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
|Zombie battle formation
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.
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?
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?
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.