Often considered the nadir of the zombie subgenre, ZOMBIE LAKE is undeniable bad, and up until a few months ago was an easy contender for my All-Time Worst List. However, after this most recent viewing I couldn't help but detect a glint of . . . is craftsmanship too generous a word? Four months of embarrassing amateur productions has wreaked havoc on my perspective.
This 1980 Spanish-French co-production is frequently miscredited to Jess Franco (who was considered for the project, but dropped out over concerns of the low budget--a telling statement if there ever was one), but in actuality directorial duties were handled by Spaniard Julian de Laserna and French auteur Jean Rollin under the shared pseudonym J.A. Lazer. (Rollin also makes a brief appearance as a detective.) Given the film's obvious lack of funds and abbreviated shooting schedule--Rollin allegedly started with only two days' prep--it's a wonder it's even watchable, though having Rollin behind the camera helps immeasurably (I realize I may not be giving de Laserna his due, but ZOMBIE LAKE's best moments are consistent with Rollin's work).
Bad-movie buffs have a soft spot for ZOMBIE LAKE not for its story (lightweight tripe involving dead WWII soldiers emerging from the titular lake and preying on the inhabitants of an idyllic French village), but for its sheer incompetence; marvel at the opening sequence in which a nude sunbathing beauty (one of many--one thing the film's good at is padding) is attacked by zombies when she finally goes for a dip. Continuity errors aside, how can you not love a scene where undead soldiers lurch around the bottom of a pool, complete with strands of seaweed floating past a distinct exit sign. Evidently the filmmakers loved it too, since they repeat this scene at the movie's midpoint, upping the fleshy ante with a busload of teenage volleyball players. (I wouldn't be surprised if watching this bit with its opportunistic angles of splayed pubescent crotch lands you on some FBI list).
ZOMBIE LAKE is filled to the brim with unintentionally amusing bits that're entertaining in their own right--the eyesore design of Howard Vernon's mayoral office, gloriously low-rent battle sequences, the cheap green zombie makeup that rubs off onto their victims when they "feed"--but one notable aspect is a heartfelt subplot between a young girl and her zombified father. While no one's going to mistake it for something out of TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, it's apparent that Rollin was trying to elevate the film beyond mere hackwork, even if he wasn't entirely successful. He did, however, sow the thematic seeds that's he'd explore to much greater effect in the subsequent LIVING DEAD GIRL.
Add to the mix the placid pastoral atmosphere often found in Rollin's films and a recycled Daniel White score (rehashed from THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF and FEMALE VAMPIRE), and you've got a tasty Eurotrash cocktail that won't win any awards but goes down easy and satisfying.