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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Zombie Lake: How to Not Do A Zombie Movie

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By Craig R.

Movies are usually notable for one of two reasons: They're either exceptionally good, or exceptionally bad. Unfortunately, Zombie Lake falls within the latter category. It is so bad that, for years, its director denied any involvement with it. Also, it appears to have nearly killed the Nazi Zombie subgenre. After this movie was released in 1981, the next film of its kind I can locate is 2009's Dead Snow.

In the setting of a French village ten years after WW II (we know this because we are told so), undead Nazis begin shambling out of a nearby lake and randomly attacking villagers. We are told that the ghouls are the reanimated corpses of German soldiers, who had been ambushed by the Resistance, and then dumped in the lake. This was done out of fear of reprisals against the village, had the bodies been discovered. Unfortunately, the lake in question is known as "The Lake of The Damned", because of human sacrifices and dark masses once performed there. Surely, there were more effective ways to dispose of the bodies. Shallow graves were out of the question, and while bodies of water are generally good places for such a purpose, The Lake of The Damned probably isn't the wisest place to do so. While the village must have had a furnace or incinerator that would've been just as effective, but there wouldn't be much of a movie.

As is the case with most movies of this type, the village authorities, in spite of evidence to the contrary, deny that there is anything responsible for the attacks other than wild animals. Finally, after both the help that is sent for and an entire volleyball team are killed, the villagers rally to destroy the zombies.

This movie has a lot of problems. First among them is the nature and behavior of the zombies. Instead of being the relentless wave of the undead, this movie's version of a zombie apocalypse is the undead lazily emerging from the lake to dine on villagers, and then return, presumably for a nap. I guess French cuisine is filling. These zombies even have manners. At one point, they have to share a victim, but instead of a frenzied jockeying for position, they patiently wait in line for their turn.

Apparently, this is what the French consider to be a horde.

Probably the most annoying of the zombies is the one I call "Zombie Daddy", who is the most featured. In flashbacks we are shown that he had an affair with a village girl and fathered a daughter with her. During one of his excursions into town, he discovers her and immediately takes a break from his rampage to spend quality time with her. Later, he even walks away from the zombies' battle with the villagers to go for a quiet walk with the girl.

Who's your daddy?
Zombies need love too
Speaking of the battle with the villagers, it was reminiscent of Star Wars. The similarity is not that it was an exciting scene, but that the villagers reminded me of Imperial Storm Troopers. The zombies were moving towards them, slowly, bunched together, down an alley, and in spite of that formation and at least 100 shots fired, only a couple hit their targets, hardly having any visible effect.

Zombie battle formation
This brings us to another annoying aspect of the zombies' nature, in that there's no decided way in which they can be killed. While Zombie Daddy kills another with a knife, none of the bullets that manage to hit them appear to have any effect. Eventually, the villagers kill them with fire. The beauty of zombies is that they are a relatively new monster, or at least they were at the time that this movie was produced, and don't have any set folklore. Even so, whichever way a storyteller decides that zombies have to be killed, they need to stick with it. Granted, their reanimation was probably the result of a supernatural source, but if a knife to the chest can kill one, unless it has to be one that's enchanted, shouldn't a bullet?

Secondly, the production values are just horrible. This movie has some of the typical problems such as switching between day and night during a scene. Other minor problems include additional zombies who randomly appear, then are never seen again, and when one is set on fire, the burning figure is obviously a mannequin.

The biggest production fault, however, is special effects, or the lack thereof, where the laziness of the production staff is clearly visible. By the time Zombie Lake was released in 1981, Romero's first two zombie movies, Fulci's Zombi 2, and Shock Waves, another Nazi zombie movie, had all been released. All of those, unlike Zombie Lake, had at least moderately convincing effects. In contrast, The zombie makeup here consists mostly of erratically applied green grease paint and silly putty.

A tube of green greasepaint: $6.98. Silly Putty: $4.54. Half-ass zombie makeup: Priceless. 
At the time the movie takes place, our undead Germans have been submerged in the lake for over ten years, yet they are almost perfectly preserved. From their appearance, the only indication that they were formerly dead is that their skin is mostly green, and I say "mostly green" because the makeup "artists" apparently couldn't be bothered to apply even coats of makeup. Some of the ghouls don't even have makeup on the backs of their hands; most have patches of normal skin tone showing through the paint, and Zombie Daddy doesn't even anything covering the skin on his neck.

After being submerged for ten years, shouldn't there be some decomposition? Even if one suspends disbelief, shouldn't there at least be deterioration of their uniforms, or rust on their helmets? One could accept that the cause of their reanimation may be supernatural, and may have preserved their bodies, but the clothes too? Admittedly, I'm probably over-thinking this, but is it too much to ask that at least one of them have a trouser leg untucked from a boot?

False advertising
Look, I know that makeup and effects needed to transform an actor into a convincing zombie are expensive, but the necessary techniques had by then been around for quite a few years, at least since Night of The Living Dead, which was released in 1968, and was little more than a student film. Also, with a zombie attack, especially one where the victim is gnawed on for several minutes, give us at least a little bit of gore, instead of just a smear of fake blood. Tom Savini (who did the makeup effects for Dawn of The Dead) was pretty busy during the time this film was produced, but he seems like a decent guy, who would've been glad to have given a few pointers.

Zombie Lake conforms with at least one of the informal rules of horror movies, that once a character either gets naked or becomes amorous, they're doomed. Which leads to my final problem with Zombie Lake, what I guess some would call too much of a good thing. There is a lot of gratuitous nudity in this movie. The horror movies that I grew up watching were released in the late '70s and early '80s, and at least some amount of  nudity was pretty much a given. Even then, most of that was simply a brief flash, where one would have to rewind and pause the video cassette, in order to see it, or so I've been told. Where this movie skimps on effects, it overcompensates in nudity. Approximately 1/3 of its run time is naked women. I'm sure that's probably more than could probably be found in many of the late night cable movies with plots about sex therapists solving murders.

Want to guess what happens next?
As an example, there is one scene, where a woman strips down, sunbathes, walks around, and then goes swimming, all while stark naked. I can live without nudity in a movie, and it doesn't bother me, but that scene lasted for about 5 minutes (I timed it), and I actually began to get uncomfortable. There were moments where she walked off screen, and I thought "Okay, she's going to put something on", but that didn't happen. There are at least two other scenes that linger like this, quite a bit too long. Look, I'm sure that I'm not alone in this, but if I wanted to see a lot of nudity, a zombie movie wouldn't be the place. I watch zombie movies because I want to see hordes of the undead relentlessly terrorizing people.

To the movie's credit, though it didn't manage to execute a good idea, it should be acknowledged that it does try to be different from other films in the genre. Having said that, Zombie Lake is a really terrible movie. The level of bad is not even "it's so bad that it's good." I can't recommend it, but if you do watch it, I hope that you find something to enjoy in it. Either way, you've been warned.

Supposedly, there is a version of the movie that has no nudity, where the women are at least partially covered. Unfortunately, I couldn't uncover it (See what I did there?). The poster at the top of this post and the clip below are actually from the sanitized version.

Zombie Lake is available on Netflix Instant, as well as YouTube. On Netflix, it's in French with subtitles, and on YouTube it's dubbed in English.

I give it 1 out of 5 waterlogged Nazis.


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