Color, 1998, 82 mins.

Directed by Maurice Devereaux

Starring Erik Rutherford, Tennyson Loeh, Emidio Michetti / Cinematography by Richard Labelle and Denis-Noel Mostert / Music by Martin Gauthier

Letterboxed (1.66:1) / Dolby Digital 2.0

Format: DVD - MTI / Fangoria (MSRP $24.98)

Another independent horror title that would have probably vanished into oblivion had it not been picked up by Fangoria, Lady of the Lake will surprise many viewers expecting a monstrous gorefest. More of a soulful erotic fairy tale, the film is obviously a heartfelt production from French Canadian director Maurice Devereaux and his crew, as they spent over six years working on it from initial preproduction (as a short film) until completion.

David (Erik Rutherford), a young painter, experiences a strange dream in which, while standing over his uncle's casket, a demonic man taunts him. When David awakes, he receives a phone call informing him that his uncle has indeed just passed away, leaving David - the last living relative - his uncle's lakeside cabin for whatever use he sees fit. David drives out to investigate the property and spend some time relaxing away from the city; soon after, a local neighbor informs David that his uncle drowned under mysterious circumstances, just like many of the men living in the area. Quicker than you can say Phantasm, David rummages through the cabin and, thanks to some photographs, discovers that his uncle was involved with a mysterious woman who may have been involved in his death. That night, David is awakened by strange noises, and lo and behold, the end of his hallway has turned into a glassy underwater lake with a floating woman (Tennyson Loeh) beckoning to be welcoming inside. David pulls the woman into the hallway, and they make love (the punchline for this scene is a riot). Over the next few days, the woman continues to return and finally makes David an offer: she will stay with him unconditionally for a week and offer him unlimited happiness, but after that she must leave and never see him again. David accepts, and after much pleading, the woman, Viviane, allows him to step into the past and discover the truth behind her ghostly torment.

Aside from some medieval sequences, Lady of the Lake largely ignores the Arthurian implications of its title and instead focuses on a supernatural romance along the lines of Girl in a Swing. Homages to other films abound, ranging from Jean Cocteau's Orpheus to Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses and John Boorman's Excalibur. The fantasy and dramatic elements work well, with a large amount of tastefully handled nudity, but the gory horror sequences look tacked on to increase the film's commercial potential. Viviane's briefly glimpsed monster makeup, her bile-spewing attacks on unsuspecting males, and the zombie-hacking finale might draw in some gorehounds who would have ignored the film otherwise, but frankly the story could work just as well (and maybe better) without them. Approaching this film with the same criteria as a big budget Hollywood effort is obviously not the best approach; the low budget and occasionally stilted acting are obvious, and the hero's age seems to change dramatically throughout the film due to the shooting schedule. The obviously talented Devereaux displays a sure hand in dealing with his material, and the purity of his vision on film is something to be commended. One can only hope viewers will see what he's capable of with a more reasonable budget in the future.

The MTI/Fangoria DVD special edition contains the same presentation afforded to their earlier I, Zombie. Presented in a matted 1.66:1 transfer, the film (apparently shot on hi-def video and transfered to film) looks fine for the most part, though turning down the brightness on the TV monitor produced the best results. The basic stereo soundtrack adequately showcases producer Martin Gauthier's eloquent electronic score, one of the film's greatest assets, and features a few token directional effects, particularly during the climax. Devereaux provides a very cheerful commentary track in which he focuses on the technical aspects of the film; it's a welcome and entertaining bonus, but it would have been nice if he had delved deeper into some of the thematic and literary influences on the film as well. The excellent Canadian trailer and a half hour collage of behind the scenes camcorder footage round out the package, making this a very worthwhile and satisfying rental or purchase.

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