A young woman stops by a lake in the countryside, enjoying the summer's day. She whips off her clothes and sunbathes by the water's edge, but it's so hot that she settles on cooling down by going for a dip in the lake. As she swims through the limpid water, she is unaware that she is being watched - not from anyone in the surrounding woods, however, but beneath the surface of the water itself. There is a Nazi zombie wading through the depths towards her and when it catches her it drags her down to the lake bed. Meanwhile, people in the nearby village are wondering where she has got to... could there be a curse on them all?
Orginally a Jess Franco movie - he even co-wrote the script with Julián Esteban and his regular star Howard Vernon is the mayor in this - Zombie Lake was taken over by Jean Rollin who catered for the audience's thrills in his typically sleepwalking style. After Shock Waves was released, there was a short spate of underwater Nazi zombie movies, none of them as impressive as their inspiration, and here the tone was a surprisingly sentimental one. We're supposed to fear most of the undead, but here's one intended to make us go "Awww..."
It's not often outright schmaltz invaded the zombie genre, but that was what was on offer with Le Lac des morts vivants, as this was known in French. Rollin patently had not got his vampire movies out of his system either (he was still making those two decades later) as when the bad guys attack, there's no heads being ripped off but rather a spot of bloodsucking on the neck which looks as if they are feeling amorous. And being a work of this director, there was a plentiful supply of nudity, of the gratuitous sort, of course.
So not only does the girl at the start go skinny dipping, but a women's volleyball team drive up to the lake in a van and immediately disrobe to splash about at the shore. Oddly, when we are treated to underwater shots of this lot they are up to their necks and plainly in a swimming pool, yet above the surface anything over their knees is barely getting wet. And not in a swimming pool. Yes, there's an impoverished sense to this, couple that with a lack of vigour and lots of lengthy silences and you get a curiously benign horror movie that comes across as filled with amateur play-acting.
Chief culprit for this is the plot involving one of the zombies, who is never named, not even in flashbacks (but played by Pierre-Marie Escourrou). When he was alive, he was part of the German army and romanced one of the local French women (Nadine Pascal), the upshot being that she fell pregnant. Both of the parents died when the child was born, him because he and his platoon were killed by the Resistance, and it seems as though this is set less than ten years later as the child, Helena (Anouchka), hasn't grown up much. In a meant to be touching moment the zombie dad visits his offspring, but really this kind of thing sabotages any mood of dread and is more ridiculous than anything else. At least they were trying something different, but the most entertainment stems from the overacting Nazi zombie extra who stumbles around arms flailing. Yes, we see you! Music by Daniel White.
A lifelong film fan, French director Jean Rollin worked consistently since the 1950s, but it was his horror films that would bring him most attention, starting with Le viol du vampire in 1968, a work that caused a minor riot on its initial showings. This showed Rollin the way to further dreamlike entertainments, often with a strong sexual element. Other films included Le vampire nue, Le frisson de vampires, Les Raisins de la mort, Fascination (often regarded as his masterpiece), The Living Dead Girl, Zombie Lake and a number of hardcore porn features. He was working up until his death, with his latest Le Masque de la Meduse released the year of his demise.