Zombie Lake (1981)

Director: Jean Rollin

Alas, poor Jean Rollin, making the film Jess Franco refused to make… and I don’t think Franco drew that line very often when you consider his filmography; this time, though, apparently Eurocine were offering even fewer resources than Franco was used to and so, having written a script, he told them to fuck off when it came to actually filming it. Enter Jean Rollin, apparently roped into doing this on the day he was supposed to be starting a holiday, and thus was a notoriously titanic turd born. Amongst other things, Zombie Lake is widely criticised for its zombie makeup effects, and with good reason; early in the film one zombie chows down on a pretty young thing and the green stuff on his face rubs off on her face. YIKES. And then there’s the somewhat wobbly period setting, for which Scott Ashlin rips into the film… but! The French soundtrack specifies the wartime incident that led to the village’s present undead trouble happened only ten years earlier, which detail is left out of the English dub. Unfortunately, having clearly set itself in the mid-50s (at least in one of its languages), the film doesn’t then do much to convince you that’s when it’s actually set; the girls’ sports team that rolls up to town after the wartime flashback strike me as much more 1980 than 1955 for some reason (there’s a lot of haircuts like that in the film)… Odd how at times it feels like both a Franco and a Rollin film, at other times it feels like neither, but odder still is that, despite its many and varied problems, bits of it at least actually do work. Sometimes unintentionally, perhaps—the child asking for the bucket of fresh blood is a golden moment I’ll have to screencap—but I actually thought the wartime flashback business was quite well handled (there’s almost no dialogue; wonder if that helped) and there’s something kind of intriguing about the relationship between one of the undead German soldiers and the child he fathered with one of the village women. I can kind of understand why Rollin was happy to use a directorial pseudonym (though he kept his own name for his acting credit for some reason) and spent years disavowing his responsibility for it, it’s obviously nowhere near his best, but I didn’t think it was quite the debacle it’s usually painted as.

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