This much ridiculed excursion into the zombie genre by the twisted genius of Euro-horror, Jess Franco -- is actually far more worthwhile than its reputation might lead you to believe. Fans of mainstream horror expecting a traditional Romero-style zombie epic or gore-bound Fulci extravaganza will, quite understandably, remain bewildered and perplexed as Franco shows not the slightest real interest in the zombie genre. But fans of the more esoteric in European horror cinema might still find a little of that Franco "ambience" present in this bizarre, though admittedly minor, gem.
The film begins to the sound of tremulous music from frequent Franco collaborator Daniel J. White; two young girls in hot-pants and T-shirts find an oasis while wandering around in the middle of the Sahara (?) and are attacked by zombies who emerge from the sands!
Cut to German treasure hunter Kurt (Henri Lambert) who is visiting a former World War Two officer whom he believes has knowledge of the location of a secret stash of treasure in the Desert. This signals an extended flashback sequence in which the Officer details the story of his involvement in a failed ambush of a Nazi convey at an African Oasis, who's mission involved guarding some Gold "loot". This part of the film makes use of "battle" footage spliced in from an Italian WW2 drama to liven things up!
Officer Blabert is the only survivor of the abortive mission and winds up being rescued and nursed back to health by a passing Sheik (Antonio Mayans) and his beautiful daughter Aicha (Doris Regina). When fully recovered, Blabert starts a short-lived relationship with Aicha before being rescued and posted back to Europe. With this weird excursion into WW2 romantic melodrama complete, Kurt murders Blabert -- for the treasure's secret location has been revealed! Kurt, it turns out, is an ex-Nazi commando; together with his wife (Myriam Landson) and a group of machine-gun toting henchmen, he ventures into the desert to find his former comrades' hidden loot—only to find that they are still "guarding" it ... in flesh-eating zombie form!
Now the film's convoluted narrative takes yet another turn as stock footage of the Houses of Parliament and the sound of Big Ben precede our introduction to Robert Blabert, son of the murdered officer from the previous section of the film. Robert receives a letter from his father which arrives at his school—posted to him before the man's death—which also gives him the location of the hidden treasure. Together with a group of his school friends, Robert also sets out for Africa where he meets up with the Sheik (who has a momentous revelation for him); runs into Kurt, who has gone mad after being the only person to survive the zombie attack on his treasure-seeking party; and has his own dreadful, climactic zombie attack at the Oasis to deal with!
Produced by Daniel Lesoeur's Paris based Eurocine Productions, "Oasis of The Zombies" exists in several variant cuts thanks to Eurocine's habitual practice of creating different versions to satisfy different markets. This disc from Arrow films gives us Eurocine's French/English variant, which contains different music cues in some scenes and a few different versions of sequences from Franco's original Spanish version (La Tumba de los Vivientes) shot by Eurocine "house" director Marius Lesoeur with different actors playing some of the roles. For instance, Lina Romey's scenes in the Spanish version have been completely removed and replaced with alternative scenes featuring Myriam Landson; some of Daniel White's music has also been replaced with less evocative material. The Spanish version is generally preferred by Franco aficionados since the replacement scenes (shot by regular Rollin DP Max Monteillet) aren't as atmospheric as Franco's version. However, the Eurocine variant still has it's charm.
Unlike the best of Jess Franco's films, which are often more like tone poems, "Oasis..." is overburdened with fussy narrative convolutions that have little to do with the zombie genre that Eurocine where trying to exploit. Rather than a straightforward zombie gut-muncher, Franco/Eurocine seem to have ended up covering as many bases as possible, with the general result being a rather more gory than usual adventure movie. Franco's trademark eroticism is also rather toned down for this particular film, with only a couple of rather chaste love scenes with some light nudity dotted around here and there sprinkled throughout the film's running time. The actual zombie sequences themselves vary in quality; some scenes of the zombie hoards slowly emerging on the desert horizon below an unsuspecting encampment are actually very eerie; while other sequences, especially those involving a zombie which is clearly just a model head on the end of a stick, are patently ridiculous!
Franco's use of music is often unusual—he often uses it as ironic commentary on the material—and here he utilises strange music-hall organ cues over the desert scenes, which create an unusual, detached atmosphere that effectively plays against the conventional screenplay he's been lumbered with. The basic Franco "mood" is still present then—but in a much diluted form. This low-budget cash-in on the zombie craze will leave fans of the genre cold with its less than impressive, bug-eyed zombie creations, but it makes a nice little edition to any Franco fan's collection.
The UK disc from Arrow Films gives us an anamorphic 1.66:1 print of the film which has rather a lot of print-damage and grain present throughout but still has quite good clarity of image. The sound is a clear 2.0 Dolby Mono; unfortunately we only get the English dub, which is predictably horrendous! The only extras are some French and English trailers.