Have you ever wondered how bad a movie can be? Have you ever, after sitting through the late night Ed Wood Festival, or suffering through Invasion of the Neptune Men on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, wondered if the human imagination could possibly sink any lower?

Some of you know what I'm really asking:
Have you ever seen Zombies' Lake?

Now, I'm a big fan of the French low-budget director Jean Rollin. I think that at his best, he is a creator of unforgettable images, a real poet of the cinema. However, this is one of his least personal efforts, a tired little commercial project originally slated for Jess Franco. The film was given no budget, a feeble script and some broken equipment. The poverty of the whole project seems to have taken the inspiration out of everybody.

If I described this movie in detail, nobody would believe me. So I'll content myself with a few key points. Here's the back-story: during World War II, a band of Nazi soldiers occupied a small mountain village. One of the German soldiers fell in love with a local girl whose life he saved, and she became pregnant with his child. Shortly thereafter, partisans killed the Nazis and dumped their bodies in the local lake.

Time passes. It is now the late 1970's, or perhaps the early '80's: we can tell by the cars, the clothes, etc.

Up from the depths rise the Nazi dead! Their hair is still perfect, their clothing is undamaged. The only way you can tell they are dead is that they walk really stiffly, and they're covered with green makeup.

Wait: did I say covered? Not quite. The green makeup (which looks like finger paint) only goes to the collars of their shirts, the edge of their hair, the cuffs of their sleeves. Every time the zombies stretch a little, we see healthy pink flesh peeping out from their uniforms. Occasionally, some of the zombies' green wipes off on their victims (and thinking of bad makeup effects, here again we see how much blood a zombie can shed without breaking the skin).

Among the zombies' first victims we find a VW bus-full of girls on vacation. Naturally, they stop by the edge of the lake, disrobe and play volleyball. Before long, they jump into the water up to their knees and begin splashing each other.

Suddenly, we cut to the view under the lake. The zombies stand on the lake bed, looking up menacingly at the girls -- who are now treading water about eight feet deep. When we return to the unsuspecting girls, they are once again in water up to their knees. And so it goes.

Once ashore, the lead zombie encounters his long-lost child. Remember the child? The one he never got to see born, because he was killed thirty-odd years ago? Well, the little girl is now ten years old, and if I haven't made my point by now, I give up.

There are two versions of this excruciating film: the original theatrical version, which is full of gratuitous nudity; and a TV version, from which all the nudity has been cut. Normally, in this situation, the distributor just clips a few scenes out of the theatrical version. If the nude scenes are crucial to the plot, he may decide to fog or visually censor the scenes without removing them completely. Or, if he has the luxury, he may re-shoot key sequences with the "offensive" material replaced.

But if ever there was a group cheaper than Eurociné, it was Cinema Shares International. So, for this movie, rather than shoot new scenes to replace the nudie bits -- in other words, about half the movie -- they simply played some of the zombie sequences backwards. That's what I said: backwards.

So we see a girl swimming, and then we see a clutching hand rising from the lake. Then we go back to the girl swimming; suddenly we see the hand going back into the lake... and the ripples are flowing in reverse. Once again, we see the girl swimming, paddle paddle paddle, and now we see a zombie head emerge from the lake, water spilling from his mouth. Girl. Zombie. Girl. And now the zombie goes back under the lake, and the water flows back up into his mouth.

Repeat this exact sequence until your head explodes. You have now experienced the opening of the TV version of Zombies' Lake.

Here's a thought: if you're looking for a new, innovative way to take years off your life, you could always watch both versions, back to back!

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