The names Jean Rollin and Jess Franco are pretty much synonymous with Euro sleaze, just as their film titles alone tell you exactly what kind of film you’re in for. Here’s a taste: Sex Charade, Vampyros Lesbos, Diary of a Nymphomaniac, Swedish Nympho Slaves, Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire, Caged Virgins, Curse of the Living Dead, Lips of Blood, Hard Penetration — they both even have an Emmanuelle film on their resume. So it should come as no surprise that at some point the two would team up for a couple of zombie films. However, each bring their own flare to the proceedings with Rollin directing the far more titillating Zombie Lake and Franco trying to class up the joint with way too much story in Oasis of the Zombies, both now available via Kino Lorber’s Redemption line of Blu-rays.
In Zombie Lake, small town Mayor (Howard Vernon) is dealing with a case of the undead rising from their cursed lake the townsfolk have named “Lake of the Damned.” The Mayor calls in a pair of investigators after a young honey badger skinny dipper (she don’t give a shit as she points out when she takes down the warning sign at the lake), a local girl, and a group of skinny dipping volleyball girls(!) go missing into the lake. Katya (Marcia Sharif) comes to town as well and everyone must face the fact that during Nazi occupied France, a bunch of soldiers were thrown into the lake. Meanwhile, one of the soldiers had a literal roll in the hay with a town girl after he saved her life, later birthing the young Helena (Anouchka) and her mother dying afterward. Lots of flashbacks reveal that the soldiers are the cursed zombies and Helena just may be their only hope.
Oasis of the Zombies follows a similar pattern as we are introduced to two nubile daisy duke clad teens wandering the desert. When they stop to check out a convoy, the music and girls are blaring as they are attacked by off-camera monsters. During a huge flashback sequence, we learn that a soldier named Blabert (Javier Maiza) was rescued from a desert attack, losing $6 million in gold, and brought to see a Sheik (Antonio Mayans) where he impregnates his daughter out in the desert. Now Blabert’s hilariously named son, Robert Blabert (Manuel Gélin) comes to town searching for the lost gold along with some of his friends, including a tagalong named Sylvie (the clearly hired for her legs – and that’s okay – Caroline Audret). Now, everyone is in search for the gold but must first come face to face with some rather nicely made up zombies, while Robert finally learns the truth about dear old dad.
Zombie Lake comes framed at a ratio of 1.64 while Oasis of the Zombies measures in at 1.65, and I doubt either could ever look better. Zombie Lake fares far superior, but both come with the expected hairs, scratches, and white specks. Since they have both been remastered from 35mm elements, a lot of the runtime of both films look really good. A lot of Zombie Lake even looks like a brand new film with incredible detail and sharpness. Oasis of the Zombies has more issues with its picture stability and the opening credits are shaky with tons of blurry shots of a continually appearing spider in its web and a painting that seems to be continually used as an establishing shot. There was also some serious banding in a scene featuring sun glare so bright you literally have to shield your eyes. I seriously doubt either film will ever look much better than what Redemption has issued here and fans of both directors should be extremely pleased — especially when it comes to Zombie Lake since it features far more of the expected T&A.
The audio on both features are PCM 2.0 French or English with English subtitles. Both have their issues with Zombie Lake still the better of the two. Watching both films back to back this comes as a surprise as Oasis was filmed after Lake and appeared to have a bigger budget, but apparently none of it was spent in the sound department which makes sense after learning that both films were filmed silent and all sound was added in post. One of the biggest concerns this causes is that neither film is in sync. On Oasis, the louder things got, the worse it sounded. Expect lots of harsh hissing and static. The only negative found during Lake was one scene where the film was completely out of focus with muffled sound. Clearly this can be chalked up to the source element seeing how both the picture and sound quality were affected at the same time.
The special features are extremely scant. Zombie Lake features more with an alternate English language version of the sexified opening credits; TV-edited versions of the opening sequence, and the volleyball splashdown where all the girls are now wearing panties, bras, or T-shirts; and English and French trailers for additional Rollin films including Zombie Lake, The Rape of the Vampire, Demoniacs, and Oasis of the Zombies. Oasis has even less featuring only trailers for itself, Zombie Lake, Female Vampire, and the double feature release of Exorcism/Demoniacs.
If you’re looking for a fun night to Mystery Science Theater a couple of films with some friends look no further. Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies are the perfect films for the “so bad they’re good” label. Zombie Lake is the more fun of the two, but a few lessons can be taken from both — the French appear to believe that zombies are a form of vampires or ghosts; French extras die hilariously; and we all get to now use the term “zombie knife fight.” Whether they’re worth the purchase price (both are $24.99 on Amazon) is a question of your love of bad cinema, the zombie genre, or if you happen to be a Rollin/Franco fan. A rental is a safe bet for both titles if you can find them, but I do know as far as the horror genre goes, I’ve seen way worse from newer productions.
Cover art courtesy Kino Lorber