Kino Lorber // 1982 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 8th, 2013
"A decadent exercise in grindhouse filmmaking."
If we're honest, very little about zombies makes sense. Whether the explanation is viral, extra-terrestrial, or drug-induced, the idea of the dead returning to life has more visceral force than logical cohesion. However, if there was ever a pairing that made sense where zombies are concerned, it's their occasional pairing with Nazis. After the Allied victory in 1945 it's not like all the Nazis suddenly disappeared -- sure, Nuremberg got a lot of the bad guys, but a lot of rank-and-file friends of Der Fuehrer were still around once all the treaties were signed. The French have taken this fact especially seriously, making anything Nazi related essentially illegal within its borders. Anything that repressed has to find a release somewhere, and the figure of the Nazi zombie stands in for the perpetual fear that Hitler's soldiers -- reanimated dead or not -- might rise again. That gives a lot more intellectual credit to a film like Oasis of the Zombies than it likely deserves. It's really a mess of tepid Eurosleaze masquerading as a zombie flick, and it doesn't even do that well.
In a remote part of Libya, there's an oasis. This oasis is not like any other oasis -- it's haunted by Nazi zombies. It seems that German troops en route from Africa to Europe with six million in gold were waylaid and zombified. A group of treasure-hunting college kids decides to go on an expedition to find the gold, and they awaken the undead Nazi hordes.
Don't be surprised if all this sounds a little familiar. Director Jess Franco was hired to direct a film called Zombie Lake -- about a lake where Nazi zombies are awakened to taunt the locals -- but had to pull out. A year later he returned to the theme, mixing in a bit of an adventure angle by giving his zombie Nazis a treasure to guard.
Did the world really need two Eurosleaze masters to make Nazi zombie flicks within a year of each other? Most certainly not -- one is more than enough for most viewers, and even diehard zombie fans are going to have trouble justifying one, let alone two. My money is on Jean Rollin's Zombie Lake. Perhaps it's because I saw it first, or because I have a slightly stronger predilection for his films overall.
The first problem with Oasis of the Zombies is that it's not nearly sleazy enough. Rollin at least had the decency to pad his ridiculous plot with several scenes of buxom beauties frolicking in the French countryside. No one can convince me that Franco couldn't have had ample narrative excuses to get people naked in the desert. It's even more absurd because there's a bit of sexuality here -- a couple of brief flashes of flesh here and there -but nothing like most Franco-philes have come to expect. The film even starts with a pair of lesbians who chastely walk the oasis like we're watching a TV movie.
Though Rollin definitely wins on sexuality, the violence in both films is equally bad. Some points go to Rollin for the weirdness of his theatrical zombie makeup and lack of serious gore. Franco scores a few though by being slightly more realistic (though still a bit goofy). They're still cheesy, but they have a nostalgic feel to them now that some viewers will likely appreciate.
However, the film, like its erstwhile cousin, is very, very slow. Characters wander around trying to accomplish a series of fuzzily defined missions. That might have been okay with a grand, scenic setting, but the desert doesn't look particularly majestic in front of Franco's camera.
The folks at Redemption have done a fine job with Oasis of the Zombies (Blu-ray) -- perhaps better than the film deserves. The 1.66:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is sourced from "archival negatives." This is a good thing, but this HD transfer hasn't come after a comprehensive re-mastering, which is what this negative needs. It's not in horrible shape, but there are definite defects throughout. They're not terribly distracting, and in fact give the film a throwback vibe that many viewers will appreciate. Aside from the print damage, this is an excellent transfer. Detail and colors are strong throughout, and the 35mm grain structure is intact with no digital mucking about. A pair of LPCM stereo tracks accompany the picture -- the original French dub and its English counterpart. Both sound pretty bad -- little low end, some distortion in the highs -- but again they fit the feel of the film perfectly. The only extras are a couple of trailers for related films along with the theatrical trailer for Oasis of the Zombies.
Perhaps my only serious complain with this disc is that it should have just been sold as a double feature with Zombie Lake -- neither flick has a boatload of extras, and I think fans would have appreciated getting both flicks at a slightly reduced price.
Oasis of the Zombies is not a particularly fun film -- it's low on gore, sexuality, or narrative drive. With that said, it's an interesting historical curiosity, and an anomaly in Jess Franco's overall filmography. For those who want to brave the deserts of this particular flick, this Blu-ray is the best way to do it.
Guilty of wasting a good premise.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated