Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Hidden Cinema of Jean Rollin: 1980's Le Lac Des Mortes Vivantes (Zombie Lake)

An unbelievably bizarre creation, even by far-out Euro-Cult standards, the rather daffy Le Lac Des Mortes Vivantes (Zombie Lake) is part Zombie epic, part sexploitation romp and part war-drama. Shot quickly by Rollin in between The Night of the Hunted and The Escapees in 1980, the story behind the bizarre Zombie Lake is actually more interesting than the film itself, although the work has its fans.

Rollin himself summed up the story behind Zombie Lake very well to Peter Blumenstock in the pages of European Trash Cinema in 1993. He told Blumenstock, “Years ago, I wanted to go on vacation for a few weeks. The morning I wanted to leave, the phone rang. It was a guy from the Eurocine Company and he said, ‘Tomorrow morning we shoot a Horror movies but we have a little problem. The director, Jess Franco, is just not here. Nobody knows where he is. Are you interested?’” After receiving this very unexpected call, Rollin arrived on the set within the next day and as told to Blumenstock he, “took a look at the script and laughed for the next hour, and then shot the film in a very short time.” He also admitted to Blumenstock that, “It was only a technical direction”, and, “Due to the contract…they needed to use the name of a Spanish guy for the credits. They chose J.A. Lazer and what can I tell you, I didn’t care what name they used as long as it wasn’t Rollin!.”

Rollin’s opinion hasn’t lightened up on Zombie Lake through the years and, in all honesty, I’ve never warmed to the film even as an all-out exploitation work. The film is fascinating in that, as far as the cast and crew goes, it is very much a Jess Franco film from the period. Everyone from Franco’s frequent composer Daniel White to famed actor Howard Vernon is on hand for the madness, so Zombie Lake stands as a strange meeting between two of the most distinctive directors of the past fifty years. Now whether Franco would have brought more to the film than Rollin will never be known, but Rollin is mostly on auto-pilot here and, save a few stylish moments, there isn’t a lot to suggest that this is a ‘Jean Rollin’ film.

Cast wise, several familiar faces pop up outside of Vernon including Nadine Pascal, Antonio Mayans, Alain Petit and, best of all, even Rollin himself. The film’s adequate photography is courtesy of Max Monteillet, whom Rollin liked enough to work with again on several occasions after Zombie Lake. While the make-up work of Christiane Sauvage fails to impress, the underwater photography of Henri-Jean Alliet is fairly well-done.

Rollin told interviewer Ferederic Levy, “Zombie Lake is by no means a film of mine”, and it’s a hard production to recommend to anyone other than true Rollin enthusiasts or Euro-Horror fanatics. On the other hand, it is truly the kind of film that isn’t made anymore so perhaps it deserves celebrating for that reason alone. Decide for yourself if you wish, as the film is easy to see courtesy of Image’s DVD, which features a nice print as well as some extra ‘clothed’ sequences as an extra.


Phantom of Pulp said...

Thank you for this interesting background piece.

Whenever I watch it, I always try so hard to like it.

At least it inspired much discussion and great poster art.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Phantom,
I wish I liked it better as well. Thanks for the nice words...

Jared said...

In Video Watchdog #63 Eurocine head Daniel Lesoeur claims that Jess Franco was never involved in the production of ZOMBIE LAKE. He says the original director was a Spanish gentlemen by the name of Julian De Lasema aka Lazer. Has Franco himself ever commented on this?
Great blog by the way!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Jared for the nice words on the blog. Thanks also for reminding me about that Watchdog article as I had totally forgotten about it! I am not sure if Franco has ever commented on this film ( I have tons of interviews but haven't had time to research it). Hopefully someone will let us know. Thanks again.

Pidde Andersson said...

I interviewed both Daniel Lesoeur and Jean Rollin last year (but not at the same time). They told different stories about ZOMBIE LAKE, I don't remember the details or if Franco was supposed to direct or not, but Rollin said that before making the movie, Lesoeur (senior, I think) had said "Nobody knows who J.A. Lazer is. Maybe it's the guy over there!" and pointed at a janitor mopping the floor.