SHOCK pits two awesomely pitiful exploitation classics against each other.
Nazis suck. But oddly, after the real-life Reich bastards got flushed at the end of WW2, there was a weird wave of Nazi horror films and exploitation romps that, despite their grim subject matter, were very successful. We can get into that unsavory post-THE NIGHT PORTER wave some other time. But lets look now, at the most curious appendage of the Nazi horror movie trend, that of the Nazi zombie.
It seems director Ken Wiederhorn kick-started this sub-genre, with his chilling 1977 film SHOCK WAVES. After that, the task to carry the creepy torch fell to the Europeans, specifically the still-stinging France, who, in the early 1980s, enlisted the aid of two top trash-slingers in making a pair of generally terrible, but historically relevant, exploitation pictures.
Both films dealt with revived Nazi monsters in various states of decay and bloodlust, attacking living human beings. And during the early 1980s video boom, both were released in North American via Wizard Video, both films haunting North American video stores to grand effect and diminishing creative returns.
So, then. Lets pit two masters’ messiest movies against each other, shall we?
ZOMBIE LAKE (1981)
A legendary title, in that its gorgeous packaging and cover painting enticed a generation of rental-addict youths to lay down dollars and take the tape home, only to be flabbergasted by just how tedious and slipshod the entire affair was. In it, a gaggle of skinny dippers flail around in a French pond, only to be attacked by a troupe of groping ghouls with green faces and full-blown, more than slightly soggy, Nazi uniforms. Suddenly the entire village (a battered hamlet, still reeling from the war) is called to do battle with these aqua-zoms, who love to drink blood and who move stiffly, like their collective backs went out.
ZOMBIE LAKE (incidentally, the onscreen title is ZOMBIES LAKE) is about as cheap and useless as cinema gets, with a few good ideas squashed under directorial indifference and invisible production values. The film was originally offered to legendary Spanish sleaze auteur Franco via the outfit he was working with during this period, Eurocine, but Franco aborted the project soon after he started (though his regular actor Howard Vernon remained), leaving equally beloved erotic horror specialist Rollin (LIPS OF BLOOD, LIVING DEAD GIRL) to finish the picture (using the pseudonym J.A. Laser).
As Rollin fans are well aware, the directors sensibilities lean heavily towards the romantic and melancholy, offset by leering female sexuality and ZOMBIE LAKEs few merits offer all of these traits in spades. Daniel Whites lovely music (primarily recycled from the Franco/Eurocine classic FEMALE VAMPIRE) tinkles sweetly over the skid-row action and injects scenes of nude women running afoul of bad extras in woeful greasepaint, with a sense of aching beauty, almost fooling the audience into thinking something of value is happening on screen.
Speaking of those bathing beauties, Rollins underwater camera gets literally right in there, with said nubile extras spreading their legs wide to reveal the petals of their female flowers for all to see, a small mercy for poor hormonal lads who lost their allowance taking this clunker home.
The most Rollin-esque element of ZOMBIE LAKE lies in its subplot, in which one of the undead Nazis comes back not just to kill, but to reconnect with his still-living daughter, whom he apparently fathered with a local girl when he was still alive. In theory, it sounds like a haunting narrative arc. Not so much in practice, as neither father nor daughter convince us of anything other than they are indeed bad actors.
Perhaps the best thing that came out of ZOMBIE LAKE is that Rollin, once wrapped, shot some extra footage of gnarly, shabbily dressed men with bad teeth chasing a hot blonde for Eurocine, which they later spliced into the running time of Francos best film, CHRISTINA, PRINCESS OF EROTICISM, retitling it A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, also released by Wizard Video and a superior picture in every sense.
OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1982)
When Franco jumped ship from ZOMBIE LAKE, he dried out and took the Nazi cannibal corpse concept to the desert, the result of which was TOMB OF THE LIVING DEAD or TREASURE OF THE LIVING DEAD or, as its better known on these shores and as it was also released by Wizard as, OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES.
Eurohorror fans have long debated which film is worse (not better as both pictures are subpar), Rollins ZOMBIE LAKE or Francos OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES and really, its hard to decide. Certainly, OASIS has a richer, grittier look and a more rollicking plot but, unlike ZOMBIE LAKE, its stupefyingly dull.
In it, a bunch of cocky young people get wind that a booty of Nazi gold has been buried in an African desert and they immediately set out to dig up the loot. Unfortunately for them, the treasure is guarded by whack of Nazi ghouls who dont take kindly to being robbed and who are very, very hungry.
Franco covered his ass for OASISs awfulness by hiding under the name A.M. Frank and shot two versions of the film, one for the French market, one for the Spanish. The French features more recycled and misplaced White music, the Spanish version with weird (but cool) abstract jazz music by Franco himself, hiding under the name Pablo Villa. But both versions trade in boredom, zoom lenses, murky photography, a dose of female flesh and plenty of lousy make-up FX, though some of the more skeletal ghouls do leave a nightmarish impact and the cheap zombie stick puppets are worth several laughs.
Neither ZOMBIE LAKE or OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES really explores the real horror of the Nazi regime with any effect or interest, not like SHOCK WAVES which certainly uses the foundation of mass-madness and sci-fi narcissism that Hitlers drones and mad doctors were feverish with, to play with effective genre film tropes. But both films are important pieces of a larger, putrid film puzzle
Note: portions of the article previously appeared in the pages of DELIRIUM #5.