Alternately known as The Treasure Of The Living Dead, Jess Franco's 1982 film Oasis Of The Zombies isn't likely to ever top anyone's list of greatest zombie movies ever made but if you enjoy whatever it is that Franco brings to his filmography that makes his pictures so enigmatic, odds are pretty good you'll enjoy this low budget quickie he did for Eurocine.
When the film begins, two young women in tight tops and short shorts get out of their jeep and wander through an oasis in the middle of a desert. They talk to one another about the pros and cons of having arrived here - one girl things it's great, a nice romantic spot, the other complains that she should have stayed back at the hotel. As the camera pans around we see remnants of Nazi activity - pieces of vehicles with World War II era German insignias on them, and a skull or two. Soon enough, the hands of a corpse reach through the ground and grab one of the girls' legs... and we're off.
We never see those girls again. Instead the film then introduces us to a man named Kurt (Henri Lambert) who meets up with a different man, the sole survivor of a Nazi raid that killed scores of soldiers at a desert Oasis. It turns out that he was the only survivor and he alone knows of the gold that the Nazi's were carrying during this battle. When he tells Kurt about this, he's promptly rewarded with a syringe full of something (we can assume it's poison) jabbed into him and he dies. Cut to Robert (Manuel Gelin), the son of the man who was killed. He receives a letter informing him that his father has died and which requests he come to Africa to settle some issues. So off he and a few friends go, and before you know it they're driving around the desert in a jeep. They eventually meet up with a sheik who has a connection to Robert's past and who warns he and his friends that the locals believe the oasis to be cursed. Robert wants to finish what his father had started, however, and figures getting his hands on that lost Nazi gold would be a good idea. As it turns out, the sheik is no fool - when Robert and his crew start messing around in that oasis, the dead do come back to life and wreck havoc on all involved.
Oasis Of The Zombies is pretty slow. It starts off well enough - pretty ladies in an exotic location attacked by the undead - but then it gets into the whole World War II flashback scene in which Franco uses a lot of stock footage from a seventies Italian war film called I Giardini Del Diavolo which doesn't even come close to matching the newly shot footage intended for use in the film. The performances are pretty vapid and delivered by a fairly sleepy cast, and the effects are not particularly good even if some of the zombies do look kind of cool. It's not well edited, it suffers from massive logic gaps, and there are subplots thrown into the movie that go nowhere and seemingly serve no purpose whatsoever. There's no character development nor is there any logical reason offered for why the dead Nazis turned into zombies in the first place.
Yet despite the film's many flaws (and there are many), it offers... something. There's atmosphere here and some strange tension, particularly in the last twenty minutes or so. Granted, it doesn't always make sense and the film is prone to throwing in close up shots of a spider (is this supposed to be foreshadowing or symbolic of something? No one really knows!) without care for rhyme or reason. Plenty of people have called the film boring and slow and that's fair - it hardly moves quickly. Like so many of Franco's other movies, however there's something hypnotic about it. The score is almost always out of place and often very inappropriate, but it gives all of this a very otherworldly feel. There isn't much in the way or gore here nor is the movie ever really scary but it's watchable in a bizarre sort of way. Some nice locations and occasional bursts of inspired cinematography help make this poorly made film rather compelling but most of what works here is random atmosphere. Franco has made plenty of better films than this, and it definitely ranks towards the bottom of the eighties European zombie movie barrel but if you're a Franco fan, you'll probably want this anyway.
Oasis Of The Zombies arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 transfer in 1080p high definition. Most Blu-ray enabled Eurocult fans that have seen previous transfers in the Redemption/Kino line will be able to tell you that they don't do any sort of restoration on the elements they have for these titles. Mild to moderate print damage in the form of horizontal and vertical scratches and specks is present throughout and there are some spots where the colors fade a bit - the stock footage inserts definitely look worse than the footage shot specifically for the feature. Some clean up would have probably made a certain segment of the public pretty happy, and that's understandable - but with that said, there is significantly more detail present here than on the past DVD release and a fair bit more depth and texture as well, though you have to keep in mind that as this is a Franco film it is not at all uncommon for some scenes to be in very soft focus or occasionally completely out of focus. As far as the authoring goes, there are no problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement nor is there even a hint of noise reduction anywhere to be seen. The end result is something very much akin to watching a slightly tattered print play in a theater and it's not without its charm in that regard, but yeah, the picture here isn't pristine or super colorful. Some will appreciate this, some will take issue with it.
Audio options provided on the disc in English and French language LPCM Mono tracks with subtitles provided in English only. It's interesting to note that the dialogue is slightly different between the two mixes, but not enough to really alter the movie very much. The audio fares a bit better than the audio does, though there is some mild hiss here and there. The levels are generally balanced well and the score doesn't sound bad. Dialogue was easy enough to follow and while it's a bit flat and occasionally hollow sounding that's likely got more to do with the original elements than anything else.
Extras? The disc includes trailers for the feature as well as for Zombie Lake, Exorcism and Female Vampire as well as static menus and chapter selection.
It's hard to give Oasis Of The Zombies a blanket recommendation as it's a pretty horrible movie but if you like languidly paced nonsensical European horror films and particularly if you have a pre-existing affinity for Jess Franco movies, give this one a shot. It's terrible, but somehow trance inducing in its own bizarre way. Kino/Redemption's Blu-ray is rough in spots, mainly in the film's use of stock footage, but definitely improves over the DVD release in the audio and video departments. Recommended, yes, but with a fair bit of caution.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.