I love Jean Rollin, and it is for that reason I’ve avoided Zombie Lake for so many years. To say Zombie Lake has a bad reputation is putting it lightly. There are many films that are labelled “worst film ever”, but there are few that receive that descriptor as often as Zombie Lake. Just look at its IMDB page: a rating of 2.7 with very few defenders found in the review section. You might also notice something else quite telling on Zombie Lake’s IMDB page… Jesus Franco’s credit. Franco was set to direct, but he left the project. At the last moment, Rollin was pulled onboard to shoot the film in an absurdly short amount of time. This was a decision he would regret. And rightly so.
original title: Le lac des morts vivants
France, 1981, Jean Rollin
You know you’re in for a shitty film when Rollin’s name is replaced with a pseudonym. And yes, Zombie Lake is a horrible film, easily the worst film Rollin has made, and that includes his hardcore films. However, this is not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Hell, it’s not even the worst aquatic Nazi zombie film I’ve seen. Sure, it’s terrible, but it’s also enormous fun. It’s hard to know where to start, there’s so much madness on display. I guess I’ll begin with the film’s town and townsfolk. Rollin has always been brilliant in capturing lush scenery and, believe it or not, Zombie Lake is no exception. The locations are great – the buildings, the interior of the mayor’s home and even the lake exteriors. Where Rollin fails miserably, or succeeds brilliantly if you’re wanting your dose of unintentional laughs, is when we move from the lake exterior and into the water. The underwater shots are truly horrific. While they are filmed competently, they are so obviously shot in a pool that it’s hard to believe that they weren’t left on the cutting room floor.
The beautifully shot town is full of idiots. Firstly, we have the mayor – the king of the idiots. Howard Vernon gives a horrendous performance. The mayor is utterly unpredictable – one moment he’s screaming at a reporter for being in his house, the next he’s her best pal because she’s interested in the occult. The mayor and townsfolk are such buffoons that they can’t even decide on a name for their stupid lake. In the duration of the film it gets referred to as: The Lake of Ghosts, The Lake of the Dead, and, best of all, The Damned Lake of the Damned. Each time they say the name as if it is the definitive title. It’s hard to pick a favourite side character – a doddering old maid comes close – but I think I would have to go with this moustached moron, who is perhaps even more of a rambling mess than the mayor:
And then there’s the zombies. Wow. The zombies featured in Zombie Lake are phenomenally bad. An unthreatening and miniscule troupe, the zombies lumber around town terrifying folk with their green face paint and catatonic expressions. Zombie Lake doesn’t define the rules of its brand of zombies. They’re sort of hard to kill, but they do foam at the mouth when shot. They also drink blood rather than eat flesh. They attack at random – sometimes in packs, sometimes not. Despite the fear they instil in the townspeople, they’re not hard to avoid, but hey, watch out! You might be gently whacked whilst attempting an escape:
The zombie stupidity hits its peak when Zombie Lake introduces the zombie father-daughter relationship, which Rollin presents in the hammiest of fashions. While these scenes are clearly meant to tug our heartstrings, they instead had me squealing with laughter. Watching a bug eyed zombie awkwardly interact with his (oddly understanding) daughter was almost too much for me to handle.
Best of all, this idiotic relationship leads to what has to be the most pathetic (and only?) zombie-on-zombie fight put to film.
As an added bonus, not only are we showered with wonderfully shit zombies, we are even gifted harrowing scenes of war during WWII flashbacks to the zombies’ pre-undead days:
Yes, Zombie Lake is the bad film that keeps giving. A complete and utter mess of a movie, Zombie Lake is still nowhere near the “worst film ever”. Why? Because it’s just too damned enjoyable. As a Jean Rollin film, it is, of course, a disappointment. However, it must be said that Rollin’s hand can be found, muted, but there. Rollin fans will also get a kick out of his extended cameo as a police investigator. Zombie Lake did not push me into a bottomless pit of Rollin fan depression as I thought it would. I let the bad movie good times wash over me and had some of the biggest chuckles I’ve had in a while. This is one for the history books.