In a small village, somewhere in France, German soldiers, killed and thrown into the lake by the Resistance during WW II, come back.
Although deservedly ranked as one of the worst movies ever made — at least, one of the worst zombie horror movies ever, and so bad that its director, famed filmmaker of Euro-trash smut Jean Rollin, changed his name in the credits to J.A. Laser — 'Zombie Lake' (Le lac des morts vivants) has earned a soft spot in my books for also being one of the most bizarre, unintentionally-funny horror flicks. It remains memorable primarily for one reason: the copious amounts of largely superfluous and ridiculously flagrant nudity. There are a few hilarious underwater sequences of women in the buff, shot from a low-angle looking up with plenty of light to reveal quite a bit. Objectively, they serve no narrative purpose other than for their own sake, making it all the funnier.
The fact that I continue to remember the movie predominantly because of the nudity probably speaks more to something about myself than I'm ready to admit. Or perhaps, it serves as example of its badness — about the only thing worth remembering are its more outrageously brazen scenes. It seems as a way of making up for the lack of a compelling story, which is absurdly stupid — in a funny way, of course — and the shockingly abysmal quality of the overall production. Aside from the poor makeup design, look carefully to catch a glimpse of the camera crew in mirrors or the electrical wires that power the lights running across the floor. It reminds me a bit of Dug from Pixar's 'UP': "Man, the dialogue and makeup in this movie are atrocious — BOOBS!"
In my defense, I believe any person who has ever watched 'Zombie Lake' at least once is likely to respond with a similar lasting impression and memory of its value. (Seriously, ask anyone. Please.) Heck, even the original poster artwork (NSFW material) comically alludes to the movie's eventual — however subconscious — motives. That being a very bizarre brew of lame horror gore and a titillating display of some naughty bits. Leave it to someone like Jean Rollin, a filmmaker better known for his erotic vampire films full of weirdly grotesque sensuality and comically Gothic atmospheres, to try his hands at making the walking dead more sexually appealing. It's not exactly the kind of material that's in high demand, but cut him some slack for at least trying.
As far as plots go, this one definitely stretches the possibilities of the imagination. For some reason, seeing the Nazi officer uniform as the resurrected dead is always a riot, but 'Zombie Lake' takes it a step further with a romantic backstory which eventually sees one of those zombies suddenly recover a heart when confronted by the offspring of his summer fling with a local French villager. The town's mayor (Howard Vernon) explains in a flashback sequence that the nightmare started towards the end of the war when a small troop of German soldiers were killed and dumped into the lake. When they return seeking vengeance, villagers are forced to defend themselves while a little orphan girl reconnects with her dead Nazi dad. And just to show he's good guy, in spite of his insatiable hunger for human flesh, daddy has a labored wrestling match with his commanding officer. ZOMBIE FIGHT!!
Following in the footsteps of the film's director, even the writers didn't want to be associated with this big pile of rotting flesh from the French countryside: Julián Esteban and Jesús Franco, who was original attached to direct, are credited as Julius Valery and A.L. Mariaux, respectively. Some years later, the culprits behind this atrocity against celluloid were finally brought to justice, sentenced to forever being associated with this unintentionally hilarious mess and having their names prominently displayed across every home video release. It's not quite as bad as it sounds since the movie has only grown in cult stature, infamously remembered for its badness. And 'Zombie Lake' is actually a decently fun watch, so long as you're in the mood for something this horrible.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'Zombie Lake' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a blue, eco-elite case, the Region Free, BD25 disc goes straight to the main menu with a still photo of the cover art and music playing in the background.
The zombies crawl out of their lake with an impressive though far from excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. As is the usual case from Kino Lorber, the source is in fine condition, and it shows with better than expected resolution and definition. Only, there's been little to no effort of a proper restoration of those elements. This means, viewers must endure a variety of white specks, dirt, scratches and a few damaged frames along with the picture's better, more positive aspects.
Nevertheless, the 1.66:1 image displays strong, distinct detailing in the stone architecture, cobbled roads and in the foliage for a majority of the runtime. It's now more than ever easier to detect many goofs in the production, such as the horrible makeup. Textures in faces and clothing are generally revealing and pleasing, but nothing really to boast about. Poorly-lit interiors could be a tad stronger, but they're still acceptable with good visibility in the shadows. Contrast and brightness are well balanced and consistent with clean whites and deep blacks throughout. Only one or two scenes look a bit faded and dull. Colors are equally in great standing order, especially the greens of surrounding trees and the reds in the buckets of fake blood. All things considered, the hilariously-bad horror movie comes to Blu-ray with a surprisingly good video.
Arriving with the option of either the original French language or an English dubbed version, the uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack is on par with the video, meaning it's impressive for what it is and considering its low-budget origins.
The difference between the two tracks is the level and amount of noise and hissing audible in the background. The English dub fares poorer in this respect, while the original French sounds cleaner and better resolved in the center of the screen. Ignoring the terrible ADR job done to the movie, the lossless mix has a strong, stable presence with excellent, intelligible dialogue reproduction. Several high-pitched action sequences come through efficiently with good detailed clarity into the upper ranges, generating a decently wide imaging. Several ambient effects, like chirping birds, are employed and are appreciably convincing while recycled music mildly broaden the soundfield. Bass is also plentiful but appropriate to the design and its age, making this an amusingly good high-rez track.
In the 'Zombie Lake,' the scenes of terror and shock are hysterically not related to the movie's zombie horror elements, but to its shoddy production values, wince-inducing acting and laughable storyline. If you're in the mood for really bad filmmaking, then Jean Rollin's cult zombie shocker is sure to satisfy that insatiable thirst. The Blu-ray arrives with a surprisingly good audio and video presentation, considering the film's low-budget origins and quality. Supplements are nothing particularly special, but horror-hounds are sure to want this nonetheless. Everyone else should heed my warning: watch at your own risk!