International Horror Film Review: Zombie Lake (dir by “J.A. Lazer”)


Oh, Zombie Lake!

I approach this 1981 Spanish-French film with some trepidation because, while it’s undeniably one of the best known of Eurocine’s low-budget horror films, it was also directed by one of my favorite directors and, by most accounts, it was not an experience that he particularly enjoyed being asked about.  He did not care for this film and (spoiler alert) his name was not J.A. Lazer.

In fact, for several years, it was assumed that this film was actually directed by Jess Franco.  And while it’s true that Franco was originally hired to direct Zombie Lake, he left the project because he said the budget was too low to execute his vision.  Consider that.  A budget too low for Jess Franco!  Franco left the project and went on to direct Oasis of the Zombies.  Apparently, the film’s producers did not understand that Franco had actually left the project because, on the first day of shooting, they were shocked to discover that they didn’t have a director.  In a panic, they called another fiercely independent horror director and asked him to come direct the film.  Jean Rollin agreed.

By his own account, Rollin only had a few days to prepare for shooting and since he had already made a classic zombie film called The Grapes of Death, he didn’t worry too much about trying to do anything too spectacular with Zombie Lake.  He simply filmed whatever scenes were required for the day, played the minor role of doomed police inspector, and, six days later, Zombie Lake had been filmed.

As for the film itself, it takes place in a French village that appears to be exclusively populated by cranky old men and naked young women.  There’s a lake nearby.  Despite seeing (and tossing aside) a big sign with a skull and crossbones on it, one of the naked women decides to go for a swim.  This apparently awakens the green Nazi zombies who lives at the bottom of the lake.  Soon, the zombies are randomly emerging from the lake and killing villagers.  The town’s mayor (Howard Vernon, of all people) is concerned.

It all links back to World War II, when the members of the French Resistance (led by the mayor) gunned down a squad of Nazis and dumped their bodies in the lake.  Somehow, this led to the Nazis coming back as zombies.  One of the Nazis had a daughter with a French woman shortly before he was killed.  Despite the fact that he was killed in 1943 and the movie clearly takes place in 1980, his daughter is only 12 years old.  That’s the type of film that Zombie Lake is.

Watching the film, you can tell why Rollin wasn’t particularly interested in claiming any credit for it.  It’s a messy film, largely because the green zombie makeup keeps washing off whenever the zombies have to emerge from the waters of the lake.  As for the lake itself, the underwater scenes were clearly shot in a swimming pool.  Beyond that, there’s not really any logic as to why the zombies keep emerging from the lake.  Whenever it’s plot convenient, the zombies suddenly emerge and attack anyone who has recently undressed.

Howard Vernon in Zombie Lake

And yet, there are some good things about Zombie Lake.  (Shut up, there are too!)  For instance, it’s kind of charming how each actor cast as a zombie brings their own interpretation to the role.  Some of them walk slowly with their arms outstretched.  Others move a little bit stiffly with a thousand yard stare.  Some of them just casually stroll around, doing their business.  As well, we’re so used to assuming that any character played by Howard Vernon is going to be decadent and sleazy that it’s kind of fun to see him playing an outright hero here.  Finally, even the frequent nudity is so gratuitous that it actually become rather humorous.  One could easily use Zombie Lake to play a drinking game.  Whenever anyone takes off their top, drink!

Finally, even though this was clearly just a film he did for the money, there are a few instances where Rollin’s signature style manage to peak through.  For instance, when we first see the Mayor’s office, the camera lingers on all of the historical artifacts on the wall.  The fact that one of the zombies has cloudy memories of his former lover and only wants to see his daughter actually works a lot better than you might expect, largely because that seems to be the only storyline that Rollin — with his fascination with memory and history — seems to really care about.

Zombie Lake is a mess and certainly not representative of Rollin’s best (or more personal) films.  But I still kind of like it.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Child’s Play, Faceless, The Lair of the White Worm, Night of the Demons


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, we’re using 4 Shots From 4 Films to look at some of the best years that horror has to offer!

4 Shots From 4 1988 Horror Films

Child’s Play (1988, dir by Tom Holland)

Faceless (1988, dir by Jess Franco)

The Lair Of The White Worm (1988, dir by Ken Russell)

Night of the Demons (1988, dir by Kevin Tenney)

International Horror Review: A Virgin Among The Living Dead (dir by Jess Franco)


This 1973 Spanish-French-Italian production’s title is both its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, it’s impossible to forget a title like A Virgin Among the Living Dead.  It’s a title that mixes both horror and sex, which are two things of which audiences simply cannot get enough.  On the other hand, this is a a Jess Franco film and the title — which is so blatant and over-the-top — sounds like it could almost be a parody of Franco’s “unique” style of film-making.  If you were coming up with a fake Franco film, you would probably give it a title that sounded a lot like “A Virgin Among the Living Dead.”  A Virgin In The Castle of Dr. Orloff, perhaps.

Interestingly enough, Franco absolutely hated the film’s title.  It, and quite a few other titles, were slapped onto the film by distributors who were apparently unconcerned with the fact that the film was not meant to be one of Franco’s typical, give-me-my-paycheck exploitation films.  Franco’s title for the film was Night of the Shooting Stars, which is a bit bland but perhaps also a bit more honest.  Incidentally, the film was also released under the titles Christina, Princess of Eroticism and The Erotic Dreams of Christina, which again were titles that Franco disliked.

In the version I saw (and, admittedly, there’s several versions floating around), it’s never even stated that the film’s frequently unclothed protagonist, Christina (Christina von Blanc), is a virgin.  When compared to the other decadent members of her family, she certainly is innocent.  For instance, she doesn’t drink blood or engage in strange purification rituals.  When the cheerfully cynical Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon, because this is a Franco film, after all) plays a waltz while another member of the family is dying upstairs, Christina is properly shocked.  But, at no point, is Christina identified as being a virgin.

In fact, Christina is rather uninhibited, nonchalantly greeting strangers (and a rather creepy servant, played by Franco himself) in her underwear, sleeping naked in a room with an unlocked door, and later casually skinny dipping in a nearby swamp.  (When she’s informed that two wide-eyed townspeople were watching her from a nearby hill, she shrugs it off.)  Perhaps she’s meant to be an Eve-like character, unaware of sex or her nudity until she eats from the tree of knowledge.  Am I giving too much credit to Jess Franco?  As is often the case with Franco, it’s hard to say.

As far as the film itself goes …. well, the plot isn’t always easy to follow.  Christina has come to her family’s ancestral home for the reading of her dead father’s will.  Her father hanged himself and, though he’s dead, he keeps showing up.  Christina immediately discovers that the other members of her family are collection of rogues, eccentrics, and blood drinkers.  She also eventually learns that all the members of her family are the living dead and that they’re all worried that Christina will make them leave the estate.  Or are they?  Is Christina just dreaming all of this or is it really happening?  Is the Queen of Night really coming to claim everyone’s soul or is that just a part of Christina’s hallucinations?

A Virgin Among The Living Dead features all of Franco’s usual directorial quirks.  The story rambles.  Franco alternates between scenes of surreal beauty and scenes of almost indifferent framing.  At times, the score is hauntingly ominous and then, at other times, it sounds like it was lifted from a 70s porno.  Christina comes across as being a beautiful blank but Howard Vernon is memorably perverse as Uncle Howard and all the members of the family are amusingly decadent.  For once, though, all these quirks work to the film’s advantage, creating a surreal dreamscape that truly does seem to exist in a land between life and death.  A Virgin Among The Living Dead truly does become a work of pure cinema, one in which the the visuals and the mood become the narrative as opposed to the film’s story itself.

Franco may have hated the title that was slapped on it but this is actually one of his better films.  Unfortunately, how you react to the film will probably depend on which version you see.  There are several floating around, some of which feature hardcore inserts that were filmed by other directors.  There’s another version that features extra zombie footage that was filmed by Jean Rollin.  The Redemption Blu-ray features Franco’s cut of the film, with no hardcore or extra zombie footage.  That said, the scenes that Rollin shot are included as an extra.  Personally, I like Rollin’s zombie footage but, at the same time, I can also see how its inclusion would have destroyed the film’s already deliberate pace.

(And, of course, it goes without saying that I’m opposed to producers inserting extra scenes into any film, especially when that footage wasn’t directed by the original director.)

Anyway, A Virgin Among The Living Dead never reaches the existential heights of Female Vampire but it’s still one of Franco’s “good” films.  Even if he did hate the title….

4 Shots From 4 Films: The Exorcist, Female Vampire, Ganja and Hess, The Wicker Man


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, we’re using 4 Shots From 4 Films to look at some of the best years that horror has to offer!

4 Shots From 4 1973 Horror Films

The Exorcist (1973, dir by William Friedkin)

Female Vampire (1973, dir by Jess Franco)

Ganja and Hess (1973, dir by Bill Gunn)

The Wicker Man (1973, dir by Robin Hardy)

4 Shots From 4 Jess Franco Films: The Awful Dr. Orloff, Count Dracula, A Virgin Among The Living Dead, Female Vampire


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Yesterday, we paid tribute to Jean Rollin.  Today, we pay tribute to another master of Eurohorror with….

4 Shots From 4 Jess Franco Films

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1961, dir by Jess Franco)

Count Dracula (1970, dir by Jess Franco)

A Virgin Among The Living Dead (1971, dir by Jess Franco)

Female Vampire (1973, dir by Jess Franco)

4 Shots From 4 Films: RIP Maria Rohm


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. It was reported today that Austrian actress Maria Rohm, best known for her work with Exploitation masters Harry Alan Towers and Jess Franco, passed away at age 72. In her honor, here are 4 shots from the films of Maria Rohm:

House of 1,000 Dolls (1967, D: Jeremy Summers)

99 Women (1969, D: Jess Franco)

Venus in Furs (1969, D: Jess Franco)

Count Dracula (1970, D: Jess Franco)

6 Eurohorror Trailers For October 22nd


Hi there and welcome to this week’s special October edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation film trailers!

My latest edition is dedicated to Eurohorror!  Some of these trailers are not going to be safe for work.  Of course, you probably shouldn’t be watching trailers at work in the first place.  But, in case you are, don’t let your boss catch you.  If you do get caught and lose your job, feel free to leave a comment under this post and let us know about your experience.  We love to hear that we’re changing lives.

  1. The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962)

The Awful Dr. Orloff was directed by Jess Franco and is considered to be the first Spanish horror film.  It was also an international success that helped to launch Franco’s amazingly prolific career.

2. The Girl Who Knew Too Much (a.k.a. Evil Eye) (1963)

This film, from director Mario Bava, is considered to be the first true giallo film.  When it was released in the United States, it was retitled Evil Eye.

3. The Shiver of the Vampires (1971)

From French director Jean Rollin comes this story of vampires hiding in grandfather clocks.  (Actually, there’s more to it than just that.  But that’s the scene that everyone seems to remember.)

4. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

Arguably, this was the first Spanish zombie film.

5. The Grapes of Death (1978)

Again from director Jean Rollin, this is the first French zombie movie.

6. The Living Dead Girl (1981)

Finally, one last trailer from Jean Rollin.  You might not be able to guess it from the trailer but The Living Dead Girl is actually one of the most poignant films ever made.