Another feature of...
Note: Readers will note that,
while at least one of the stills accompanying this article features ladies in
their undies, my review details instead a copious amount of nudity. Given
that this is a family site, I obviously would not include screen captures
of this nature. And so hats off to the good folks at Image Entertainment,
who produced the DVD for this movie. Included as an extra on the disc is
alternate footage featuring the women barely dressed as opposed to
outright naked. These inserts were shot for those countries whose censor
boards frowned on nudity, as well as for television showings. This has, in
fact, become a fairly standard practice.
I’ve been doing this Bad Movie thing for a while now. It’s been my ‘official’ hobby for just about twenty years now. Assuming, conservatively, that I’ve watched fifty bad movies a year over that period, which adds up to a thousand movies of various levels of stupidity and incompetence. So imagine how pleasing it is to know that I can still see something I’ve never seen before. It keeps you young.
When I started this VCRs were in their infancy. I still remember my first one. It was a top loader, meaning that the part that held the tape actually lifted free from the VCR. You’d hit the button, it would pop up, you’d load your cassette and manually push the mechanism back into place. The Betamax and VHS cassette formats were still warring it out and viewing choices were limited. Porno movies, in fact, were what made the home movie market commercially viable until the major studios eventually started putting out videos. ‘Cable’ TV, meanwhile, involved subscribing to a single channel such as ‘Spectravision.’ In other words, your best bet to catch crappy old movies was to scan the free TV listings and hope that something stupid would be playing at three in the morning. Even then reception was often bad and the movies were usually hacked to pieces.
Eventually, though, the video market started providing a lot of weird crap. The early days were especially good. With the major studios sitting on their libraries, any guy with the rights to whatever weird film rushed it out on tape, filling the vacuum created by the lack of product. This instigated a boom time for hobbyists like myself. However, the quality of these tapes was usually poor. Even when the transfers were good – which wasn’t often -- the films themselves were inevitably panned and scanned, and often taken from edited masters. As well, video was, and remains, an unwieldy format. The cassettes were large and weighed a good deal, meaning that storage and shipping were a problem. Moreover, the magnetic tape interiors were easily damaged, and on their own tended to degrade over time.
So arrives the DVD. After killing off and surviving Divx, as VHS defeated Betamax (although Divx was, on the face of it, a remarkably stupid idea to start with), DVD quickly has become the format of choice both for cinephiles and, increasingly, the public at large. Meanwhile, DVD has already, in its infancy, eclipsed the videocassette for high quality releases of schlock cinema.
To start with, there’s the obvious superiority in terms of picture and sound quality. Then there’s the fact that, so far, letterboxing on discs has remained the standard. (Although the resistance of Norms to this remains a danger. The fact is, the majority of consumers would probably prefer films to be ‘full framed’, i.e., edited to fit the more or less square TV screen. And it’s possible their numbers will win out in the end.)
Then there’s the fact that DVDs last longer, practically forever if treated with a modicum of care. To this add low prices, at least as of yet, although rumblings of ‘rental’ prices, where some discs would be priced at ‘sell through’ prices, i.e., twenty bucks or so, while others would run up to a hundred. This is how videos have been priced for years. Because video rental stores could be counted on to buy a certain amount of product regardless of price, ‘rental pricing’ meant more income on marginal titles.
One factor that will help suppress this trend, for discs anyway, is that the various small companies that have sprung up are less likely to go along with it with the major corporations. This is because of the emergence of what are, more or less, fan releasing companies. By which I mean small companies run by fans who actually love the schlock themselves and treat it as seriously as those they expect to buy their wares. Such companies include Anchor Bay, Synapse, Image and Troma. They want their wares to be available, and thus are less likely to raise their profits in order to make an extra margin of profit.
Such companies have been made feasible by the unique advantages of DVD. DVDs are smaller and weigh less than tapes and so are cheaper to store and ship. Furthermore, discs are themselves cheaper and are more basic mechanisms than videocassettes, resulting in less waste product. These factors mean that smaller runs of any particular DVD release are needed to make money. Since videos cost more to produce and so on, you might have to sell 20,000 units, say, to make a profit. With DVD, you might only need to sell 10,000 to make the same amount of money. This means it’s economical to release films on DVD that wouldn’t be profitable on tape. Thus fan companies can choose to put out movies that they like. And this means that they will put more effort into releasing a quality package, since they have the opportunity to release the sort of discs that they themselves would be interested in buying.
Say what you want about the Europeans, they don’t waste a lot of time getting to the good parts. (Unless by 'good' parts you mean cinematically interesting ones. By that standard we never get to them.) So we open upon a bucolic-looking lake, the title Zombie Lake flashes across the screen -- well, Le Lac Des Morts Vivants, actually; the DVD uses the Euro credit sequence, for reasons gone into below -- and a buxom young lady enters shot. Attired in a blouse and white short-shorts, she comes upon a gazebo and immediately begins undressing. In this task she is aided by her distinct dearth of undergarments. Thus, one minute and twelve seconds into the film we get our first full-frontal (and then backal) nude shot.
The camera leisurely dwells upon her charms, accompanied by a lounge musician showing off his Burt Bacharach-esque chops on a Wurlitzer organ. One minute and forty seconds into things and our first note of horror is introduced: The lady fishes a pair of bathing shorts out from her purse. A mass sigh of relief was no doubt heard from theater audiences when she surveyed the emptiness around her and returned said garment to her bag.
The lady decides to sun herself on a log. She’s seen lying in a position that, as they say, leaves very little to the imagination. Certainly her status as a natural brunette is authoritatively established. Also laid to rest are any questions regarding her evident lack of tan lines. And if this is not all palpable enough, the camera zooms in for a particularly tight tracking shot across her hills and valleys. Well, her valleys and hills, actually. As the camera glides past her, uh, wetlands, the credit "montage CLAUDE GROS" appears. Which, I don’t know, just seemed worth mentioning.
Of course, the pastoral atmosphere fostered by these scenes of nature’s bounty will not last. And so Our Temporary Heroine goes for a stroll – nude and through tall grass, ouch – and soon approaches a amateurishly executed sign. This points to the lake and features childishly drawn graphics portraying a swimmer covered by a red "X", followed by your traditional skull-and-crossbones. Deciding to go for a swim, the lady first takes steps to ensure her safety. This entails plucking the warning sign up out of the ground and tossing it aside. Thus protected, she lowers herself into the murky, lily pad-strewn waters. Here the alert viewer will begin to fear for her safety, recalling that the film’s title translated to The Lake of the Living Dead.
(Back to that Americanized credit sequence, which is included on the disc as an extra. However, the credits appear over black title cards and hence don’t feature the above-described nudity. Needless to say, Image opted to use the European cut instead. And considering who is likely to buy or rent this disc, it was undoubtedly a wise decision.)
Here one of the film’s more distinctive and memorable elements comes to the fore. Which is that whenever a character is shown in the lake from the surface, the water is brackish and dotted with numerous water plants. When we see the characters from below, however, the water is crystal clear, the walls of the lake are suddenly perfectly straight and perpendicular, and aside from some strands of seaweed ‘growing’ from the lake’s bottom, little fauna can be observed. Moreover, from outside of the lake the sun is blazing, yet from underwater it appears fairly dark out, as if the lake were inside a building of some sort and lit only by a series of ceiling lamps. It’s all very strange, and moreover these incongruities may be dwelt upon at length, since similar shots will be occurring throughout the rest of the movie.
Even better are the bits where the underwater zombie guy is lurking on the *cough, cough* lake bottom amidst some 'weeds.’ If you look off to his left (i.e., to the right side of the screen) you can see past the draped gray tarp they used to provide a vague background for the underwater shots. Beyond this is what is noticeably the wall of a swimming pool.
Our Heroine frolics for the underwater camera, and at not much distance from it either. This is especially conspicuous during her scissors kicks, if you know what I mean. Meanwhile, the lazy crooning of the Wurlitzer continues on. The green faced zombie, dressed in a WWII German infantry uniform and still lurking in the *ahem* weeds, observes all of this. (With only one eye, however. The other is covered with a blob of make-up, no doubt meant to suggest the orb's complete absence.) In a weird way it’s sort of like a sequence from Creature from the Black Lagoon, only from a version where Julie Adams was a well-lit nudist and the Creature was a living dead Nazi.
So she continues to swim around -- when we cut back to the outside shots, she assiduously shifts to a backstroke, so as to keep her boobies in shot – and then we watch as the Nazi Zombie’s hand rises from the water. And then as the hand slowly lowers itself again. Oddly, although his face is (mostly) green, his hand is almost entirely a normal flesh color. Maybe the make-up washed off in the water, or maybe they couldn’t be bothered to worry about the zombie's hands. Not to mention that the green coloring tends to get a tad patchy up near the hairline. This isn’t a film that suggests an expansive shooting schedule.
The music segues to a discordant horror theme, although such usually don’t utilize the mouth organ quite as much as this one does. Even so, events continue apace for a while. She swims, he gazes upon her from underwater. I’m not sure why he apparently swam up close to the surface, stuck his hand up from the water, and then returned to the pool floor, er, lakebed below. But then, I’m not a Nazi Zombie guy. Anyhoo, he eventually sticks his head up above water, although somehow the lady does not observe this. Given how things are edited this seems unlikely, but nonetheless, that’s how events progress. Eventually, the Nazi Zombie hauls her below the waters. He spends some kind pulling at her – I’m sure fondling isn’t the correct word here – and presumably she meets her doom.
I say presumably because we cut in the middle of the scene to a sidewalk café in a quaint European village. A blond waitress is serving mugs of beer (go figure) to a table of village burghers. Here we get our first lines of dialog, and are struck by the rather haphazard dubbing on display here. I mean, this was dubbed into English from French, not Japanese. You’d think they could have done a better job.
Following the Waitress’ big line ("And try not to break any glasses this time" – since when is beer served in ‘glasses’?), the men begin to discuss the missing girl. One fellow advises them to remain calm. "She probably met some young stud," he conjectures. Yes, this is a European film, all-righty. Janek (or something) remains concerned, however. He notes that the woman left her luggage behind, and asks the waitress if she knows anything further. "She said she was going out to the lake," she replies. Here I expected the men to exchange Significant Glances, but this doesn’t happen. [Future Ken: Despite the warning sign posted by the lake, we will learn that the attack on the young girl was the first such one.] Janek notes that if she doesn’t come back by morning, he’ll go to the Mayor and get a search party set up.
The Mayor (Euro-crap mainstay Howard Vernon) is seen dozing in this study. Said chamber contains a plaster skull. We know because this is what the camera opens and holds upon as we segue there. The skull doesn’t really match any of the other décor, but, hey, it’s spooky, right? In a rather Doris Wishman-esque moment, the camera pans from the Mayor's sleeping figure to sweep across the plethora of knickknacks and objects de art that stuff the room. This includes a painting of a nude woman hanging on the inside of door into the room. As someone who owns way too much crap myself, I sympathize.
The Mayor is awakened when Janek drops by to report on the search. "There’s no sign of her," he explains. Then he reaches into his shoulder bag and produces her clothes – minus the white short-shorts – which he found out by the Lake. Personally, I’d say that falls under the rubric of a "sign of her," but what do I know? The Mayor decides that he’ll have to call in the police – the village is apparently too small to boast its own – although he fears that more is happening here than meets the eye.
Out at the Lake, One Eye the Zombie is peeking up from below the water. We cut away and see a young woman pushing a wheelbarrow across a bridge. Here the film’s geography becomes a bit suspect. Up to now the Lake seemed secluded, deep in the woods and some distance from any habitation. Janek even used the phrase "…all the way out to the Lake," earlier. Here, however, the bridge and some nearby buildings seem to be right along side of it. Such is the magic of editing. Still, it isn’t nearly as whimsical as the insert shot that placed a medieval European castle smack dab into a Middle Eastern desert in Commando Girls.
The woman is seen doing some laundry. I guess. In any case, she’s beats a folded-up sheet with a wooden paddle and then sticks it into a bucket of water. Then the bucket is carried back to the wheelbarrow for the trip home. Around about this time One Eye emerges from the waters, staggering around in the accepted Zombie manner. Anyway, we now see that the bridge, and thus presumably the Lake, directly abuts the main village. (??) Which is strangely deserted, by the way. This allows One Eye to Offscreen Teleport to a position where he can jump out and ambush the Laundry Woman. Considering how slowly he moves this seems unlikely, but that’s why Offscreen Teleportation was invented, after all.
One Eye, moving rather more quickly than he does normally does, grabs the woman and forces her to the ground. Holding her down, he begins gumming her neck. A (very slight) gore effect is suggested by having the actor nuzzle her while dripping out quantities of fake blood from his mouth. Already meager, the effect is further compromised by the fact that he quite obviously hasn’t broken her skin. On the other hand, we can see some of his face make-up flaking off, so there's that. In this manner he manages to kill her in about four or five seconds.
We next see some men carrying her body through the streets of the village, which now sports quite a few citizens. I began writing about how this is completely ripped-off from the 1931 Frankenstein, following the drowning of little Maria. But thinking about it made my head hurt, so I’ll leave that aspect alone.
A close-up shows us that they’ve added a prosthetic wound to the victim's throat. While no doubt well intentioned, the effort is diminished by the fact that the wound’s on the left side of her neck, whereas One Eye was clearly gumming her on the right side. Even more questionable is that the villagers carrying her in such a way as to provide us with a rather unpalatable panty shot. By the way, were bikini panties with a little flower pattern popular in small villages back in the 50s? Because that’s the time period indicated by the film’s events.
The men, arriving before a building, pause and lower her to the ground in such a fashion that her panties remainl exposed. Then two of the men depart, leaving only the girl's father behind. The door opens and The Mayor appears. Villagers crowd nearby, stunned expressions on their faces. Please pardon my ignorance. But again, were gigantic white guys Afros in fashion back then, especially in parochial little villages in Germany? In fact…clothes…haircuts…that red car driving by in the background…that black kid…the eyeglasses? Wait, WWII was fought back in the ‘40s, right? I mean, I am an American, so what do I know about history? Anyway.
The girl’s father finally bends over and covers up the girl’s panties. And closes her eyes. Then he looks accusingly at the Mayor. Despite the fact that Vernon sounds like he’s dubbing his own voice, his lip movements are way off as he tells the man that nothing can be done until the police arrive. Then the two of them walk inside, leaving the girl’s body out on the pavement. (!!) "I know how you feel about your daughter," the Mayor tells him. "Yeah, I know," the man sighs in a rather, uh, laconic fashion. Given the circumstances and everything. This vital exchange concluded, the man walks back outside and sadly surveys his deceased daughter. Not only does this sequence provide a sense of quiet tragedy, but it eats up more of the expansive eighty-four minute running time.
Out on a rural bridge somewhere we see the Mayor sitting on a stone fence. Two young boys run by and he calls them over. It turns out that the lads have witnessed something or other and he is seeking details. Then we cut to the Mayor returning to his study, which still looks like an episode of Packrat Weekly. From his fireplace mantle he removes a book and then sits down to examine it. Then we cut to the café. (Look, I didn’t edit this thing.)
A woman arrives, dressed in a particularly loathsome striped jacket and skirt combo that inexplicably sports short sleeves. Pausing to snap a picture of some of the locals, she then enters the pub area. She sits and undoes the knotted silk scarf garnishing her outfit, which isn’t exactly helping matters. Addressing the patrons, she reveals herself to be a newspaper reporter. Hearing this, Janek pulls up a chair and joins her. We cut to a severe close-up of her face, making what might be the film’s more inept bout of dubbing all the more blatant. She tells him that she’s hoping to do a story on their "weird lake." "You call it," she continues, "the Lake of Ghosts." Which is the first we’ve heard of it. Janek tells her that the Mayor is likely to prove her best source on the Lake’s history.
He escorts her over, invites her to go on in and then takes his leave. Inside, the reporter meets the Mayor and introduces herself as Katiya Muse (or something). She’s working on a story, she tells him, and asks for information on the old legends surrounding the Lake. The Mayor initially is brusque with her, until she produces an aged tome on supernatural phenomena. His antiquarian instincts aroused, he invites her into his study.
This provides one of the film’s great moments. First, it’s obvious that the room has been lit with massive klieg lights. Even if we failed to notice the inordinate level of lighting, the juncture box in which the lights and other equipment have been plugged in has been left out in plain view. (!) Even better, the two are shot entering the room with a steadicam. We know because the cameramen following them films themselves as they passes by a mirror. (!!) To someone who derives pleasure from catching sight of an errant boom mike, this is Nirvana.
A rather confusingly translated conversation follows. Basically, she seeks info on the "Lake of the Damned," while he tries to convince her there’s no story here. The story of the Lake, he argues, is too out of date to result in interest. She asks for it anyway. "You’re right," he admits. "Time occasionally turns a story into folk tales and legends. And that’s the very stuff of books." (??) So saying, he launches into a tale about the War.
We cut to a small troop truck driving into the village, transporting a group of eight German soldiers. An airplane is heard overhead (that’s so much economical than actually showing the thing) and the troops jump out. One leaps into a mud puddle for cover, another opens fire with his Schmeisser submachine gun. From this I’d have to guess that the plane was flying unusually low, like maybe fifty or sixty feet off the ground. Otherwise the changes of hitting the thing would be pretty slight.
The guy lying in the mud is caught by a blast and some extremely dubious pyrotechnics that follow. Looking at this bit closely, you could only hope that the stuntman got a bonus, as the gag involves him lying in some flammable liquid that ignites as he’s prostrate in it. Another guy suddenly grasps at his face. This proves messy, since he was apparently clutching some packets of stage blood as he did so.
We cut to an attractive but terrified local woman, trapped underneath the deadly attack of the phantom aircraft. One of the soldiers, your stereotypical tall blond type, runs over and tackles her to the ground. Then he covers her, protecting her body with his. Soon a *cough, cough* bomb explodes nearby. The soldier then gets the woman to safety before collapsing, apparently the victim of shrapnel or concussion or some damn thing. The *wink, wink* bombardment over, his fellows come over and help him to a nearby field hospital. Soon the woman appears, there’s your standard European PZS (Pointless Zoom Shot) to her, and then we see her and the soldier exchanging Significant Glances.
Soon the two are meeting late at night in the woods. (Oh, yeah, she’s going to be real popular once the war’s over.) This is accompanied by romantic music, lest we miss the significance. Taking his hand, she leads him into a nearby barn, or some damn thing. Here there’s a pile of hay and a window, although the light coming through this pretty obviously fails to match the nighttime exterior scene we just witnessed. Anyhoo, Hans, or so I’ll call him, is soon claiming The Hero’s Reward. Fifi, or so I’ll call her, quickly and effortlessly shucks off her dress -- who designed that thing, Harry Houdini? -- while we are provided with further evidence of the low esteem with which underwear is held in this vicinity. Then there’re some rather listless Acts of Passion performed for our supposed benefit. Meanwhile, the music assures us that these activities are an Expression of Love and not just Base Carnality.
This all goes on for rather longer than we needed to get the point. Following which we’re treated to a last full-frontal shot of Fifi. This accomplished, Fifi hangs her necklace over Han’s neck, a keepsake to remember her by. End scene. We then cut to Hans leaving town in his troop truck, having rejoined his squad. We see Fifi crying.
Next is a winter battle sequence. Given the white camouflage suits the Soldiers are wearing, I can only assume that this is supposed to be taking place on the Russian front. Much like the earlier invisible airplane, we see numerous ‘Germans’ but no Soviets. This, unsurprisingly, diminishes the sequence’s effectiveness.
Following these desultory antics, we cut back to springtime, or some damn thing. The Germans are in retreat, and marching back through France. We see a number of troops and a couple of tanks in what I assume is a bit of stock footage. Then it’s back to the same troop truck driving back through the same town. I really didn’t know the German’s retreated along the exact same routes they brought their troops up with.
Hans leaps from the truck and beats feet. (Considering that his squad was presumably fighting on the Russian front, it remains surprisingly intact.) He enters Fifi’s house, and immediately walks over to a bassinet and looks upon his love child. He busses the weak-looking Fifi – I’m assuming the kid was just born recently – and takes his leave.
Hans returns to his squad and we see their troop truck rolling down a country road. Their Leader (I’ll call him Fritz), a brunette fellow who is obviously fellow who becomes One Eye the Zombie, calls for a roadside break. Or some damn thing, because soon the soldiers are patrolling a remote country lane. (??) Leaving the road, they hike aimlessly through the woods for a while, until they stop for a smoke. Then suddenly, just when we most suspect it, they are fired upon by French partisans. This group includes younger version of Janek the Inn Keeper.
The Germans are quickly massacred. (Ambushing battle-hardened troops appears to be easier than I thought.) Fritz gets shot in the eye -- see how it’s all coming together? – an effect realized by the expedient of having him clasp his hand over his face as fake blood is pumped through a tube running up his jacket sleeve. Now, normally this would be merely an educated guess. Here, however, in another of film’s uniquely great moments, the actor reacts by leaning back in ‘agony.’ This then allows us to quite clearly observe, emerging from between the buttons of his uniform jacket, the transparent plastic tube through which the stage blood is being pumped. I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever seeing such a thing in any other bad movie I can remember.
We cut to Hans’ lifeless body, sprawled across the ground. Then, as if sensing the passing of her Soul Mate, Fifi is shown to have passed away too. These sequences are accompanied by a reprise of Han’s and Fifi’s Love Theme. Earlier, it symbolized their love. Now it instead serves as a meloncholey dirge to what might have been. (Wow!)
A *ahem* younger version of the Mayor -- we can tells from the dye in his hair and the use of a soft-focus lens -- appears on the scene, having heard the shooting. He finds the villagers scavenging the bodies. Yeah, I’d want to be caught wearing German infantry boots when the Gestapo comes to investigate their disappearance. The Mayor warns that the bodies must be disposed of, lest they be found near the village and bring about reprisals. (And no, no one mentions what they’re going to do with the truck.) However, the partisan leader notes that they have little time, as two more trucks of Germans are due through on the same road. I have to say, I’m impressed with their intelligence gathering skills.
As a compromise, the bodies are tossed into the lake. Because bodies don’t float, I guess. I mean, they certainly don’t appear to have bothered to weigh them down or anything. And sure enough, the bodies soon disappear from sight. End flashback, and Katiya takes her leave of the Mayor.
Here we’re introduced to the film’s most bizarre plot element. In the very hay barn where she was conceived, we see young Helena sitting stoically. She’s perhaps thirteen and quiet, a legacy, presumably, of the tragic circumstances of her birth. (Helena’s age is what firmly sets the film somewhere in, roughly, 1957-‘59.) She’s also wearing a mini-mini dress, one that barely covers her crotch. Damn French. Anyway, now that we know who she is, we move on.
Next comes the scene that cements Zombie Lake’s reputation as the classic it is. In perhaps the film’s most overtly European moment, a mini-bus drives up alongside the Lake. Upon parking, a giggling female volleyball team pours out from the bus. Dressed in T-shirts and shorts, they begin to awkwardly bat around a volleyball. Because, you see, they’re an all-female volleyball team. So what else would they be doing?
Of course, being young women they giggle a lot and walk around with their arms platonically around each other’s waists and that kind of thing. Presumably in their dorm rooms at night they wear little nighties and engage in giggling pillow fights. Unsurprisingly, they quickly doff their clothes and begin to lark it up in the lake. Adding dissonance to all of this is the scene’s goofily cheery Lah-lah-lah-lah-lah music. Literally, with singers merrily scat-singing "Lah-lah-lah-lah, la-la-la". It’s the sort of music that generally would connote a Swedish sex comedy about six horny blondes who operate gas stations or lunch wagons. Which would be fine if this were a Swedish sex comedy. However, given our awareness that the ladies are probably soon to fall victim to a horrible death, it’s just kind of weird. Damn Europeans.
Of course, the pre-massacre frolicking goes on at some length. Up above, in the actual lake, the girls bounce around in order to add some jiggle to their thankfully un-surgically enhanced bosoms. Down below, meanwhile, in the bits filmed in the swimming pool (oops, sorry), the ladies take turns swimming their nether regions directly over the camera, scissor-kicking all the while. This lead me to speculate the Lake was actually nicknamed "The Lake of the Dammed," in reference to all the beav…well, anyway. Believe me, Sharon Stone had nothing on these gals.
Down below, meanwhile, we finally see the full squad of Nazi Zombies. Oddly, not only are their uniforms in perfect shape after being submerged in a lake for thirteen or fourteen years, but the zombies are trailing oxygen bubbles. Which just seemed odd, under the circumstances. Almost as if they had just entered the water and air trapped in their clothes was beginning to escape.
And so we spend some minutes intercutting between the two groups, the girls cavorting, the zombies waiting for their cue to attack. When the ladies are our focus, the cheery Lah-la-la music is heard, when the zombies are seen it’s the film’s discordant horror music. The shifts from the one to the other are very bizarre. (Damn Europeans.) Eventually, however, the zombies sort of lightly grapple with the females, pulling them down to their respective fates. Which, luckily, are left to our imaginations. Meanwhile, this is witnessed by the lone surviving team member. Wearing only shorts, the topless woman runs hysterically into town. Entering the pub, she shouts "The Lake!! The Lake!!" Then she falls unconscious onto a table. Of course she falls, er, face up, if you know what I mean. At this she’s taken upstairs to a room by three or four of the guys. A situation I’d feel more secure about if this film weren’t made by a bunch of damned Europeans.
Requesting help, the Mayor is promised the assistance of two police detectives. Given that the Mayor has half-figured what’s occurring here – he’s even magically forecasting the upcoming zombie assault on the village -- I’m not sure how much help he expects a couple of cops to be. The police chief hangs up and opines to a compatriot that the Mayor is nuts. Even so, they are trouble by the mysterious disappearance of the girl’s "basketball" team. (What, we don’t have volleyball here in the States?)
And so Detectives Spitz and Moran arrive at the village. Again, let’s just say that neither their attire nor their haircuts scream out "1958!" or even anything very close to that. They stop in town, and then proceed to the Mayor’s house. (There you go, another forty seconds effortlessly eaten up.) Here the Mayor finally spits out the whole Lake of the Damned thing. Its Evil History goes back to the Inquisition…blah, blah…Black Masses…yada, yada…you get the idea. Anyhoo, the Lake’s supposedly got spirits that, if unappeased, rise up and seek out *gasp* human blood.
Actually, what I find sort of funny is the whole Nazi angle. Usually it’s evil acts that bring on supernatural retribution, but killing a bunch of invading Nazi soldiers would hardly seem to quality as a grossly wicked undertaking. Apparently, the Lake only likes bodies that have been sacrificed to it or something. Since this wasn’t the case, the corpses are coming back. Admittedly, they took their sweet time about it, but there you go. The cops, needless to say, don’t put much stock into any of this and take their leave.
We cut to see the zombie soldiers on the march. Luckily their facial makeup has been touched up for this, although there are still bald patches. Zombie Hans, needless to say, is the best looking corpse. Even is hair is clean and nicely combed. As they shamble through the again oddly deserted streets of the town, Zombie Hans stops before a building. It’s Fifi’s old house, and he seems to remember it.
This is the film’s most bizarre and most potentially off-putting subplot, and it starts well. As Zombie Hans stares at the abode, the soundtrack begins blaring his and Fifi’s Love Theme. (!!) Ah, nobody’s more nostalgic than a living dead, blood-drinking zombie, I guess. Inside, we see that Fifi’s old room is now Helena’s. A framed picture of Mom and a plaster elephant in lieu of the former plaster cat indicate the passage of time. Helena is in bed, attired in one of her trademark crotch-length dresses (Damn Europeans) and reading a book.
Suddenly her ‘father’ enters the room. Helena stares blankly up at him, unfraid despite the fact that he’s:
The two exchange glances. (It should be noted that the actor playing Zombie Hans connotes his zombiehood by popping his eyes real wide. Vaguely comical to start with, the expression’s humorous aspects are further exaggerated by to the dark green makeup covering his face.) After a few seconds of this Zombie Hans unbuttons his tunic and reveals the necklace Fifi gave him. Helena instantly recognizes it, since it’s conveniently featured in the above noted photograph of her mother. Helena smiles at her father while he leans over and strokes her face. Clumsily, of course, I mean he’s still a zombie. The odder aspects of this somewhat bittersweet reunion are hilariously counter pointed by the incessant use of the maudlin theme music. A connection made, Zombie Hans bestows the necklace upon his daughter. Then he takes his leave. Or so I assume, as we now just cut away to the next scene.
Spitz and Moran drop by the Pub, looking for information. As they question the patrons, one extra turns and stares right into the camera. Then he apparently remembers that he’s not supposed to do this and looks away again. This is one of those scenes, prevalent in poorly dubbed movies, where the flow of the dialog makes little or no sense. One of the cops will say or ask something and the reply will sound like a response to something entirely different. And vice-versa. The officers also utilize the unusual technique of trying to question the entire room at once, rather than interviewing one witness at a time. After slaving away at this for perhaps an entire minute, the detectives admit defeat. Disgustedly calling the residents a "heap of hicks," they turn and take their leave.
Cut to the two out by the Lake. They find the soccer team’s van and sort of glance at it before moving on. "I really wonder what happened here," one detective states, which is probably a good start given that he’s supposed to be investigating the situation. "It beats me," his partner replies, "No clue whatsoever." This is said as he stands next to the van, finishes looking over the girls’ abandoned clothing and begins to rifle one of their bags. None of which, apparently, count as ‘clues.’
As they chatter between themselves, the zombies pop up out of the water. One of them, standing in the back, clearly can’t see because his helmet has slipped over his eyes, and you can see him reach up to adjust it before they cut away. Anyhoo, they manage to sneak up on one cop and then magically surround the second one. I can only posit the use of some Offscreen Teleportation here, since one zombie manages to emerge from a position well behind the guy about four seconds after we see them in the water.
Next the zombies are awkwardly marching into town. Yep, it’s time for the ‘big’ attack scene. The first victims of this – I hope you’re sitting down -- are a shirtless man and woman in her underwear who are making out in a barn. Oh, and the guy is wearing what looks to be a really bad blond hairpiece. In one of the film’s less successful moments, he is attacked by a zombie wearing no facial make-up and sporting a beard and a (flesh-colored) bald spot. In other words, a zombie who in no way matches any of ones we’ve seen. In an obviously failed attempt to hide all this, the ‘zombie’ is filmed only from behind. Meanwhile, in the proceeding exterior shots we clearly are shown two zombies entering the building, neither of whom vaguely resembles this guy. One must have gotten lost while the other was transforming into another guy, however, for only one fellow is shown attacking the couple. I can only conjecture that the interior insert here was shot some time after the main production period, or else was the work of a second unit crew that didn’t have any of the zombie actors available.
Cutting back to the actual zombies, we see Fritz (i.e., One Eye) the Zombie barge into the Pub. If that’s not a scene to strike terror into the hearts of Europeans, I don’t know what would. Fritz, by the way, is a busy guy, since he was one of the two zombies seen entering the barn before the above confusion. Anyway, he sorta-kinda pushes one patron to the side and bumps into a couple of more. All the extras, er, villagers make their escape, though, although more than one is clearly smiling as he does so. Having failed to catch a victim despite cornering like a dozen people, Fritz the Zombie can only tip over some plywood furniture. Not exactly the kind of thing that’s going to win you that Zombie of the Year trophy.
Next we cut to a lady in her yard. Oh, and young, attractive, naked and in sitting in a big wooden tub. For a second, anyway, as she soon stands. As she does so we see that she’s wearing a teeny bikini bottom, which seems kind of pointless at this stage of the game. (Things I Learned: European women strip naked to swim in lakes, even those sporting a skull and crossbones sign, but wear bikini bottoms when bathing.) Then we see a zombie in a cornfield (?). I guess he’s stalking her. Hee hee! Get it? ‘Stalk’ing her? And hey, since he’s a soldier, I guess he’s probably a ‘kernal’! Ha, a kernal!! I kill me!!
Anyhoo, in a bit that somewhat oddly prefigures Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, the ghostly Nazi soldier emerges from amidst the corn stalks. Then he’s back in the corn. (??) None of this, by the way, really seems proximate to the woman in the bathtub. Still, that’s the magic of editing, I suppose. Anyway, the woman sees the camera man, er, zombie – this is filmed as a POV shot -- pretends to be scared, runs about two feet, and then pretends to stumble to the ground. Then the zombie gets her and does the neck-nuzzling thing while she dribbles a bit of stage blood from her mouth.
Then another zombie -- the only two we can really tell apart are Hans and Fritz -- espies a young woman. This zombie is shown by a cornfield. Thus he's probably the one featured in the shots edited into the recent attack on the bathtub lady. Anyway, his newly sighted victim quite naturally stops and hikes up her skirt so as to fiddle with her stocking garter. (!!) This takes rather more time than you’d imagine and the zombie gets her. Karo syrup is then spattered on the ground to intimate her sorry fate.
Then the zombies head back into the Lake. If that sounds abrupt, then I’m describing things well.
Back in the village, the townsfolk are waving their fists and a couple of shotguns and making some of the silliest ‘watermelon, watermelon’ sounds I’ve heard in a while. Then the Mayor makes his appearance. "We’d better face the fact," he exclaims, "the zombies have declared war! Those two cops were skeptical. Our fate’s now in our own hands. We must find a way to safeguard our town from the mad, murdering zombies!" He ends his exhortation by requesting the gun owning villagers (which should be all of them, you’d think) to help him set up an ambush. This inspires a swell of approval from the townsmen, although the tepid dubbing here makes it sound rather halfhearted.
We cut to some of the zombies beneath the waters of the ‘Lake.’ This is a particularly bad shot (or good one, depending on your perspective), as they’ve moved the camera too close to the actors. This allows us to clearly make out the rumbled tarp they’re using to ‘camouflage’ the pool wall behind them. Even better, when the cameraman moves to track the zombies our field of vision shifts to the right and then back over to the left. On each side we can see past the tarp to what are quite evidently water filters and such. This all becomes so readily apparent that the initial use of the woefully inadequate tarp only adds to the problem. Needless to say, by this juncture our suspension of disbelieve has become somewhat frayed.
Magically emerging from the Lake (per usual, beneath the Lake the water is completely clear; from topside its anything utterly muddy), they assemble for another bit of mischief. Meanwhile, the ‘ambush’ against them is gathering as well. Accompanied by a whole five or six guys armed with shotguns and old bolt action rifles – again, these are the only weapons in a small rural village? – the Mayor cocks back the hammer on his sub-nosed revolver (!!) and prepares to wait.
Sure enough, the zombies come shambling into town. Unfortunately for the town’s defenders, these are magical zombies and not Romero-esque sci-fi zombies. Or something. In any case, the interlopers prove entirely immune to gunfire. That’s why it must be magic. (Unless the filmmakers were even sloppier than I’m willing to give them credit for.) Zombie or no, a close-range shotgun blast is going to blow a limb off or cut you in half or something. Not here though. Heck, they don’t even get holes in their uniforms.
Janak, witnessing their inexorable march forward, begins his retreat. Rather than running back down the empty street, though, he backs into a building and ends up trapped against a wall. (Good one, ya yutz.) Zombie Hans enters and takes a bullet at pointblank range. This is the only time one of them reacts to being shot, which Zombie Hans does by spitting up a mess of soap bubbles. (??) This allows Janak to, somehow, make his escape.
Zombie Hans stops back by Helena’s for a visit. She smiles and rises from her bed, clad in some sort of semi-translucent yellow dress. (Damn Europeans.) They go for a walk down the lane (!!), hand in hand. And, why yes, the maudlin Lovers’ Theme again accompanies all of this. How’d you know? Anyhoo, Zombie Hans walks her over to the Lake, where his compatriots are waiting for him. Then, in a fine display of mime, Zombie Hans warns the others to stay away from his daughter. Ah, living or dead, it’s all the same for dads of young teenage girls, isn’t it?
His fellows, though, seem to resent this breach of the Zombie Code. So Zombie Fritz grabs a field knife and waves it at Zombie Hans. Why would this represent a threat, given the whole "we’re completely bulletproof" thing? Why, uh, magic. Yes, magic! That can explain a whole lot of stuff. (For instance, maybe an evil Spell of Bad Dubbing has been placed upon the entire village. That would account for much.) Zombie Hans grabs a weapon himself and the fight is on. This is filmed in a series of mostly close-ups, which wasn’t perhaps the wisest strategy. For instance, Zombie Han’s fake ‘eye cavity’ seems in much danger of falling off here. Moreover, all the green make-up is missing from his neck, leaving it a conspicuous flesh tone.
The two move in a very slow ‘zombie-like’ fashion, which doesn’t exactly notch up our excitement levels. Moreover, as they strain against one another, their arms extend out of their coat sleeves, and solidly past where the crew bothered to apply any zombie make-up. Finally, though (and I do mean ‘finally), the force of Fatherly Love wins out, and Zombie Fritz is force to submit. Helena kisses her father’s hand and runs off.
The zombies, perhaps tired of the high humidity levels attendant with living in a lake, camp out at some local ruins. Meanwhile, the Mayor goes to visit Helena. She reveals that her father protected her from the other zombies. The Mayor assumes a thoughtful look and we cut away. (??)
Next we see the Mayor and Katiya the reporter strolling around. Glad he doesn’t have anything better to do. He’s lamenting to her that it’s their own evil actions that have come back to haunt them. (Apparently murdering Nazi troops is a previously unmentioned moral sin.) He’s now blathering on about how the zombies are utterly invulnerable:
Katiya, in case you’re confused – and why wouldn’t you be – is talking about napalm. (Napalm is used in flamethrowers, not just in bombs.) The Mayor is delighted with this idea, since burning the zombie up doesn’t appear to have occurred to anyone else. Who apparently are all idiots. Anyway. Janek just happens to be standing nearby – does this guy have a job? – and suggests that one of the villagers be asked to fix up "his old flamethrower." Again, and no one thought of this earlier? Perhaps there are a couple of field cannon at hand that nobody thought to use either.
The Mayor is next seen with Helena. (The transitions in this film are rather abrupt.) The young girl, in a scene no doubt meant to be touching, offers to help trap the other zombies, but refuses to allow harm to come to her father. This is sort of an interesting scene, in a certain fashion. By which I mean it’s shot in a very odd fashion. During the above conversation the camera jerkily pans down from Helena’s face to focus on her necklace medallion for maybe ten seconds. Meanwhile, the Mayor ponders her statement. "What about your mother," he asks. "Don’t you think she loved him too?" (I’m not altogether certain of what that has to do with anything, but there you go.) Here the camera pans back to a tight close-up of Helena’s face. Then, without much apparent motivation, it zooms sharply in until her eyes fill the screen. Whatever. In any case, the Mayor argues that her father would probably prefer a peaceful death over the whole zombie thing.
As the Mayor leaves, a young boy runs up to reveal that ‘Maria’ has been found dead. (I guess she was either the woman in the tub or the one adjusting her garter, not that it really matters.) Following his little speech, the camera stays tight on his face for a while, although he doesn’t have anymore dialog. Hearing this, Helena fingers her medallion, her mind presumably now made up.
We cut to the Mayor coming to offer his condolences to Maria’s family. And yes, she was the one taking a bath. After about five seconds of this we cut to him waiting in a chair by Helena’s bed. Helena enters the room wearing a gingham dress. Helena, we learn, has the whole thing mapped out. "We’ll do it tomorrow," she explains. "It’s the full moon. Bring me a whole lot of fresh blood." She’ll use the blood to lure the zombies to the old mill. (Isn’t that where we already saw them before?) Then they can spring their trap. The Mayor attempts to discuss her plan, but her mind is made up. "I don’t want to talk about it," she tells him, the camera zooming in tight on her eyes.
Cut to the zombie clambering out of the Lake. Janek runs into town to warn the inhabitants. Katiya the reporter, however, refuses to leave. She wants to get some pictures. (Three guesses where this is going.) Unfortunately, this is before the days of the telephoto lens, or at least she didn’t bring one. As she focuses on one zombie, another comes up behind and…exit Katiya. At least this time they get the make-up gore appliance on the correct side of her throat.
Helena leaves her house, picking up a bucket presumably filled with blood and a torch. Not that she needs the latter, because, man, when they get a full moon around here it’s just like broad daylight. She heads over to the mill and lights the torch. Zombie Hans appears and she offers him a helping of blood, which he slurps out of her cupped hands. (Damn Europeans.) Then she fills a bowl with the stuff and lures him inside.
The others zombies are close behind. Soon all are assembled within and chowing down. Helena takes off and the townsfolk move in. Here we get one of the other highlights of the film. The ‘flamethrower’ is one that a prop guy obviously threw together. It’s basically a tank of gasoline or something with a nozzle attachment. When used, it drips big dollops of burning fuel and looks like it could explode at any moment. I’m not sure how they talked the actors into using it, because I wouldn’t get within a hundred miles of the thing. The zombies roast rather slowly and gruesomely, and their menace is ended. There are a couple further shots of Helena for Pathos’s sake ("Don’t forget me," she asks of her now briquette-esque father – don’t worry kid, I’m sure he’ll remember everything you’ve done for him), and then…Abrupt Finish.
Up above I mentioned the alternate "clothed" footage included on the disc. This includes a different cut of the attacks in the Lake. While bereft of sound, the viewer of the DVD simply must watch these clips.
For instance, we get longer and much closer shots of the underwater zombies. Most of which, except for the Hans and Fritz zombies, are bald or still wearing their helmets. This is because rather than being given actual make-up jobs, they’re wearing masks over their heads. While this undoubtedly saves some time, you can’t help but notice that all too evident borders of the mask. This is especially noticeable where the masks have been rather awkwardly cut to fit around the actors’ ears. Especially as they didn’t make-up the parts of their faces that remain visible to match the green color of the masks.
There are other amusing elements. For example, take the alternate footage of the attack on the volleyball team. Rather than the zombies popping up roughly en masse, as they do in the nudie cut, they come up more raggedly. This results, for example, in one actress having to pretend that she doesn’t see the two woman directly in front of her being attacked until her own assigned zombie makes his appearance. Instead, she stands there cheerfully splashing water as her two compatriots are assaulted before her eyes.
An Alternate Viewpoint:
I hope I’m proven that I’ve unafraid to provide a forum for those whose opinions disagree with mine. As further evidence of this, allow me to reproduce a reader review of Zombie Lake I found on the IMDB, courtesy of Kidkobra of Ontario, Canada. Mr. Kidkobra writing style, it should be noted, has apparently been heavily influenced by the poetry of e. e. cummings:
18 July 2000
A provocative viewpoint, sir, but I fear we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
-by Ken Begg