For the opening five minutes of Zombie Lake, we follow a young woman as she strips off, almost immediately, and hangs around the titular lake somewhere near a village, being very naked, until she decides to go for a swim, naked. The camera practically gives her a gynaecological exam as it drifts around her until we discover she’s not alone in the lake. It’s a zombie. A Nazi zombie at that. He stalks said young lady (still naked) for a little while before wrestling her below the water to her doom. If any of this makes Zombie Lake sound even remotely exciting, trust us, it’s not.
Director Jean Rollin was a man with two careers as a filmmaker. There’s the director who funded his own projects, making often remarkable dreamlike fantasy horror films that almost exist within their own niche genre. Then there’s the Rollin who needed to make money and to do so made total cack like this film. Originally it was to be directed by Jess Franco, another purveyor of films equal parts idiosyncratically, strangely brilliant along with plenty of utter rubbish too, but he left days before shooting began after arguing with producers. Rollin stepped in and did what he could with the meagre resources at his disposal.
The plot, such as it is, tells of the resurrected and vengeance seeking zombies who have come back pretty annoyed about having been murdered and dumped in the lake by the villagers some years earlier. Coming a few years after Ken Wiederhorn’s better received Shock Waves, and a short time before Franco’s own Nazi zombie borefest Oasis of the Zombies, this was around the time of plenty of Euro sleaze and Italian horror ‘homages’ hitting big on the international market. It’s cheap, shoddy programming done quickly and with only the briefest of nods to quality. The zombies here are the type whose make up falls off when they’re attacking people. Acting ranges from the whimsically disinterested to the should-be-in-better-films likes of Howard Vernon. It’s Rollin, so there’s plenty of nudity, but if you’re hoping for some gory Fulci-style zombie kills, Zombie Lake’s green paint and food colouring budget certainly didn’t stretch that far.
And yet, even when doing hack work, Rollin still managed to get in just a little of that atmosphere he was known for. In its own slapdash, laughable, bat crap way it becomes charmingly awful, too. However, it seems it could only really appeal to Rollin fans, and even then they’ll surely struggle. If you’re interested in discovering Rollin, this is not the film to start with. Charmingly awful it may be, but it's still truly, profoundly patience-testingly awful.
ZOMBIE LAKE (1981) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JEAN ROLLIN / SCREENPLAY: A.L. MARIAUX / STARRING: HOWARD VERNON, PIERRE-MARIE ESCOURROU, ANOUCHKA / RELEASE DATE: 20TH MARCH