Friday, April 20, 2012

Oasis of the Zombies (Jess Franco, 1981)

Hey, have you heard? Word on the street is that there's six million dollars worth of gold buried somewhere out in the desert. And, get this, it's not just any old gold, it's Nazi gold! The best kind of gold there is. Unfortunately, there's a catch. In order to get at it, you must first get by the hordes of bug-eyed Nazi zombies who protect it. Wait a minute. Bug-eyed Nazi zombies?!? Why that's just superstitious nonsense created by the locals to scare away tourists and prospective treasure hunters. Besides, everybody knows that zombies aren't real. Oh yeah? Just ask the two leggy women wearing short shorts who are about to stumble upon them in Oasis of the Zombies (a.k.a. The Treasure of the Living Dead), the foremost instructional video on how to avoid being attacked by the undead while searching for buried treasure in far off, zombie-infested lands. After I finished watching the film, which, of course, is directed by A.M. Frank, a.k.a. Jess Franco (Faceless), I couldn't help but notice that my desire to travel to Libya to look for Nazi gold had completely subsided. Sure, the desire was never there to begin with, but I can't deny the fact that it wasn't there by the time the film was over, either. In other words, the film lives up to its reputation as the Lawrence of Arabia of zombie movies. If you have never heard of "Lawrence of Arabia," try to think of it as The English Patient of zombie movies. Only, instead of being frightfully lame, and, not to mention, overlong and filled with blithering gits (Jürgen Prochnow and The Buddha of Suburbia, notwithstanding), this film is a genuine masterpiece that didn't destroy a single brain cell. In fact, I think I might have gained a few cells after all was said and done. Which, I've been told, is quite rare, as most films make you more stupid, not the other way around.

If only the two young women who appear in the film's pre-opening credits sequence had seen the film, maybe they would have known better than to wander into an oasis known for its zombie sightings. But then again, how can they watch the film, if they're in the film. Whoa, did I just blow your mind or what? Seriously, though, the two young women, the scrumptious Yolanda, and, since I didn't catch the name of her skinny friend, I'll call her, Wanda, have no way reaping the many benefits that come with watching Oasis of the Zombies attentively with one's eyeballs. Which is a shame, because if there's anyone who appears in this movie who didn't deserve to be torn apart by undead members of the Afrika Korps, it's definitely these two lovely ladies.

Just admit it, part of you wishes they had seen movie. Yeah, it's true, I wish they had. I mean, the movie would have been better than a masterpiece if they had been featured throughout its spry running time. However, they didn't see the movie, which, like I said, would be implausible–you know, since it's physically impossible to watch a movie before you have even made it. At the end of the day, this is just something you're going to have to accept.

What were–if you don't mind my asking–Yolanda and Wanda doing out in the middle of the desert? I have no idea. All I know is that they arrived at the oasis in an orange jeep and that one of them was excited to be there and one of them was not. This difference in opinion when it came to the oasis is what dominated their conversation as they debated whether or not to exit the jeep. When, I think it was Wanda, suggests that they go for a walk, I might have nodded slightly to signify my approval of this course of action. As in, yes, go for a walk (try to picture me nodding slightly as I am saying this). The tempo of my nods increased somewhat when Yolanda agrees by saying that a walk will gives us, and I quote: "a chance to stretch our legs a bit." Did you just say that the rate in which you were lowering and raising your head "increased somewhat"? You're joking, right? I would have thought a statement like that would have had rolling around in a liquefied pool of your own fecal matter (don't try to picture me doing that).

You're absolutely right, the sight of Yolanda and Wanda getting out of their jeep did send me into a minor frenzy. You could totally tell just by looking at her that Yolanda, like, had it going on in the leg department. And, like any sane individual, I was dying to see her stretch them in a desert setting. It's true, I don't know the names of the actresses who played Yolanda and Wanda, but I do know that Yolanda was the dirty blonde in the blue satin short shorts with the red and white trim and that Wanda was the brunette in the denim cut-offs. Either way, if anyone does know the names of the actresses who played Yolanda and Wanda, please let me know.

Surrounded by date trees, human skulls, chunks of metal painted with swastikas, broken cannons, and other such military hardware, Yolanda feels ill at ease almost immediately, and starts to complain. Demanding that they leave this creepy place at once, Yolanda tries to convince Wanda that it's in their best interest to extricate themselves from this disquieting environment. The gorgeous Yolanda, her wispy girl mustache bristling with fear, is growing impatient with her less attractive friend. And who can blame her? She's the one with the tantalizing eyes/thighs, not Wanda. Everyone knows that zombies prefer to gnaw on curvy girls with hint of sappho. And wouldn't you know it, a pair of ghoulish hands grab Yolanda's legs first.

I thought to myself, as Yolanda and Wanda screamed for their lives, is there anyway Oasis of the Zombies can top the leg-based sexiness and the sheer terror of its opening scene? And is any point writing anymore since I spent so much time talking about two characters who probably weren't even looking for the hidden Nazi gold in the first place? Excellent questions. After not giving it a lot of thought, I've decided to continue. But bear in mind that Yolanda and Wanda will always be in the back of my mind as I'm doing so, especially the sight of them walking hand-in-hand, the surface of their bums undulating with every step; well, Yolanda's bum–you know, since the booty gods have given her more booty to work with.

It actually makes sense for me to focus on the adventures of the skittish Yolanda and the intrepid Wanda. Think about it, who wants me to write about the battle that takes place between German Afrika Korps troops and a small band of British soldiers? Okay, now who wants me to describe the shape of a woman's ass encased in short shorts? That's what I thought. Anyway, there's this guy named Blatter (Javier Maiza), a British commander who intercepts a group of German's up to no good at an oasis in the desert during World War II. Forty years later, he teams up with Kurt (Henri Lambert), the man who trained the German's who were up to no good, in order to find the gold they were supposedly transporting.

If you think it was wrong for Blatter to trust a former adversary, particularly one named "Kurt," you're absolutely right to think that, as he poisons him the second he finds out the location of the mysterious oasis. When Blatter's son, Robert Blatter (Manuel Gélin), a university student in London, hears about his father's death in Libya (his father stayed there after the war), he heads down to straighten up his affairs. While going through his notes, he learns of his quest to find the lost Nazi gold. An extended flashback sequence shows Blatter senior during the war. On top of battle scenes, this segment shows the friendship between Blatter and a character known as "The Sheik" (Antonio Mayans), a man who rescues Blatter from certain death (he found him wandering through the desert after a major battle). As Commander Blatter is recovering from his wounds, and making goo goo eyes with the sheik's daughter Aisha (Doris Regina) back in 1943, I couldn't help but think about how much better the film would have been had it focused instead on Yolanda and Wanda. Get over it, man. They're zombie chow.

Deciding that he wants to finish the job his father started, Robert heads back to London to recruit his friends, Sylvie (Caroline Audret), Ronald (Eric Viellard), and Ahmed (Miguel Ángel Aristu), in order to help him look for six million dollars worth of Nazi gold buried somewhere in the Libyan desert. Meanwhile, Kurt, his leggy wife Ingrid (Myriam Landson), and their two helpers arrive at the oasis. As Kurt and Ingrid settle in for the night, their two helpers decide to wander around the oasis shirtless.

Oh-oh, you remember that creaking sound I mentioned when I was talking about Yolanda and Wanda's time at the oasis? Wait. Did I mention the film's signature creaking sound or not? Whatever, that same sound has started up again. However, this time around we get to see what the attackers look like, and boy, they ain't pretty. In fact, they're some of the nastiest zombies I have ever seen (the one whose eyes were popping out of his head was my favourite). It should go without saying, but the shirtless helpers are quickly devoured. As you might expect, the sound of human flesh being consumed by zombies wakes up Kurt and Ingrid. After his attempt to reason with them fails, Kurt makes a run for it. (He actually thought he could talk his way out of being eaten by zombies. Classic Kurt.)

Finally arriving in Libya, Robert and his friends get down to business. What liked about their arrival, besides the fact that Sylvie is wearing denim shorts (with a pair of sunglasses tucked in the waist band), carrying a red purse, and rocking a walk-man, was that all the Libyans seemed to be dressed like monks. And I also liked how they didn't seem to give a shit about the Libyans who were trying to pray (they just walked around them like they were lumps of dirty laundry). Oh, and I have to say, Caroline Audret, despite her cute ensemble, isn't really cutting it as a leading lady. Luckily, an actress with some personality is about to make her presence felt, and her name is France Lomay (Cecilia). Playing Erika, the blonde assistant to Professor Konrad (Albino Graziani), France brings some much needed sex appeal to the proceedings with her green overall shorts and her penchant for falling for guys named Ronald.

You heard right, despite his unflattering bowl cut, Ronald manages to woo Erika while an afroed imam burns the body of a dead man who is suspected of being a zombie. As unlikely as their paring is, it does give them an interesting story to tell the folks back home. Hey, Ronald. Hey, Erika. How did you two meet? Well, it's a funny story. We were watching this guy get cremated, when all of a sudden... Actually, before they can tell people the compelling story about how they met, they're gonna first have to spend a night at the infamous oasis, which, as everyone knows by now, is an activity fraught with danger.

Hauntingly beautiful, yet unsettlingly awful at the same time, Oasis of the Zombies is probably one of the zombie movies I have seen. You could argue that I have seen other zombie movies, but there's no denying that I have seen Oasis of the Zombies. Therefore, it's one of the zombie movies I have seen. Reminding me of Days of Heaven, except with one hundred percent less Richard Gere, Jess Franco has made not only a zombie movie, but a war movie with Indiana Jones-style greed and Sex and the City 2-esque cultural insensitivity. When Robert and his college age gang of treasure hunters show up at the oasis, the atmosphere is downright ominous. I don't know, there's something inherently creepy about the sight of zombies walking over sand dunes. And say what you will about everything that has happened up until this point, minus, of course, the scene with Yolanda and Wanda, as their scene is perfection on a stale cracker, the final showdown is zombie-based filmmaking at its finest.

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  1. Zombie Lake is like Oasis of the Zombies but a thousand times dumber. You should check it out, although it will make you stupid. Franco was slated to direct Zombie Lake but never showed I think (or left after a couple of days), so a slumming Jean Rollin directed it as a for hire project.

  2. A thousand times dumber, eh? How can I resist?

  3. I have the verbal touch of a top flight used car salesman.

  4. You seem to be reviewing a lot of Jess Franco films lately. Any particular reason? Just curious.

  5. No kidding. I'm already practicing my mock outrage face for when the guy at the place I get my movies tells me they don't have it.

  6. @Nine-Fingered Menace: Any particular reason? Let me see... Other than the fact that I like the way his films mix erotic and horror elements together to make an unseemly cinematic stew, I can't think of one.

  7. Franco is like a wonderful brain cancer. Whenever I watch one of his films I play "where is the inexplicable dildo" as there is almost always one present. I forget if there was in OotZ.

    I totally agree on the legginess of this film. Franco also loves to look out for the leg enthusiasts.

  8. I don't recall seeing any inexplicable dildos in OotZ. :(

    If you do a Google image search for "Jess Franco stockings," your excellent piece on 99 Women is one of the first things to come up. (Mmmm, Rosalba Neri relaxing in stockings.)