Zombie Lake (1981) Review

rsz_zlZombie Lake (1981) aka Le lac des morts vivants

Director: Jean Rollin

Starring: Howard Vernon, Pierre-Marie Escourrou, Anouchka

Out NOW on UK DVD from Black House Films!

Back in the 1980s there’s no denying that as a film genre Horror was at one of it’s highest peaks in terms of creativity, we saw the likes of Jason Voorhees slicing through our anxiety to Freddy Krueger making insomnia suffers blessed. Debuts by characters that are both highly regarded as the figureheads of the horror culture we live in today.

Amongst many classics during this period today we delve into Jean Rollin’s Zombie Lake. Jean originating from France sadly left us back in 2010 however is remembered for his unique cinematography, off-kilter plot progression and poetic dialogue which showed us the likes of The Living Dead Girl and The Night of the Hunted.

Zombie Lake is no exception to these sentiments. Set in a quiet rural village somewhere in France post World War II. Zombie Lake opens in a very Jaws-esque manner. A young local girl decides to take a mid-afternoon stroll followed by a casual skinny dip, little does she know there’s something lurking in the depths. The soothing sound of what can only be described as elevator music provided by composer Daniel White accompanies the opening. One can only assume that it was Jean’s intention to make the audience feel at ease prior to all hell breaking loose.

zl2After a savage attack by what everyone’s expectations of a zombie should be, green, angry and ready to eat the terror off someone’s face, there is a slight difference as these aren’t your traditional Zombies these are Nazi Zombies. Word travels fast throughout the village and grabs the attention of the village Major portrayed by Swiss actor Howard Vernon, who makes a very convincing job of knowing something that the audience do not at this stage of the film.

Very much a slow burner, after a brief back story of how the terror came to fruition the film very quickly changes its pace when a group of teenagers decide to go for a refreshing dip in the now suitably named The Damned Lake. Very much like the lives of the teenagers sadly this change in pace is short lived.

Although at times Zombie Lake tends to be lacklustre, you can’t deny that when it gets to the point where it’s about to go bat shit it is executed in a brilliant way. I also feel that Zombie Lake could have benefited from having a lot more gore within certain scenes. I couldn’t help but think while watching this that George A Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead must have been a key influence on the making of this film overall.

zl3In 2017 Nazi Zombies are predominantly a lot more present in popular culture however in the 80s this was a completely new take on the zombie concept . It’s easy to see how Zombie Lake has influenced modern takes on this concept such as the Dead Snow films and even the Call of Duty Video game franchise.
Slow burner or not Zombie Lake is definitely worth the time of any zombie based film enthusiast.
This certainly won’t leave you wanting to go Skinny dipping, or will it? 😉

5/10

Shiver of The Vampires (1971) DVD Review

sotv1Shiver of the Vampires (1971)

Directed by: Jean Rollin

Written by:  Monique Natan, Jean Rollin

Cast:  Sandra Julien, Jean-Marie Durand, Jacques Robiolles

Running Time:96 Minutes

UK Certificate: 18

Format: DVD

Studio: Redemption – Out Now

Once you get past the minute long, soft core, low definition, logo video for Salvation Films we finally find ourselves at the disc menu. I actually believed that this opening video was the opening to the movie, but no, just a very, very long logo video. Issue #1.

sotv3We open our movie in a church yard, heavily coloured in sepia like tones. Two caskets are being carried into a tomb; the only mourner is a woman dressed in a black veil. The opening sequence is very reminiscent of the cold openings from Hammer Studios back catalogue. We cut to too young women sitting in a castle, the pallet has changed dramatically, and gels are used unashamedly. The two women climb the castle tower and we are introduced to two men chained to the wall, both with stakes in their chests. The tallest declares that he must die with the sunlight and the curse of vampirism should end with them. Their main concern is the last two who they passed the curse onto will soon rise from their graves. He tasks the two women with destroying them, but warns if they should fail, they should serve their new masters willingly.

Great start, right? I was very intrigued by this direction; it was fresh enough to keep me viewing. However, this was the opening five minutes, another 90 to go.

sotv2We cut to a newlywed couple who happen to be travelling to the castle we visited earlier. The bride, Isabel, is a cousin to the two who were buried at the opening of the movie. When she discovers that her cousin’s are dead, in despair, she opts to sleep alone and is eventually seduced by a female vampire. She remembers nothing of this and it us up to her new husband, Anthony, to find out why she disappears at night, why she can’t remember anything and why her cousins, newly back from the dead are acting incredibly weird.

I was hoping for a film akin to the later Hammer movies, entertaining, yet low on budget and more flesh on show than fangs. Certainly, there was a fair amount of nudity but it felt like it was on show because the filmmakers could get away with it. It is neither artistic nor necessary.

The main issues I have with this movie, by now you may have guessed I’m not a fan, is that it is incredibly poor in script, acting, dubbing and soundtrack. Perhaps once or even twice Director, Rollin, gives the audience a hint of visual flair, but falls very short of the mark. The score, by Acanthus (his only credit on any movie), sounds as if Black Sabbath, at the start of their career, had a jamming session with The Beatles, at the end of their career, sounds good on paper but not to the ears. Audiences will find it intrusive and inappropriate. Characters aren’t allowed to develop and our hero, Anthony, interrupts seemingly important scenes with a voice over on how he feels about what’s happening in that scene. As an audience we don’t know what in god’s name he is referring to, as he interrupted the fricking conversation he’s now discussing!

Sorry. Rant over.

sotv4The positive, singular, is the locations. The castle is wonderful to look at and the village is steeped in Medieval French architecture.

The disc comes with a few extras, trailers, production stills, which are grainy and of very poor quality and our main extra we are treated to, is an interview with director, Rollin. Filmed in 2004, this is possibly the best thing on the disc, a small insight into his works, his long career and why he chose the horror genre, what inspired him and the reason behind his fascination with female vampires especially. The issue’s with this? It was filmed on a low def camera with no external mic. What should have been the highlight of the disc is ruined by the grainy, flat image and audio that is barely audible.

Movie Rating: 1/10

The Night of The Hunted (1980) DVD Review

noth1The Night of The Hunted (French, 1980)

Dir: Jean Rollin

Starring: Brigitte Lahaie, Vincent Garder, Dominique Journet

Out now on UK DVD from Salvation Films – HERE

Website – http://www.salvation-films.com

Plot: The Night of The Hunted (known in it’s native French as “La Nuit Des Traquées”) follows Elizabeth (Brigitte Lahaie), an amnesiac on the run. She’s discovered by Robert(Vincent Garder), a young man who tries to help her but it isn’t long before Elizabeth is recovered by the doctor she was trying to escape and returned to the foreboding Black Tower facility. The facility is full of other patients suffering from the same loss of memory as Elizabeth and have become frightened and dangerous. Elizabeth attempts to escape again before she finds out what gruesome plans the doctor has for her.

The Night of the Hunted, a film by the late Jean Rollin, is a key example of Rollin’s particular style of cinema. Made in the days of exploitation cinema, it’s soaked in blood and sex. Yet it’s also bizarre and dream-like. Rollin had the reputation of making surreal films with other films including The Grapes of Death, The Living Dead Girl, and Fascination. His films are tinged with the erotic and the macabre and The Night of the Hunted is no exception.

noth2The Night of The Hunted is a slow paced movie, it moves along in a stroll from scene to scene often lingering too long. For those with little patience this can be quite grating,but it reflects the mind of the protagonist, Elizabeth. She’s moving but she’s not sure where. The film gains momentum as she manages to work out a plan but gets muddled again as she loses her way again.

Rollin also uses a lot of sex in this movie, to the extent that it does come off as a bit gratuitous, but with the protagonist struggling to remember even the most basic details it works. The moments of extreme sex and violence stand out amongst the slow moments, the easily forgotten moments. The bits that you’ll remember only until the next act of extreme sex and violence.

The Night of the Hunted can be read as either a very deep film or a very shallow film depending on how you interpret it. After 35 years certain elements definitely feel dated. The exploitation elements of sexuality and violence against the mentally ill both come off as pretty insensitive in this day and age.Unlike some other films in the past that have used mental illness in their horror, The Night of the Hunted thankfully doesn’t try to blame the symptoms on an existing disease, but the state of the facility does seem to reflect the idea of mental health facilities, cruel and bleak. It demonises the patients as violent and disposable. The sex can be justified like I previously stated but it also feels like they were just pandering to the audience too.

noth3The Night of the Hunted isn’t a film for everyone, it’s slow pace might bore some and the graphic nature might offend others. The latter is this film’s legacy though, the extreme nature of French horror that has also given us films like Inside, Martyrs and Frontier(s). If you like your horror gruesome,French, and weird, this film is for you.

7/10

The Night of The Hunted has a number of DVD extras including the trailer, extra scenes, stills from the movie and trailers for other releases through Redemption.

The Living Dead Girl (1982) DVD Review

tldg1THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (1982)

Dir- Jean Rollin

Starring- Marina Pierro, Françoise Blanchard, Mike Marshall, Carina Barone

Out now on UK DVD from Redemption (Salvation Films)

Long established British distributors of the bizarre, sleazy and erotic horror fare Redemption are back, and it’s a great return to form, to see them releasing one of Jean Rollin’s classic horror flicks. Rollin is one of those enigmatic figures in horror cinema, who seemingly combined a stylish aesthetic that added a visual depth to his films, strong central female characters and an almost off kilter element that made some of his features stand out, and THE LIVING DEAD GIRL is no exception.

The film starts off with a group of men disposing of vats of chemical waste, in some crypt like basement. Two of the men go off to steal from the corpses of recently deceased, buried within a crypt nearby (why this is the case is not fully explained and is part of the off kilter element of Rollin’s style), yet an unexplained earth tremor causes one of the barrels of toxic waste to fall and spill its contents and this seemingly causes the corpse of Catherine Valmont (Blanchard), to be resurrected and to allow her to kill the thieves and drink their blood. Catherine makes her way from the crypt wandering through a field and catches the eye of Barbara (Barone) who is taken aback at the figure in white and takes photos of her. Catherine makes her way back to her family home.

tldg2While in the house her childhood friend Helene (Pierro) calls, and even though Catherine does not speak to her, she plays a music box, a significant object from the two’s friendship. This spurs Helene to go back to the house to find a grisly discovery of a recently deceased estate agent and her boyfriend with their throats cut. Helene soon discovers that Catherine is dead and that only blood can keep her alive. Seemingly wanting to hold onto their strong blood bonded friendship, Helene sets out to find new ways of finding her friend blood, and at the same time Barbara’s obsession with Catherine’s picture, much to the annoyance of her American fiancée Greg (Marshall) leads her to become slowly drawn to the house, where she soon gets drawn into the bloody and violent dilemma involved between Helene and Catherine.

As mentioned before the film does have a fleeting off-kilter style, with certain scenes left unexplained, such as the vat of toxic waste causing Catherine’s zombie resurrection, did it actually cause it or set it off somehow? Catherine’s zombification is also unconventional in the sense that rather than being a straightforward gut munching undead, she seemingly has to survive on blood making her more vampire than zombie, though still willing to pull out the guts and devour her victims at the same time. Though what is evident in this character arc, is the pain of the thirst for blood and the undeniable sense of torment that conflicts Catherine who realises that even though she has guilt over what she is doing and even pronounces that “I am evil,” she still carries out her actions even more so at the behest of Helene, who is complicit in providing victims for her friend.

tldg3Blanchard is very good in her performance, at the start looking innocent and beautiful but possessing the willingness to gouge out victims years and rip their throats open, and she handles the trauma of her character and the pain of being undead very well, somehow maintaining our sympathy for this classic tragic figure, in the vein of the Wolfman or Frankenstein’s monster. Pierro is also good in her role as the friend who has to come to terms with the fate of her friend and to trust and not forget the childhood bound formed. The only slight let down in casting is Barbara and her American fiancée, and whilst Barone and Marshall do well with somewhat limited characters, they come across as slightly annoying bickering couple, who only seem to be there to provide a bridge to the final act.

Rollin’s film takes its time to get going and at points and the pacing does flag during some of the early scenes, yet overall it’s a stylish and well made, punctuated with some sudden and gory scenes that whilst looking slightly cheap-like butcher shop garishness still come across as quite effective in the sudden jolting brutality, and add an exploitative quality to the proceedings. These moments of gore however are punctuated with reflective and moody scenes given a haunting edge by Rollin’s stylish direction that lends the film a unique twist on the tragic tale of normal human being unwittingly brought back to life to become a monster, and the effect it can have on the people who care for her in the living world.

7/10