At the risk of being thrown out of both the Real Horror Fans Gang and the Society of Lesbian Vampire Enjoyers, I must speak my truth: I do not enjoy the films of Jess Franco. Female Vampire almost makes the cut, but to be honest I would rather simply partake in the undeniably striking stills of Lina Romay from that movie than watch it again. I wish I could appreciate Franco's work more. If I had the FrancoVision that his fans seem to have, I would see the art they claim is in his oeuvre, you know, the dream-like atmosphere and all that. Sadly, however, I am saddled with FinalGirlVision, and all that allows me to see is NO.
And so it is with this week's Tale from the Mill Creek 50-Pack Oasis of the Zombies, a film I liked better during that minute or two at the start when I misremembered it as a Bruno Mattei joint. And I'm not even wild about Bruno Mattei joints!
A group of French college students head to an oasis in the African desert (just "African" will do, natch) in search of Nazi gold that was lost when the Nazis were killed in a battle in 1943. But for some reason the oasis is cursed, I guess, and the dead Nazis return as the living dead to eat anyone who gets too close.
This exceedingly simple tale is told in exceedingly tedious fashion, as we are treated to interminable flashbacks and shots that are repeated ad nauseam, such as this skull and this spider (yes, that golden blob is a spider).
Franco's style in Oasis of the Zombies seems to be "point the camera at stuff and maybe the stuff you're pointing the camera at will actually be in the frame...oh and doin't forget to do all those zooms, you're Jess Franco!" The overall effect is one somehow completely devoid of atmosphere, and frankly (Francoly?) the entire affair feels inept.
The zombies themselves are typical of the European zombie flicks of the era, although they fall a little more on the papier-mâché side of things as opposed to the more oatmeal-faced undead found in a Fulci film. Most of them have a worm or two wriggling around on 'em, which is a nice touch. There's a regular roster of shambling corpses here, and each gets their moment to shine in a rotating series of repeated close-ups.
This guy was my favorite, for obvious reasons:
These close-ups and the few group shots are reminiscent of Fulci's Zombie (1979); as I am an unabashed freak for that movie, I couldn't help but wonder why Oasis of the Zombies boasted several of the same techniques but left me so cold.
Leaving aside the...mmm, let's call the--the repeated still lifes, the unnecessary zooms--"stylistic choices," Oasis of the Zombies is just a fucking drag. It's poorly paced and plodding, and when it's time for zombie action, it's bereft of any action. The victims go "aahhh" and lie down, maybe they get bitten once or twice while they go "noooo" and pathetically slap at the zombies, and then they are dead.
If these sad scenes were (un)livened up with some gore, at least there'd be some spectacle. However, we get one gore shot which is almost complete obscured. I get that it was likely a budget issue, but hey, I never said the gore had to be good. But if you're making a sleazy European gut-muncher, I think you should add some gut-munching. And some sleaze. Oasis of the Zombies has neither. But it does have a lot of shots of camels and sand dunes, and as a fan of both they pleased me. Also those shots reminded me of the time The Real Housewives of New York went to Morocco and Countess Luann almost got bucked off an ornery camel; the scene is more Oscar-worthy than Oasis is, that's for sure.
I will give major props to the climax of the film, wherein night begins to fall and zombies slowly trudge over the dunes towards the students' camp. I'm not sure why the zombies are suddenly so far away from the oasis, but it looks cool and gives us the best shots in the movie, so who cares.
There's a little pizzazz during this final showdown as the students surround themselves with a burning ring of fire and chuck molotovs at the undead. But much of the pizzazz is indiscernible as Franco's camera often centers, like, someone's knee instead of anything worthwhile. Then the sun comes up and any remaining zombies fade into nothingness, which is weird because we've seen them out and about in the daylight before this. Oh well.
While watching Oasis of the Zombies, I felt like that famous time-lapse sequence in The Haunting (1963, duh), where we see Abigail Crane morph from a young lass to a withered crone. Like I could feel that happening to me as the movie played out over the longest 82 minutes of my life. The only difference was that I of course started out as a withered crone and simply became crone-ier.
I would say that there's something good in the story, some potential, if one wants to imagine the adventure-horror-zombie flick that could have been. But that's a bit like saying that a house has "good bones" when everything except the bathroom wallpaper needs to be trashed.
It's always a bummer when a horror movie is a bummer, and so it's a bummer that this week's offering from Mill Creek was a bummer indeed. But hey, you know what they say: We make plans, and the 50-pack laughs. Better luck next time!