Oasis of the Zombies (L'abîme des morts vivants) was also released at one stage under the delightfully lurid title of Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies. And while this isn’t always the case, this title is in fact completely accurate. This 1981 Jess Franco film really is about bloodsucking Nazi zombies.
In 1943 somewhere in the North African desert a German convoy transporting a hoard of gold runs into an Allied ambush. The resulting battle (told in a flashback that features a surprising amount of action for a Franco movie) leaves only a single survivor on each side. Years later the German survivor sets out to retrieve the treasure, but he has a rival, the son of the Free French officer who led the Allied force. The young man’s mother was the daughter of an Arab sheikh who cared for his father after the battle.
Finding the gold doesn’t prove to be an easy task, the chief obstacle being that the oasis where the ambush was laid was cursed and the German soldiers killed there are now zombies guarding the gold. Unfortunately neither of the treasure-hunting parties knows about the zombies. Not yet anyway, but they’re about to find out. The young Frenchman is accompanied by several of his friends as well as a slight;y mysterious professor the picked up in a bazaar. The professor has as a companion an attractive young blonde woman, but she soon decides she’s more interested in one of our young French hero’s friends.
That’s pretty much it as far as plot is concerned. There is the expected mayhem when the zombies appear, and there’s a rather enigmatic ending.
Many online reviews will tell you this is the worst zombie movie ever made. These people have clearly seen very few zombie movies. I must admit to a personal bias here - I generally dislike zombie movies quite a bit. This may be the reason I found myself enjoying this one more than I’d expected to - at least Jess Franco can be relied upon not to make a stock-standard zombie movie. The budget was minuscule and the special effects are basic to say the least, but the rotting zombie makeup looks reasonably good given the fact that this is not a movie that anyone is expected to take all that seriously. If you take it as a slightly campy romp then it’s fun.
It’s difficult to recall another Jess Franco movie with so little in the way of sex and nudity. Unless it existed, like so many other Franco films, in alternate cuts than my presumption would be that the director or the producers felt that the audience for a zombie movie would probably not be interested in anything other than gore. An assumption that sadly probably contains a certain amount of truth. A Jess Franco movie without eroticism is a bit like a Hitchcock movie without suspense. It could be done, but it just isn’t the same. Thankfully this appears to have been Uncle Jess’s only foray into the world of zombie movies.
The scenes of the zombies appearing from under the desert sands are quite well done and are really the highlight of the movie. There are a couple of moments with ghostly hands groping their way out of the sand that are moderately creepy.
The acting doesn’t reach any great heights but it’s adequate for the sort of film this is. I don’t think Franco’s heart was really in this one and it lacks his usual touch. It’s not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you may have been led to expect. It’s not a movie I’d recommend anyone to buy on its own but if like me you got it as part of a boxed set then it’s worth a look as an oddity. The Image Entertainment DVD contains no extras at all.