When two of the most prodigious talents in Eurohorror team up for a joint production, the results might be expected to be memorable. Alas, with Zombie Lake, not even the imaginative prowess of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco can overcome the ill-effects of the most miniscule of budgets, even when combined with both a novel plot concept and the beautiful French countryside. Billed as "the most terrifying zombie massacre ever to come to the screen," there is little even remotely frightening about this corny 1980 schlocker, which Image released to DVD in 2001 as part of its Euroshock Collection.
Synopsis: A once-peaceful, circa-1980 French country village is now plagued by a spate of disappearances of attractive young women. Eventually, with the help of an investigating news reporter, the disappearances are traced to a nearby resort lake (long rumored to be cursed), where, during the Second World War, French Resistance fighters ambushed a squad of German soldiers and disposed of the bodies in the gently rippling waters. However, the lake's tranquil surface conceals a dark, sinister magic, which has since transformed the fallen Wehrmacht men into tormented undead who crave human blood. The monsters are now acting on these urges, foraying into the village for victims, but the inhabitants' pleas that supernatural powers are behind the mayhem meet with skepticism from police authorities. The villagers find themselves on their own in their battle against the walking dead, who are impervious to bullets and now wander the lanes and cobbled roads at will, seeking prey. Is there any way for the beleaguered inhabitants to stop the onslaught of these green-tinged monsters (and salvage what is left of their hamlet's gender ratio)?
Thoughts: Despite the novel concept, Zombie Lake is irredeemably ruined by its blatantly sub-par budget. The costumes and effects are minimal, with the zombie transformations consisting of little more than green grease-paint (portions of which occasionally wash off during the aquatic scenes or are missed altogether), or slapped-on latex masks with all-too-apparent edges. Meanwhile, the zombies are clad in uniforms crisp enough to have been drawn from Wehrmacht stores that very day, their hair is neatly combed and parted, and their helmets are clean and shiny enough to pass the most rigorous dress inspection. Further sabotaging realism are the war-era battle scenes, which are played out in a mostly limp-wristed and unconvincing manner, with the actors handling weapons like amateurs, while simulated explosions, more akin to Halloween pyrotechnics than bursting bombs and shells, pop around them. The lacklustre acting is not confined to the battle scenes, either, but instead permeates the film throughout, and copious amounts of gratuitious nudity is no compensation.
In contrast to the modest craters left by the pyro-simulated bomb- and shell-bursts, the lack of attention to detail blasts big holes in the film's continuity. For example, why is the progeny of the romantic sub-plot (a wartime laison) pre-teen instead of thirty-something, and why haven't the villagers aged a day since the war? These would not have been issues had the latter-era scenes been set in the early 1950s and the ambience of that period been recreated, but instead, fall casualty to the film's slapped-together nature.
The script, too, is impacted by big holes. Why the villagers' silence towards the investigative reporter, when they have no dark secret to hide? And why are the zombies only now foraying en masse into the village, after having confined their attacks to the lake and its shores for so many years? And the biggest hole of all is that the plot is utterly predictable and devoid of tension, which eliminates any frights that might have slipped past the hokey effects.
In summary, the mediocre effects, lacklustre script, and absence of anything even remotely scary breaks down the cohesion of this film beyond redemption. 'Nuff said.
Video: The transfer is 16x9-enhanced 1.66:1 OAR, but the quality is inconsistent; although much of the time it is relatively good for a film of this age (with fine detail and color saturation), at times annoying defects are evident. These include problems like muted colors, compression artifacts (such as noise and image jitter), some edge enhancement, and source damage (including speckles, faded colors, and damage).
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 (mono), unspectacular but clean, dubbed in English over the original French soundtrack. The dubbing is mediocore, and further handicaps the rather limited acting performances; combined with the resulting lip-synch problems, it detracts much more than subtitles would have.
Packaging: Keepcase with single-page insert, with attractive cover art and very nice decorative frosting on the disc itself (these two features are the most redeeming of the presentation).
Supplements: Theatrical trailer, alternate "clothed" sequences (for use in place of the nude scenes), alternate English-language title sequence (the regular title credits are in French).
Conclusions: Zombie Lake is almost as low-budget as productions come, and that isn't helped by the sub-par transfer of this release. However, the title is entertaining in the kitschy way that many Eurohorror fans have come to appreciate, and having nice cover and spine art, it might make an attractive addition to a DVD shelf (at only $7.31 shipped from Deep Discount DVD, it is quite affordable). The film may also appeal to those who like schlocky horror, bad films in general, or who simply want something to snicker at some night when they're bored. In that event, rental is advised.