Kino Lorber // 1981 // 86 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 8th, 2013
God help us if they rise again!
If the history of art is anything to go by, humans love to see other humans naked. No matter how many layers we wear (or don't wear) in public, our museums and movie collections are filled with image after image of men and women shucking their duds at the slightest excuse. Sometimes it's for purely sexual reasons, other times it's to express freedom, and for some I suspect they just prefer people (especially women) naked. I suspect Jean Rollin falls into that latter camp. Though his films have their own unique brand of sexuality (as lesbian-focused as it is), he often seems to get women naked just to have them naked (or maybe to sell a few more tickets). Zombie Lake is a perfect example -- it's also right at the eye of the storm of European zombie flicks sweeping across the world in the 1980s. Though it's hard to label it a classic or anything, it does lots of nudity and that strange Jean Rollin touch to recommend it.
There's a lake in an idyllic French village. It's a popular spot for women to get naked (especially a visiting volleyball team). Unbeknownst to all these cloth-less ladies, during World War II the French Resistance killed a bunch of Nazis before dumping their bodies in the lake. Now, they're reanimated (whether by the naked ladies or not) and attacking the villagers.
Zombie Lake is going to be of interest primarily to those who are already fans of Jean Rollin's particular brand of surrealist softcore erotica. He has a knack for shooting beautiful, uninhibited women in interesting settings (this time in nature rather than an isolated chateau or castle). He's also famous for his violence, which tends to be abrupt and disjointed, leading to comparisons to surrealism. That's less on display here than it is in some of his other films -- there are definitely zombie attacks but the violence/gore factor feels slower here, more inevitable.
The film looks pretty good on DVD as well. This is a new re-master of archival elements for the 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer. They're in pretty good shape, and aside from the 1980s colors looks much better than many genre films from the era. Detail is pretty strong, and black levels are surprisingly good. No digital artefacting or noise shows up to mar the image either. Fans can choose between either the original French audio track (in stereo) or an English dub (also in stereo). Neither track is going to win awards, but they're decently mixed and dialogue is clear throughout. It's almost certain that even the original French track was dubbed, so there's no real question of authenticity here, either.
Extras start with two alternate scenes that were shot with the hopes of selling the film to TV. They're versions of the opening skinny dipping and the volleyball team's antics out at the lake. In both cases, the women are in skimpy dress rather than being full-on naked. We also get an alternate title sequence and the film's theatrical trailers (some of which show a surprising amount of nudity) along with trailers for other Rollin films available from Redemption.
This is not particularly a film for fans of zombie cinema. I could see an argument for watching Zombie Lake because of its rarity and weirdness, but otherwise there's very little to tempt fans of the undead. The zombies themselves are "made-up" with some kind of green-tinged latex-looking paint that is often peeling from the hands and faces of the returning dead (probably due to their emergence out of the water). It looks obviously theatrical and not at all convincing in the Romero tradition. Their attacks are seriously tame. The first attack looks like the zombie is making out with the victim's neck rather than munching on her flesh. When the camera moves to reveal the damage the zombie has inflicted, we get some red smear, not a gory look at carnage.
The film is also very, very slow. This is typical of Jean Rollin films, but the atmosphere here doesn't quite work the way it does in some of his earlier work. There, the gothic atmosphere and strange settings gave everything a dreamlike atmosphere that aided the slow unfolding of the narrative. In the context of a zombie infestation in a remote village, the slowness of the narrative feels like it's fighting the tension generated by the walking dead.
I love the Redemption releases, and they've done a fine job here. My only complaint with this release is that it would be great to hear from somebody who loved the film. Jean Rollin films often need vigorous defending, and the lesser entries in his oeuvre (of which is this one) need even more cheerleading. I would love even a small essay by someone waxing rhapsodic about the film to help me put it in context.
Fans of weird European horror from the era might want to check out Zombie Lake, but it's really aimed at hardcore fans of Jean Rollin who feel like they need to own everything he ever directed. It's missing the usual atmospherics, though none of the nudity, his films are known for. With that said, if you want to own the film, this DVD is an excellent one to have.
Guilty of being a Rollin film, for whatever that's worth.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Alternate Scenes