AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
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LE LAC DES MORTS VIVANTS (LAKE OF THE LIVING DEAD) (1981)
[aka Zombie Lake aka Zombie's Lake aka Zombies' Lake]
|“We’d better face the fact that the zombies have declared war. Our fate is now in our own hands. We must find a way to safeguard our town from the mad, murdering zombies!”|
Director: J.A. Laser (Julian de Laserna and Jean Rollin)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Pierre Escourrou, Anouchka Lesoeur, Youri Radionow, Gilda Arancio, Jean Rollin
Screenplay: A.L. Mariaux (Julian Esteban and Jesus Franco)
Synopsis: In a lake outside of a small French town, a girl swimming is dragged to her death by a green-faced figure in a German military uniform. In the town itself, the people worry over the girl’s disappearance. The mayor (Howard Vernon) promises that if she has not returned by the following morning, he will bring in the police. Another young woman goes out to the lake to do some laundry. As she works in a washing shed, she fails to see the same strange figure emerging from the lake. As the woman heads back to town, she is attacked by the zombie, which tears at her throat with its teeth. When found, the woman’s dead body is carried into town by her father and two more of the townspeople. The mayor explains that an autopsy will have to be performed, and that if anything untoward is discovered, the police will investigate. Soon afterwards, a reporter called Katya (Gilda Arancio) arrives in the town hoping to write a story about the lake, which bears a strange reputation, being known as “The Lake Of Ghosts”. One of the locals, Chanac (Youri Radionow), directs her to the mayor. Although initially hostile, the mayor agrees to talk to the reporter. He tells her about an incident that occurred during the war…. While under German occupation, the town suffered bombardment. Caught in a cross-fire, the life of a young French woman was saved when one of the German soldiers (Pierre Escourrou) threw his body over hers, being wounded in the process. Instantly attracted, the two secretly became lovers. Soon afterwards, the soldiers were ordered from the town. Some months later, they passed through the town again after being driven back from the Russian front. The young soldier broke briefly from his unit to visit his lover, who he found had just given birth to their daughter, a girl called Helena. Passing through the woods outside the town, the German were ambushed and killed by members of the Resistance, and their bodies dumped in the lake…. Katya thanks the mayor for his time and leaves him with his memories. Meanwhile, out at the lake, a van carrying a women’s sporting team pulls up so that the girls can go swimming. Beneath the waters, however, the zombie squadron lies waiting. A massacre ensues….
Comments: I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a herd animal. I have no interest whatsoever in being one of the in-crowd, or in keeping up with the Joneses, or whatever phrase you prefer to use to denote mindless adherence to passing trends. In fact, it generally only needs something to be declared popular for me to refuse to have anything to do with it.
However, even someone as pigheadedly individualistic as myself can, occasionally, be seized with the desire to be a part of the mob. Recently, we of the B-Masters’ Cabal had the pleasure of welcoming into our midst Scott Ashlin, aka El Santo of 1000 Misspent Hours And Counting – although the pleasure was not entirely unalloyed on the part of the venerable Dr Freex, who has the unenviable task of maintaining The Grand Index for the Cabal, and was suddenly confronted by the fact that with Scott’s arrival, he had no more than six hundred and forty-three more reviews to add in. Cue a shriek, a loud thump, a flatlining noise, and offscreen cries of, “Clear!”
Always a trooper, the good Doctor spent his convalescence updating the index, and subsequently amused us all by posting a few statistics. There are a couple of surprising aspects to the Cabal’s activities, particularly considering that we are a group of people drawn together by the fundamental similarity of our taste in movies. Most surprising of all, perhaps, given the sheer number of films that we have reviewed as a group, is how little we overlap: a remarkable number of our films have been covered at one site only. There are, however, certain points of convergence – although they do not necessarily occur where you might expect. Another unexpected thing is the near absence from our collected works of many of the “classic” Bad Movies. Only two of us have reviewed the seminal Plan 9 From Outer Space, for instance. On the other hand, there are certain films, utterly undeserving films for the most part, that for reasons best known to the Elder Gods of the Bad Movie Universe seem to have drawn an inordinate proportion of our collective attention. And one of those films is Zombie Lake.
Hmm…. Those whom the gods would destroy they first make watch Zombie Lake? Possibly. All I know is, when Dr Freex pointed out this strange facet of our mutual behaviour, and I realised that I was one of the no-shows, I suddenly felt uneasy. For one of the very few times in my life, I was aware of the desire to fit in; to….to conform.
But as uncomfortable as I was made by this experience, at least I could console myself with the reflection that any act of conformity that involved a viewing of Zombie Lake was definitely not your daddy’s act of conformity. Unless you have a particularly cool daddy.
So, just why does Zombie Lake continue to catch the eye of the Bad Movie aficionado? There are many ways in which a film can be bad, of course; and perhaps the sick fascination exerted by Zombie Lake stems from the fact that it manages to be all of them at once. So let’s start this review – or at least, this review proper – by taking a look at those aspects of this miserable little film that makes it stand out so from the crowd.
First of all, some production history. Zombie Lake was co-directed – unsurprisingly, pseudonymously – by Jean Rollin. Rollin is one of the more eccentric figures in the world of the horror film, a director whose work tends to be sharply divisive. Some people find his films to be dream-like, hypnotic and fascinating, while others consider them unbearably pretentious and boring. Like many artists with a unique vision, Rollin has spent much of his working life trapped in a disheartening struggle to raise sufficient money to transfer that vision to the screen, and has upon occasion been driven by the need for money to directing hardcore pornography – and in this instance, to the even greater humiliation of directing Zombie Lake. (Rollin also appears in the film, as one of the short-lived detectives: he’s the pipe-smoking one.) But Rollin was not the person originally intended to direct the film. That dubious honour fell to another singular figure in the world of cult cinema, a man whose personal vision makes Rollin’s look positively conventional: Jesus Franco.
With the sudden explosion of DVD, such a thing as a “niche market” barely exists any more. The most obscure, the most bizarre, the most staggering things are finding their way into the marketplace these days, and generally turning a profit. That being the case, there is perhaps no need for me to attempt to explain just who and what Jess Franco is – just as well, too, since there are hardly words adequate to the task. I’ll content myself with observing that his films are, to put it mildly, an acquired taste. During the 1970s, Franco worked often for the French production company, Eurociné, and was certainly slated to direct Zombie Lake for it. He got so far as co-writing the screenplay – also pseudonymously – before, apparently, declaring the project too cheap to bother with and simply disappearing, leaving the unfortunate Jean Rollin to pick up the pieces.
I’ll say that again, shall I? Zombie Lake is a film so cheap that Jess Franco refused to have anything to do with it.
And indeed, it could be fairly said of Zombie Lake that its entire budget is right up there on the screen: every single aspect of it is utterly inept. Still, two facets of the production really do stand out. The first is the [*ahem*] “special effects”, including the make-up. The film features a small squad of zombie Nazis who dwell in the lake of the title, but who are suddenly compelled to crawl up on land and wander through the nearby town. These gentlemen, fittingly considering their long sojourn underwater, are a charming shade of green – an effect unmistakably achieved through the use of poster paint – and not waterproof poster paint, either. It chips. It flakes. It washes off. Above all, it stops at the neckline and cuffs and around the eyes, meaning that every time one of our zombies moves stretches or even just blinks we get flashes of healthy pink skin. Add to this that our lead zombie indicates his zombiefication by bugging his eyes into the camera, and you have what we can honestly call an unforgettable effect. And there’s more, but we’ll deal with it in context.
The term “special effects” can cover a multitude of sins, of course, and if there is one thing above all else for which Zombie Lake is notorious, it is its attempt to distract the viewer from it myriad of shortcomings with female nudity. Now, you might think that there’s nothing unusual in that – it’s a standard low-budget film-making tactic, after all – but you’d be wrong: the makers of Zombie Lake really went that extra mile. Let me put it this way: if you’ve ever wondered whether a career in gynaecology was really for you, then a viewing of Zombie Lake could probably help you make up your mind.
So, Zombie Lake contains more, and more explicit, female nudity than just about anything short of actual pornography. It is also a film variously stigmatised by the other members of the B-Masters’ Cabal as “boring”, “laughable”, “stupid and incompetent”, “excruciating”, “an abomination”, “stupendously putrid” and “fucking terrible”. Now, if my male colleagues – red-blooded he-men one and all, I assure you – found this film such a chore to get through, despite its super-sized serving of the female form, just imagine trying to watch it and being a heterosexual female. Oh, I made it through, all right….but not without a struggle. In the end I resorted, along with some judiciously applied alcohol therapy, to putting on my best Frank Drebin voice and shouting, “Hey, nice beaver!” whenever it seemed warranted.
Which was often.
And which in fact happened for the first time scarcely more than one minute into the film proper. At least you can’t accuse the film-makers of disguising their intentions. Or anything else. Zombie Lake opens with a young woman strolling into the gazebo that overlooks our eponymous body of water – and taking her clothes off. First breast shot at sixty-two seconds, everything else by seventy-six. This rapidity of revelation is greatly assisted by the fact that this young woman, along with almost every other one appearing in the film, disdains undergarments of any kind. Our heroine then pulls something out of her bag that I imagine is supposed to be a swimming costume, but which frankly looks more like a pair of football shorts, and briefly considers putting some clothes on. Ha! She kids! She kids ’cos she loves! Tossing the shorts aside, Ms Au Naturel climbs over the wall of the gazebo and heads for the lake.
First, though, she stretches out on a convenient log and allows the camera to complete a slow and sleazy crawl up and down her body while the credits roll. (That’s right: full frontal nudity during the credits. Always a mark of quality.) Clearly, the young woman cast in this demanding role was a genuine sun-lover, as her body is entirely free of tan lines, even, uh, where the sun don’t usually shine. Warmed up, she then hops off the log, ready for a swim, only to find a warning sign by the waters. Featuring a crudely drawn swimmer and a skull-and-crossbones (!), this looks remarkably like the handiwork of whoever graffitioed the billboard in Jaws. Our heroine deals with this implied threat by pulling the sign out of the ground and tossing it away. She then wades into the lake and spends about the next four minutes floating on her back (if the camera is above the water) or doing scissor kicks (if it’s beneath).
In my embarrassed quest to find somewhere, anywhere, else to look during this sequence, I made some interesting discoveries. The first is that although when seen from above the waters of the lake are murky and shallow, when seen from below they are deep and sparkling clean. Moreover, the lake itself has a completely perpendicular grey wall at the back of it, which mysteriously seems to have a rubbery kind of texture – where it doesn’t look like tile. These two unique qualities will be startlingly apparent throughout the film. Another notable thing about this lake is the strange refractive effect that occurs whenever someone is in the water. Thus, while from above it might appear that someone is standing in the water up to their knees, from below it is apparent that they not only treading water, but obliged to throw their legs apart as widely as possible to maintain their buoyancy. Fascinating.
Anyway – it turns out that our little aquarist is not alone in that lake: she is being watched by a dark-haired figure wearing a WWII German uniform, whose face is a remarkable shade of pea-green. In fact, it exactly matches the colour of the water lilies floating on the lake, making for a wonderfully picturesque effect. The gentleman in question also has a blob of something or other, chewing-gum and sawdust, maybe, stuck over his right eye, which seems intended to suggest that the actual eyeball is missing. They Call Him ‘One-Eye’. One-Eye ogles the swimmer along with the rest of us, then suddenly makes a grab for her, dragging her to her death. He has some trouble doing this, and has to put his hands in all sorts of strange places to accomplish the task….
All this has been accomplished sans dialogue – which turns out to be for the best. Zombie Lake was shot in French, but has also been given an English language track in one of the most amazingly sloppy dubbing jobs I’ve ever encountered, one full of twisted ungrammatical sentences, non sequitur utterances and lips that continue moving well after the dialogue has ceased. We are now introduced to some of the townspeople who will be our, uh, characters; and who in a piece of graphic realism, spend every waking moment at the local pub. They discuss the disappearance of Ms Credit Sequence, some showing concern, and one man offering the gruff-voiced opinion that she “ran into some young stud”. During this scene, phrases such as “out at the lake” and “all the way out to the lake” are frequently employed, implying that this stretch of water is some distance from the town. The next shot then reveals that it is barely past the end of the street. Hmm. Perhaps this lake is related to The Amazing Teleporting Lake from Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter.
We then receive a fairly concrete piece of evidence (apart from the pirated music score) that Zombie Lake was indeed briefly a Jess Franco project: the mayor is played by Howard Vernon. (His character, by the way, has no name – just “The Mayor”.) We first see The Mayor dozing in his study. Now – I’m not sure if a room can actually qualify as a Nut O’ Fun, but The Mayor’s study is by far the single most interesting thing about this film. “Cluttered” doesn’t begin to describe it. It looks like every prop from every Euro-Horror film of the 1970s was crammed into it for storage: furniture, books, paintings, sculptures, stuffed animals and various arcane items like the plaster skull on which the camera first rests. It is a room which, frankly, I could imagine myself living in. The Mayor’s rest is interrupted when one of the locals, Chanac, arrives to voice his concern over the disappearance of the girl, for whom he has been looking. “There’s no sign of her,” he claims, all the while waving those infamous football shorts at The Mayor, who promises to call the police if she’s not back by morning.
By then, however, the lake will have claimed a second victim. Well – not the lake, actually. The victim this time is, natch, another young woman, who heads out to do a little laundry (!) where the waters are closest to the town. She is, remarkably (as we shall soon have ample opportunity to observe), wearing underpants. Perhaps taking this last as a sign that this young woman won’t be nearly so obliging as Ms Sun-Lover, Zombie One-Eye is actually inspired to get out of the water. Moving with a weird, stiff-limbed motion that makes him look like he’s auditioning for the role of the Tin Man in a revival of The Wiz, One-Eye manages to get ahead of the woman and ambushes her, dragging her to the ground. There he – supposedly – tears her throat open with his teeth and drinks her blood. In reality, the actor playing One-Eye spits a mouthful of fake blood over the actress’s neck; an action that does nothing to distract the viewer from the fact that One-Eye’s green make-up is coming off in chunks, revealing a nice pink cheek underneath. He also leaves a streak of green across his victim’s chin while gnawing on her neck; and when he straightens himself to gross the audience out with his bloody mouth, we can see that the skin of the victim’s neck is entirely unbroken.
We cut to the victim’s body being carried through the town by three men. The unfortunate girl’s dress is hiked up, giving us all a good eyeful of her flowery knickers. The townspeople gather and follow along, and at this moment I would like to pause and say that if The Mayor’s study isn’t this film’s Nut O’ Fun, we’ve just found what is: the elderly gentleman who makes his first appearance in this scene, and who will do so in every subsequent scene featuring anything that could charitably be called “a crowd”. Either because of the sheer absurdity of the situation in which he has found himself, or because he’s positioned so as to get the best possible view of Victim #2’s undies, this gentleman is noticeably unable to wipe the smirk from his face throughout this entire sequence. It’s even there when the three pallbearers lower the girl’s body to the ground immediately before The Mayor’s door.
One of the three men – who turns out to be the girl’s father – leans over to flick a fold of her dress over her knickers. The Mayor tells the father, choosing his words rather carelessly under the circumstances, I would have thought, that “the cadaver” will have to go to the hospital to allow an autopsy to be performed. He then invites him into the house. “I know how you feel about your poor daughter,” says The Mayor. “Yeah, I know,” shrugs the bereaved parent. Hey, shit happens, right? This emotional exchange at an end, the father departs, leaving The Mayor staring down at the girl’s body. At this point we can see that the make-up department did finally get around to sticking a prosthetic wound onto her throat. Unfortunately, they stuck it on the left side, when One-Eye was gnawing on the right. Oh, well.
The Mayor goes out, seeking information from two small boys who apparently witnessed something. It seems – astonishing thought, considering the standard of the acting in this film – that neither of them could be trusted with dialogue, as they merely squirm uneasily for the endless seconds that pass before the cut. (And why wouldn’t they squirm? Howard Vernon has his arms around them) The Mayor then returns to his gnarly study, where he selects a book from one of the piles, and sits down to read. And read. And read. Speaking of endless seconds.
A female reporter named Katya then arrives in town, looking to write about the town – or, as she somewhat mysteriously puts it, “An unusual little yarn about that weird lake of yours – or maybe there’s a story in it?” Chanac takes her to The Mayor, who lives in possible Nut O’ Fun #3; a charming stone edifice, all points and turrets and arched windows and gargoyles, which is rightly known as “the castle”. Katya confronts an initially hostile The Mayor, who inexplicably becomes all friendly and co-operative when Katya tells him that she has brought him a book about “other-wordly phenomena”. The two then share a most confusing conversation.
(Another of the film’s technical highlights occurs here: the members of the camera-crew first capture a perfectly clear shot of the master power box into which all the equipment is plugged, then capture an equally clear image of themselves, reflected in a mirror! Hi, mum!)
Katya has already announced that the locals call the lake “The Lake Of Ghosts”. The Mayor corrects her, telling her it’s “The Damned Lake”, or even “The Goddamn Lake Of The Damned”. Katya says something I truly couldn’t grasp about writing a book and the stories of the region, causing The Mayor to lean back in his chair and observe, “Time occasionally turns a story into folk tales and legends, and that’s the very stuff of books.” From here it is a short step to: “It was the war….”
Flashback. Economical flashback. Seven German soldiers are attacked by an (unseen) plane. A French girl almost caught in the [*cough*] bombardment is saved when the most Aryan of the bunch grabs her, throws her down, and covers her body with his, suffering a forehead gash when a “bomb” goes off nearby. He is carted off by his fellows to have the injury tended, and while doing so exchanges Significant Looks with the girl. Next thing we know, the two are having a literal roll in the hay. He does put his jacket down for to lie on first, though, although not his pants; I mean, obviously, he has to keep those on. This embarrassing sequence is stretched out to completely unnecessary length: her breasts ain’t that interesting. However, we are given ample opportunity to observe that: (i) the woman is wearing a truly hideous pendant (Plot Point!); and (ii) Aryan Boy’s foreplay technique consists primarily of gnawing on his partner’s neck. Ah, Irony! Or, Comedy! Or, Something!
Anyway, after The Deed Is Done, the French girl – still buck nekkid – presents her hideous pendant to the soldier as a mark of….something. The Germans are soon afterwards ordered away from the town, and Frenchie weeps as she watches them go. A brief stock footage interlude occurs (or rather, footage lifted from another movie that I can’t identify), and soon the Germans are being driven back from the Russian front, right back through exactly the same town. What are the odds? Despite the seeming exigencies of the situation, the truck containing the (strangely undepleted) squadron pauses in the middle of the town, allowing Aryan Boy to pay a quick visit to his lady love. (“You got five minutes!” a grouchy voice calls after him.) We find Frenchie lying listlessly in bed, having recently given birth to a daughter. “We’ll call her Helena,” says Frenchie, as well as something else they didn’t bother to dub. Aryan Boy looks at his offspring, kisses Frenchie, and leaves without a word. He and his fellows then wander obligingly into the woods, where a group of partisans is waiting to ambush them. This sequence contains another of Zombie Lake’s unforgettable moments, when The Soldier Who Will Become One-Eye is shot (duh!) through the eye. He clutches his face, blood spurting from beneath his hand, and pitches towards the camera – giving viewers a perfectly clear view of the plastic tube that is carrying the “blood” to his face, which is only partially tucked beneath his uniform. It is moments such as these that can induce a state of Bad Movie Nirvana in the true aficionado. The only thing I can think of off-hand that actually compares with this for sheer glorious ineptitude is the “scalping” scene in René Cardona’s La Horripilante Bestia Humana.
A pan across the soldiers’ bodies shows us that Aryan Boy has been killed – while a quick cutaway reveals that Frenchie, apparently going out in sympathy, has also just carked it. The Mayor, looking not a day younger and sporting a snazzy pork pie hat, runs up to the leader of the partisans and demands that he and his men dispose properly of the Germans’ bodies. The leader offers a compromise, saying they haven’t time to bury the bodies, but that they will [*dum, dum, duummm*] dump them in the lake – which they do, after stripping their boots off. Which is kind of odd, considering that our zombies are all fully shod. End of flashback.
We find Katya about to depart. She thanks The Mayor for his co-operation, adding, “I know how you feel about the lake.” “No, you don’t,” responds The Mayor. “No-one knows how I feel, including you.” So there.
The next two scenes of Zombie Lake are a real one-two knockout blow, presenting for our viewing pleasure: (i) the single aspect of this film that can be regarded as original; and (ii) evidence of just what depths this film is prepared to sink to. Firstly, we get a brief shot of a little girl sitting in an abandoned mill. An elderly woman, her grandmother (also not a day older than during the flashback), enters crying, “Helena! Helena!”, just so we know who she is, the offspring of our doomed lovers. Just one problem. Helena was conceived in – 1944? At the same time, everything we have seen of the township to this point – the clothing, the cars, the hairdos, certainly the language and the mores – just screams “late 1970s”. Yet Helena is no more than eleven years old!! Granny grumbles, “You’re just like your mother!”, which given that the kid is sitting almost on the spot where she was conceived---well, ick.
Cut to the lake, where--- Brace yourselves, people. A Volkswagon van pulls up by the lake, disgorging a crowd of giggly girls who pour from its doors like clowns from a kiddy-car. Two of the girls begin to bat a volleyball back and forth, while the others prepare for – what else? – skinny-dipping. And the soundtrack kicks in, with cheerfully inane voices chanting, “La, la, la, la, LA! La, la, la, la, LAH!!” as the girls proceed to strip off their clothing (underwear? what underwear?) and wade into the lake, where they giggle even more and splash each other with water. Which is pretty much what all men believe that all women do, as soon as there are no men around – right?
And you know something? It is. This is absolutely what all women do, whenever there are no men around. And the men are so pissed off about it that they keep on making movies where women, who are just behaving naturally, after all, stripping off and giggling and splashing each other, are brutally slaughtered for it. As happens here, when the zombies appear en masse from the lakebed; although not before we spend some minutes looking at--- Well, what is the collective term for a group of beavers, anyway? A business, would you believe it? A business of beavers. How very appropriate.
One of the girls, who was onshore pulling her shorts back on (there’s a lesson in it!), does survive the massacre, and sprints off topless for the town. There, she bursts dramatically into the pub, runs up to a table, turns around, cries, “The lake! The lake! The lake!”, and then collapses onto the table on her back. Or to put it another way, chest up. The townspeople make worried noises, and three young men spring to their feet with alacrity, and carry the unconscious, half-naked girl upstairs to a bedroom.
This is easily the most disturbing moment in Zombie Lake.
This latest disaster prompts The Mayor to call for police assistance, although he makes the dubious decision to reveal that the girls’ disappearance was at the hands of, uh, “ghosts”. We also infer that he referred to the girls as “a basketball team”, despite the evidence to the contrary – although the van did have “BASKET P.F.1.Z.” emblazoned on the side. Oh, well. Basketball, volleyball--- As long as it involves women jiggling their bodies up and down, what’s the difference? The two senior police officers have a good laugh at all this, despite the baker’s dozen of young women dead or missing, and finally agree to send two detectives to investigate: Spitz! – and Moran. (No, really, that’s the way the Inspector says it.) A phonecall is made informing Spitz! – and Moran that they are wanted in the office.
Sure enough, we next see Spitz! – and Moran in the town, hunting out The Mayor. (As mentioned, either Spitz! – or Moran is played by Jean Rollin, but the film never bothers to attach a name to a face.) At “the castle” (which truly is a beautiful piece of architecture), The Mayor reiterates his story of murderous ghosts, and then goes on to explain that since way back when, the lake was the scene of black masses and human sacrifices, and that if it doesn’t get its sacrifices, the “evil spirits” rise up seeking human blood. And, you see, technically the German soldiers weren’t sacrifices, so….
(Although why they waited this long…. I guess the skinny-dippers woke them up; and indeed, there’s a joke here somewhere about nekkid chicks and the dead rising, but fortunately Nathan Shumate already made it, so I don’t have to. Phew!)
Okay, folks, hang on to your hats, because Zombie Lake is about to get….weird. And I’m not just talking compulsive-nudist-volleyball-players-being-slaughtered-by-Nazi-zombies level weirdness, either. The zombies are out for their morning constitutional, stumping their way through the strangely deserted town, when Aryan Zombie Boy suddenly stops, staring at a house, which he seems to recognise. Sure enough, it’s Frenchie’s old home. Inside, Helena is sitting on her bed when the door of her room swings open and a green-faced Nazi zombie wanders in – causing the kid to not so much as blink. AZB then pulls open the neck of his shirt, revealing the hideous pendant that Frenchie gave to him, lo these many years ago. This Helena recognises from a photograph of her mother, and she immediately turns to her undead father with a beaming smile. AZB, in turn, strokes his daughter’s head – leaving a smear of green paint across her forehead – then gives her the pendant. And then we blithely cut away to the next scene as if nothing at all untoward had occurred.
In fact, we discover why the town is so deserted: everyone is, yet again (or still), in the pub. (My kind of town, obviously.) Spitz! – and Moran track the townspeople down there, and give us one of the more ineffective “questioning” sessions you’ll ever see, in which (perhaps ominously) no mention is made of the surviving bask---I mean, volleyball player, and which rapidly degenerates into a series of badly dubbed cries from the locals, in which they vent their determination not to be blamed for the disappearances. Spitz! – and Moran, frustrated at not getting their questions answered, such as they were, wander off after calling the pub-goers a “heap of hicks”. For which you can’t entirely blame them. The detectives’ wandering takes them out to the lake, where they fondle the girls’ abandoned clothing and comment on how they can’t find any clues, and fail utterly to notice the emergence of the zombie hordes from the lake. And whether he’s Spitz! – or Moran I couldn’t tell you, but in either case Jean Rollin dies with two green-faced Nazis tearing at his throat.
I think it’s meant to be allegorical.
Emboldened by this, and perhaps aware for the first time that they can actually kill (i) men and (ii) people with their clothes on, the zombies stumble into town again. They first encounter a shirtless man and a woman in her undies who are getting it on in a barn, and perhaps the lessons haven’t sunk in just yet, as the man is roughly pushed aside while the woman gets her throat gummed. Meanwhile, One-Eye has barged his way into the pub, causing the townspeople to flee in, uh, terror. (That’s not a grin! It’s a rictus of fear!) Fortunately for them, Zombie Lake’s zombies are the slow shuffling kind, rather than the surprisingly spritely (and occasionally practical joking) variety found in some of the Italian zombie films of this era. Having failed to gum even one person, One-Eye vents his frustration by knocking over the furniture.
However, some of his colleagues are having a bit more luck. One encounters a young woman taking a bath in a wooden tub in her yard, who stands up to reveal that she is – wearing a black bikini bottom!!?? (We assume that it was her reluctance to give 110% in order to further her, um, acting career that saw this girl banned from the lake.) Another finds yet another young woman, who helpfully stops to perform a lengthy adjustment of her garter belt while standing near the edge of the cornfield in which the zombie happens to be lurking. Meanwhile, the surviving townspeople have fled to The Mayor, who gives an inspirational [sic.] speech about how their fate is in their own hands, and orders them to round up some firearms. Thanks to the feeblest dubbing ever, the people’s response is not quite what The Mayor would have wished. Although a reasonable crowd has gathered (my Old Dude from the earlier scene is there, still smirking), only a couple of voices have been used for the traditional “rhubarb, rhubarb” noises, while The Mayor’s peroration is greeted by a half-hearted chorus of, “Yeah!”-s. But the townspeople do gather their weapons, and lay an ambush for the zombies, which after a quick refreshing dip are soon stumping through the town again. The ambush is sprung but, to the surprise of few, the bullets do little harm. They don’t even blow holes in the zombies’ uniforms. Only Aryan Zombie Boy shows any ill-effect, dribbling white froth after being shot point-blank by a cornered Chanac.
Making a swift recovery, AZB stops by Helena’s house to get in a little quality daddy-daughter time. His arrival makes Granny drop down into a dead faint, but Helena herself greets him with a broad smile. Then, hand in hand, the green-faced undead Nazi and his thirty-year-old eleven-year-old daughter go for a walk, while syrupy music plays on the soundtrack. Awww…. This little stroll is not without a purpose: AZB shows Helena off to the other zombies, who are back at the lake by now, making a gesture evidently meant to warn them that she is off-limits. This does not sit well with One-Eye, who is still in a pissy mood after the pub debacle, and he – pulls a knife!?
I mean, honestly--- Who brings a knife to a zombie fight!? And after bullets had no effect? You’re a dick, One-Eye. Unfortunately, One-Eye feels compelled to further demonstrate his dickiness by drawing AZB into a fight; a very, very slowww zombie fight. AZB is – eventually – victorious. Helena kisses her father’s hand and runs off.
After a shot showing the zombies taking up residence in what looks like some post-war ruins, we see The Mayor charging towards Helena’s house, beating on the locked doors and shutters, and generally in a dither over the girl’s whereabouts and welfare. We assume that a scene where he heard about her little excursion with AZB was cut. Eventually The Mayor finds a way in, and discovers Granny still in her faint. He brings her to, and the pair of them charge upstairs, only to find Helena calmly asleep on her bed. Granny wakes her up – and, I may say, the girl displays a much greater degree of shock and alarm at finding her grandmother bending over her than she ever did at the sight of a green-faced Nazi zombie in her room. Helena explains to the others that her father protected her from the other zombies, and that indeed, her relationship with him is everything that could be desired. This causes a lightbulb to go off in The Mayor’s mind. A fairly low-wattage one, perhaps, but a lightbulb all the same.
The next time we see The Mayor, however, he is lamenting the situation to Katya, apparently labouring under the odd belief that the original ambushing of the German troops – which wasn’t actually done by the villagers, remember – falls under the heading of a sin that has come back to haunt them. Lapsing into hyperbole, The Mayor declares that, “Nothing but Apocalypse could reduce them to dust, and give them eternal peace!” – prompting an amazingly garbled response from Katya that does, at length, conclude with the word “napalm”. The Mayor grabs her shoulders and all but exclaims, “Katya, I could kiss you!”, before sending the ubiquitous Chanac off to “fix up” a WWII vintage flamethrower.
The Mayor himself goes off to have a D&M with Helena, trying to convince her to sell out her daddy and his undead compadres, and laying that old “He’d really rather be dead!” line on her. Helena gives him a look that implies she suspects him of yanking her crank, and reiterates her previously voiced determination not to hurt her father. But circumstances alter cases, and a boy suddenly comes running up to the house announcing that, “Maria is dead!”, which would probably be a shocking piece of news, if we had any idea who Maria is. Was. (Turns out she was the one taking a bath, not that it matters.) Helena receives the news with a grim nod, apparently realising that a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do. After a brief pointless interlude, The Mayor returns to Helena. (And if One-Eye walks like the Tin Man, Helena here is wearing a dress that suggests she’s going out for Dorothy.) She, clearly the mastermind in this partnership, outlines her plan to lure the zombies into the mill using “a bucket of fresh blood” as bait. (And what that blood is, and where it comes from, we never do find out.)
The zombies, last seen in the ruins, are now back in the lake. Eh? They head for town and Chanac, seeing, runs to sound a warning. This is the cue for Katya to realise that, brilliant professional photojournalist that she is, she hasn’t yet bothered to take any pictures. So what does she do, this brilliant professional photojournalist? Does she use a telephoto lens? Does she take refuge in a house and lean off one of the many balconies? She does not. She stands right out in the middle of the road, where any old Offscreen Teleporting© zombie could grab her, wrestle her to the ground, and spit blood on her neck. And serves her right.
But never fear, Helena’s here. Carrying her bucket, she sets out alone and meets her father, letting him – ick – lap blood from her cupped hands. She then draws him into the mill. The other zombies soon catch the scent, and stand around chugging blood out of a bowl while Helena slips out to give the signal. The locals bring up the flamethrower (flamethrower? a converted vacuum cleaner, possibly), and despite the fact that these zombies have spent anywhere from ten to thirty-five years sitting in a lake, they go up like the house at the end of any given Roger Corman film. We get a final shot of a tearful Helena, still fondling that hideous pendant as she watches her father fry. “Don’t forget me,” she whispers. “I’ll never forget you.” Well, Helena, I can’t speak for your father, but I think I can safely promise this: I’ll sure as hell never forget you!
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