The Depths of Obscurity: Nazi Zombies
In recent years, zombies have had a huge revitalization in pop culture, thanks to films like Shaun of the Dead, Zack Snyder‘s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, and World War Z, and AMC’s hit TV show The Walking Dead – to name just a few. Many people may consider this a recent development, but zombies in film actually have a long, storied past. George A. Romero‘s game-changing original Dawn of the Dead or even Lucio Fulci‘s 1979 entry Zombie (originally titled Zombi 2, intended to make a connection with Romero’s Dawn) might be some of the most well-known, but this is a look at film obscurity.
For this article, however, there exists in film history a brief period of time where zombies and Nazis joined together in a handful of movies we all must reckon with. I present to you five of these films.
1. Zombie Lake
Director: Jean Rollin (He took over for Jesús Franco, who dropped out at the last minute)
Runtime: A brisk 83 minutes
Plot: During WWII, dead German soldiers were thrown into a lake in a French hamlet, and then years later, they start coming back to life for some reason.
I start with Zombie Lake because it is my favorite of the five I am surveying. Let me begin by saying that, although Jean Rollin did direct the film, he is credited as J.A. Laser. He did this because he was incredibly embarrassed by the film. After watching it, you too will understand the name change.
Why is it so bad? Well, take the basic premise that doesn’t make any sense. The film takes place 10 years after WWII, picking up as a skinny dipping girl is killed by a zombie hiding in the lake. The zombie then leaves the lake and kills another girl in the nearby French village. So was he sleeping for 10 straight years? Why is it that only now is the zombie on the rampage?
Aside from that, the performances are god-awful, which are highlighted by the cameraman’s habit of pushing in way too close on peoples’ face. It’s like watching people react to microwave popcorn. This, in addition to the scenes with absolutely no dialogue, make the movie laughably bad.
Here’s the best part of the movie: from the moment that a van pulls up to the edge of the lake and about seven young women pour of and almost immediately begin stripping down for a dip, the soundtrack goes all pop/jazz. This is juxtaposed with scenes underneath the lake’s surface as the Nazi zombies begin swimming towards the ladies, and the music takes on a more scary tone. It’s hilarious.
Watch Zombie Lake for terrible production values, bad acting, and a ludicrous amount of nudity that seems to be a message from the director admitting that he is aware of the film’s poor quality, and is offering up a consolation prize.
- currently ranked #22,154 of all-time
- ranked 614 times by 53 users
- wins 31% of matchups
- 2 users have it ranked in their personal Top 20
2. Oasis of the Zombies (also known as The Treasure of the Living Dead)
Director: Jesús Franco
Runtime: An even brisker 82 minutes
Plot: A group of treasure hunters travel to Africa to uncover Nazi gold and unleash undead Nazi troops.
Next on the list is Oasis of the Zombies. This film (would it be wrong to place quotation marks around film?) was directed by Jesús Franco (under the pseudonym A.M. Frank), who I mentioned above as having abandoned Zombie Lake, which he also wrote. Another similarity between these two projects is the man who composed the music for both projects, Daniel White. His signature is the ethereal sounding synth you hear during the suspenseful scenes.
The first thing the viewer will notice when cueing up this flick on Netflix is the quality of the video. It’s basically a VHS transfer, complete with tracking lines. The sound, the dubbing, and the lighting are all terrible (at least Zombie Lake was in HD), and similarly, the performances are all rudimentary as well. Note the expressionless faces of pretty much everyone as they deliver their lines.
The basic plot is as follows: a group of ruthless Nazis (redundant?) carrying gold for some reason through Africa are ambushed by Allied Forces, and the lone Allied survivor of the attack goes on to tell a treasure hunter about the gold, who promptly murders him. The survivor’s son learns of his father’s death and decides to strike out for the gold himself. As the hunters close in on the treasure, they awaken the undead Nazi soldiers, who wreak havoc on everyone. Once again, as in Zombie Lake, I’m left to wonder: were the zombies asleep? Why are they just now coming back to life? Given what we know of the zombie genre, I would think that the soldiers would reanimate immediately upon death, not years later when some hapless idiot stumbles upon them.
The one thing this movie has going for it is its effects. The zombies appear much more gruesome, with crawling bugs on their faces and so on. The zombie attacks are also gory enough – Franco used what appears to be animal intestines to simulate human viscera. This is compared to Zombie Lake, where the zombies pretty much just give hickeys to their victims’ necks and blood packs leak out.
One should watch Oasis of the Zombies for some decent gore and terrible acting, which urge the viewer to root for the zombies, as there isn’t a single character to even remotely care about.
- currently ranked #29,523 of all-time
- ranked 289 times by 51 users
- wins 15% of matchups
3. Shock Waves
Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Runtime: 85 minutes
Plot: A group of travelers crashes its yacht on an island that just so happens to be inhabited by an aging Nazi scientist and the undead German soldiers he helped create.
This one was directed by Ken Wiederhorn, whose credits also include Meatballs Part II and Return of the Living Dead Part II. It stars a couple of more renowned actors – namely, Peter Cushing of Star Wars fame (you’ll recognize his foul stench when you’re brought on board) and John Carradine, father of David and Keith Carradine, and whose highest ranked film is the 1939 western, Stagecoach.
A group of travelers on a yacht in the middle of the ocean crash into a mysterious freighter and end up on an island. On the island, they meet an old German SS Commander who has been experimenting for years on dead Nazi soldiers. This story is told from the perspective of the lone survivor, a young woman who is telling the story to the rescuers that found her unconscious and drifting on a rowboat.
It’s easy to see why this one would be more highly ranked than Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies. It has a specific and clearly told plot, the performances are better than the other two, and the reason the zombies even exist makes sense. However, I do have two complaints: first, that the movie does begin to drag a bit in the middle, as the characters hang about the island. One scene in particular irritated me – the young lady decides to go for a swim in a lake on the island, whereupon she finds a dead member of their group. She decided that it was a good time for a dip? The other complaint I have is the actual lack of zombies. There are large parts of the short movie that contain no sight of the undead foes. Apart from those two complaints, it was a surprisingly enjoyable movie to watch.
Shock Waves is a fun movie to watch for its unique plot. It’s also fun to see Grand Moff Tarkin as an exiled Nazi scientist.
- currently ranked #7,628 of all-time
- ranked 1,635 times by 122 users
- wins 41% of matchups
- 2 users have it ranked in their personal Top 20
4. Dead Snow
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Runtime: 91 minutes
Plot: Young medical students take their Easter vacation in a secluded cabin in the snowy mountains and unwittingly unleash a group of undead Nazis.
Starting with 2009’s Dead Snow, the Nazi zombie genre started to see an uptick in the attention received by filmmakers. This entry seems to be fashioned a bit after the aesthetic of the incredibly successful (and rightfully so) Shaun of the Dead. There are some attempts at humor, like how the characters joke around with each other and engage in college-aged shenanigans. The movie also attempts to give the viewer some good thrills too, in terms of jumps and gore.
During their Easter break, a group of young medical students decide to go into the mountains for some snowy fun. As they ride their snowmobiles around and drink, a strange old man visits them and tells them the tale of Nazi soldiers that were ambushed by Russians, forcing them to flee into the same mountains, presumably freezing to death. Ever since then, there has been an evil presence pervading the area. Naturally, the youths mock the old man and disregard his warning. Sooner rather than later, the group is picked off one by one by the ghouls. Meanwhile, a member of the group in search of his missing girlfriend stumbles into the zombies’ vault.
Other than the fact that the zombies are of Nazi origin, there is little in the movie to separate itself from the scads of zombie movies released during this time period. Watch this movie for the outhouse sex scene. Yeah. I just wrote that.
- currently ranked #4,138 of all-time
- ranked 13,856 times by 1,144 users
- wins 45% of matchups
- 21 users have it ranked in their personal Top 20
- 1 user has it ranked as his/her #1 movie of all-time
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Runtime: 100 minutes
Plot: The lone survivor from the first film gains supernatural powers thanks an arm transplant from the previous Nazi zombie owner, and embarks on a mission to defeat the main Nazi zombie with the help of a trio of American zombie hunters.
Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead picks up right where its predecessor left off. There’s even a recap of the first movie’s events very much in the vein of Army of Darkness. I won’t say too much about the plot since it is a recent sequel, but I will note that its tone is a definite departure from the first entry. I will also say that there is also a similarity to Man with the Screaming Brain, another Bruce Campbell feature. Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead definitely hits closer to the mark the first film was aiming for. And just as viewing Army of Darkness doesn’t depend on necessitate watching Evil Dead 2, which doesn’t necessarily depend on watching Evil Dead in terms of plot (though watching all of them is definitely recommended), skipping Dead Snow doesn’t ruin Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead. In fact, just go ahead and do that. The sequel is a much more satisfying experience, in all of its over-the-top glory.
Watch Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead for a key scene early on, when an unfortunate accident leads to a grisly, unexpected death, which is played for brutal, dark comedy, and for a scene in which a zombie uses its victim’s large intestine to siphon gas from a charter bus to a tank. So, yeah. That happened.
- currently ranked #24,353 of all-time
- ranked 669 times by 65 users
- wins 51% of matchups
So there we have it – a brief look into one of the most interesting and bizarre subgenres I’ve ever been fortunate enough to know about and delve into. I know that there must be some that I’ve missed, so please let me know which ones I should check out! And lastly, I urge all of you who haven’t seen some of these to experience them for yourselves. You’ll be glad you did!