Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick…Jesús Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies.
Oasis of the Zombies is pretty much what you would expect it to be in the plot department, give or take some stuff about Gold. An Oasis contains gold. People want the gold. Zombies guard the gold. Zombies want to eat the people who want the gold. That’s pretty much the entire plot.
The performances here are a hard lot to judge, though I don’t suspect they are particularly good. Oasis of the Zombies is a French film and the version I watched was entirely dubbed in English, which makes things difficult. The voice acting isn’t great. They put very little effort into making the words match the actors mouths and if you’ve ever seen a poorly dubbed foreign film (such as older Godzilla movies) then you already know exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. It’s distracting and creates this weird disconnect between the audience and the film itself. Fortunately, when it comes to movies like this one I don’t mind too much, since it kind of fits the low budget charm. Everything’s a little bit crappy, and with the right balance that can only add to the experience. Dubbed or not, it’d be hard to take most of this dialogue seriously anyway.
It’s a shame too, because the movie shows some promise in a few areas, namely any time the zombies attack. It’s in the same general vein as some of Lucio Fulci’s works, especially the infamous Zombi 2. It’s not nearly as good as that one, but it fits in the same ballpark. There’s just this haunting quality to it, which is something Fulci did very well. Any time the zombies are onscreen I was invested. There’s this great ominous droning synth score that does wonders to put you on edge, and the direction in general in these segments works well. These scenes are just unpleasant to sit through, and I can only imagine that’s completely intentional. What’s more is that Franco does this without the use of any gore at all. It’s impressive, though some blood or intestines here and there would have pushed things over the edge and made it a much more memorable film. As it stands most zombie attacks consist of the person being swarmed and the camera cutting away.
Aside from the lighting and film quality issues, it’s actually not a bad looking movie. That is to say that the sets and locations are nice. Oasis of the Zombies is a really fitting title as everything takes place in either tropical locations or the desert, a setting I don’t often see used in these kinds of films. It was a welcome addition. The zombies usually look pretty good, too. Most of them fall into that Fulci aesthetic, being covered in dirt and worms. They pop out of the ground just like his zombies so it’s rather fitting. Occasionally there are some that have these weird bugged out eyes that are absolutely hilarious and there’s one zombie that’s clearly just a skeleton puppet with one non-moving eye, but those are less common than the gritty and grimy worm-covered ones.
Honestly, the film’s biggest detriment is the pacing. It has a pretty strong opening and ending, but there’s a long stretch in the middle where almost nothing happens. The zombies don’t attack nearly often enough and whenever they’re not onscreen, the movie screeches to a halt. I’ve compared this to Fulci’s works a lot because of the tone, but where those succeed and this one fails is that Fulci peppers great death scenes and moments of dread throughout the whole film. There are plenty of scenes in Zombi 2 that stick out, like the shark or the eyeball gouge. Oasis of the Zombies only has three zombie attacks, and they’re all rather similar.
Oasis of the Zombies isn’t a great movie. It looks as though the film has really been put through the ringer in terms of quality and there are a lot of inconsistencies in terms of lighting, aspect ratio, and sound. The performances are totally dubbed over and the dialogue is often hilarious. Still, there’s a creepy tone to the whole thing and the zombie attacks are well done enough to be entertaining. I wish they had been a bit more creative with the deaths and been a lot better about the pacing, but it’s watchable. This one’s right on the edge for me. I wasn’t in love with any part of it, but there are plenty of things I liked. I’m going to call this one a treasure, if only to say that you should check it out and decide for yourself. It’s definitely a poor man’s Zombi 2, but it’s not the worst zombie film you’ll ever see.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.