknowledge he had directed the film.
Jean Rollin has made some acclaimed contributions to the vampire film. He has also done some excellent work with the Zombie Film elsewhere – Pesticide/The Grapes of Death (1978) and in particular The Living Dead Girl (1982), one of the most unique treatments of the theme. Alas, Zombies’ Lake cannot count among those. It and the other two Nazi zombie films of this period, Oasis of the Zombies and Night of the Zombies, count as some of the dreariest entries of the wave of 1980s zombie films. You have sympathies for Rollin’s wanting to distance himself from the film.
While Jean Rollin’s other films have an arty stylishness that have made them cult items, Zombies’ Lake is so dreary and dull it could be used as a sleep aid. It has no real plot, just various happenings around the town. Every so often these are scenes where various girls find some occasion to strip off and go swimming in the lake and get devoured as the zombies rise up. The most imaginative moment comes at the start as a girl goes swimming nude as a zombie on the lake floor awakens and reaches up towards her, a scene that reminds of the classic one where Julia Adams goes swimming in The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). The zombies themselves are pitiful – some of the least convincing of the 80s wave – mostly consisting of the actors with green makeup on their faces where you can clearly see that the makeup job ends at their chin and their necks and below are just regular skin.
Jean Rollin’s other genre films include The Rape of the Vampire (1968), The Naked Vampire (1970), Le Frisson des Vampires (1971), Virgins and Vampires/Caged Virgins (1971), The Iron Rose (1973), Demoniacs/Curse of the Living Dead (1974), Lips of Blood (1975), Pesticide/The Grapes of Death (1978), Fascination (1979), The Night of the Hunted (1980), The Living Dead Girl (1982), Two Orphan Vampires (1997), The Fiancee of Dracula (2002), Night of the Clocks (2007) and The Mask of Medusa (2010).