Just how bad are Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies? To paraphrase Renton from Trainspotting, take the worst horror film you’ve ever seen, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near.
These two ultra-cheap living dead clunkers are notorious in horror fan circles for being two of the lowest-rent morti viventi movies ever committed to celluloid, which naturally affords them the status of holy grails to connoisseurs of trash like yours truly.
Both were distributed by continental purveyors of all things tacky and overhyped, Eurociné, in 1981, and the two films fascinate nerds like me because of their linked production history.
Inspired by the unexpected worldwide box-office success of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters, every exploitation film-maker worth their salt was having a crack at making zombie movies in the early 80s. But while Fulci’s film is genuinely packed with excitement, brilliant special effects and awesome set pieces (the scene of a zombie fighting a real shark underwater just has to be seen to be believed; check out the vid below), most of the cash-ins that appeared in its wake are pretty lacklustre, with Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies being among the very worst of the lot.
The story goes that prolific Spanish auteur Jesus Franco was originally slated to write and direct Zombie Lake but, according to most sources, Franco backed out of directing the film at the last minute, leaving his equally industrious contemporary Jean Rollin to step in and complete the production in a fortnight. Not long after the making of Zombie Lake, Franco turned in the suspiciously similar Oasis of the Zombies, giving Eurociné two living dead films to palm off on the then undead-mad cinema going public.
So, what are these films about? Well, Zombie Lake tells the tale of the inhabitants of a French village who are menaced by the walking corpses of a platoon of Nazis, who were killed and dumped in a nearby pond at the end of the Second World War. Oasis, on the other hand, focuses on a couple of bands of treasure-hunters who are looking for $6m worth of Nazi gold that was left in a desert somewhere in Africa by one of Rommel’s platoons, who were also gunned down in battle. Needless to say, this oasis is teeming with reanimated Nazis, too.
Sure, these plots sound like the stuff of solid exploitation fare but, my god, their execution has to be seen to be believed. I watched both of them over the weekend with the drummer in my band and we sat through them in disbelief, mouths agape at the glorious ineptitude on display.
To kick off, the effects in both films are laughable. Zombie Lake’s undead monsters are a bunch of the Frenchest-looking Germans ever filmed, sporting green paint on their faces and hands that washes off during their endless scenes of rising from the lake (see below). Oasis’s walking corpses, on the other hand, are a bunch of hippy-looking Spaniards balancing worms on their faces and trying to see through masks that look as though they were made of oatmeal. When you find yourself wishing that Bruno Mattei’s make-up man could’ve taken charge on a movie, you know you’re watching some serious garbage.
The films’ titular locations work against them, too. Franco’s African “oasis” looks more like the end of a beach in Barcelona, while Zombie Lake’s underwater scenes are all shot in what’s very obviously a swimming pool. I stopped counting after I spotted the filtration system for a third time. Of the two, though, Oasis of the Zombies is the most overtly cavalier with reality and continuity, cutting time and again from expansive sunset desert panoramas (presumably bought in or nicked from another film) to a shabby bit of sandy scrubland in broad daylight.
And neither film’s loose war theme works to any sort of advantage. Both movies feature lengthy flashbacks to the Second World War to explain the origins of the zombies, but neither had the budget to hire many contemporary props or to film battle scenes. So in both films we’re treated to oodles of grainy war footage culled from old Italian warsploitation movies spliced into the narrative.
In fact, overuse of stock footage is something that blights Oasis of the Zombies in particular from beginning to end, with this oh-so-seamless scene of an army officer “mounting a camel” being possibly the most shameless bit of film-making I’ve ever seen.
The music in both is tortuous. Lake alternates between a wheezing, touch-tone synth soundtrack and snatches of bargain-basement Europop, while Oasis’s score occasionally attempts to create a Middle-Eastern sort of feel, but most of the time plumps for similar farting keyboards that drone and drone and drone.
Then there’s the pacing of these things. Say what you like about Zombie Lake, at least it’s not dull. If the pitiful zombies aren’t on screen staggering around smashing up the village pub, Rollin fills the screen with girls romping about in various states of undress. It’s not very subtle, but at least it keeps the film moving along at a fair clip. Oasis of the Zombies, on the other hand, has all the pace of a snail with a sprained ankle. One YouTube user’s comment about the film says it all: “Anyone that can sit through this deserves a medal.”
I could go on. After all, Oasis of the Zombies’ bustling “African” marketplace full of Spanish crew-members wearing Jedi robes, Zombie Lake’s scene of an undead knife-fight and both movies’ tin ear for dialogue all inspired gales of laughter from me and my drummer friend. But alas, my word limit forbids me recounting everything that’s so brilliantly entertaining about these films.
Make no mistake about it; these movies are the very definition of trash cinema. Ineptly made, under-financed and boasting plots so thin they’d make Kate Moss look positively elephantine, they’re both such deliriously good fun it’s almost criminal. To mangle another quotation, this time from writer and book collector Henry Spencer Ashbee, there is no film, however bad, from which some fun cannot be had…
(NB, the trailer for Zombie Lake is so chock-full of nudity that I can’t embed it or link to it here. It’s on YouTube, though, so if nude ladies and green-faced men don’t offend you, give it a watch there)