Lethargic But Interesting Schnitzel Horror Pre-Cursor To "The Fog"
It's too bad that DARK ECHO never really gels, because it is an interesting ultra-low budget production, made in Austria & Hungary by people with good intentions who just didn't seem to understand the horror genre. Apart from a couple of effective underwater sequences, a nice gross-out horror moment and the film's unique mittel-European flavorings it really doesn't have much zest and seems unsure of exactly what it wants to be. But it IS interesting ...
Unknown actor Wolfgang Brook stars as a psychic brought in by the local police detective to solve a series of bizarre attacks on the local populace of a sleepy Austrian village nestled between the mountains ringing a cold, deep, icy clear lake that was the site of a tragedy a hundred years before. It seems than an excursion craft loaded with sightseers sank under mysterious circumstances, and apparently it's captain is seeking revenge for having been abandoned -- ala John Carpenter's THE FOG. A still lovely Karin Dor wanders into the film from her retirement as a distant relative of one of the victims, and joins forces with the plucky detective to try and get to the bottom of the mystery.
The film does have some really nice atmospheric scenes filmed in and around some nice, crumbled old ruins of local medieval monasteries & castles, filled with the skulls of long dead worshipers with their names and dates of death painted on the bones. A subplot about some sort of cult practicing blasphemy in the catacombs of an old church provides some brief frissons but doesn't really go anywhere and seems tacked on just to provide some salacious content. There's also a cackling old witch played by veteran supporting actress Hanna Hertelendy, who's presence is the most interesting role in the film aside from the captain, who's rotting carcass is remarkably spry and intact for a body that has supposedly been festering in the wreck of a ship for a century.
The film was the sole directorial effort of George Robotham, a stuntman turned sometimes actor famed for his double work for John Wayne and Rock Hudson, amongst others, and his affinity for staging fight scenes and underwater photography. And indeed the underwater scenes provide the film's most interesting moments, especially the evocative images of the zombified captain swimming up from the depths to claim more victims. Zombies living in lakes or waterlogged conditions are of course nothing new, with Jean Rollin's ZOMBIE LAKE being perhaps the most well known example aside from Carpenter's THE FOG, which may indeed have been inspired in part by DARK ECHO's basic story.
Mostly however the film serves as a sort of travelogue of the sights & sounds of the regions in which it was filmed, with ample trips to the local tavern for mugs of fine Austrian beer, performances by musicians playing traditional instruments, trips to the ornately magnificent churches and centuries old town halls, and lots of conversation scenes between the principal actors as they wander about the picturesque settings. If only the film knew what it wanted to be: There's one dynamite scene where the captain returns to pester the old witch and actually slices her skull in half, providing a great barf-bagger moment that is in stark contrast with the rest of the film's somewhat lethargic pacing. This is not a film for those with low attention spans and in fact it's primary interest besides the presence of Ms. Dor is probably how it's absolutely obscure and difficult to find.
If only those who made it perhaps had a bit more experience with horror as a genre. The images of the rotting carcass sliming out of the lake is pretty creepy and the low budget sort of works in the film's favor, allowing it to be a study in moods rather than the all out assault on taste and senses that it probably should have been. Then again you can't fault art for simply being what it is, and for my money this is an interesting example of regional Euro Horror that defies the usual formula of bloodshed & breasts.
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