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I saw the name Dark Echoes (or Dark Echo) a few times while reading about obscure zombie films, one of my favorite genres. I’m normal, honestly! I didn’t actively seek it out until I realized the prominent image on the cover of the book “Bleeding Skull! A 1980’s Trash-Horror Odyssey" was from the movie’s poster. Even though the scale of the skull and hand are wonky, the image is awesomely indelible. I had to see the film!
Generations ago, a ship mysteriously sank with all souls on board, and a council was assembled to point the blame at someone because small villages demand a scapegoat. Due to a lack of evidence of well, anything, the council hung the blame on the Captain. It's not like he’s going to protest. Present day, dead bodies start accumulating in a lakeside Austrian village that is seemingly frozen in time. The deceased just happen to be related to the original council members. No one wants to believe impossible submariner vengeance is being wreaked, so the village inspector Woelke (Wolfgang Brook) enlists the assistance of a local journalist (Karin Dor) and an American globetrotting playboy Bill Cross (Joel Fabiani) who has nothing better to do than brag, belittle the local mixology skills, and make eyes with the beautiful journalist. Why would the inspector seek out this unlikely help? Only because the playboy is psychic, and has previously aided the inspector on cases in the past. They start to do some digging and spy on an old witch-like woman who leads the town’s "let’s dance around the fire naked like a bunch of Satanists" cult. When this group gets broken up mid-ceremony, they pack up and sulk away like a bunch of kids who dragged out a keg only to have a farmer show up to say "beat it, or I’ll call your parents." This crack team not only discovers that the recently killed locals are descendants of the council but that the journalist is too. Can they crack the case before she’s killed? Luckily, the local village teens (who have had no real role in the film, led by an American teen our playboy conveniently met on the way into town) rush to the aid of the authorities anyway and save the day. Too bad they didn’t pony up the funds to close the credits with “You’re So Vain” as it would have been very fitting for the climax.

The 1977 Austrian Yugoslavian co-production was thankfully filmed in English by George Robotham, which I can’t stop reading as Robot Ham. This was his sole directorial attempt spending most of his professional career doubling for A-listers in stunts, stunt coordination, and filling in roles such as guards, thugs, and hoods. It appears that this sat shelved until around 1986 and did not receive a wide, legitimate release as it’s fairly hard to track down.
There are a couple of bootlegs floating around that both seem to be from VHS sources. The opening credit sequence is matted differently for each, though the feature is presented in the same 4:3 aspect ratio, so we are likely to be missing some of the intended presentation. One copy put out by Midnight Video, gives the impression that they slapped their logo on a tape with burnt-in Asian subtitles. As is the case with some Asian releases, brief nudity of the lower extremities is pixelated. The other boot is a brighter image and lacks subtitles, though the image is of lower resolution, so pick your poison. I watched both for full-on ocular punishment.
There is a slow reveal of the Ghost Zombie, much like traditional creature-features where you see only fleeting glimpses, shadows, and reflections for the first 3/4 of the film. This makes the choice of showing Captain Skullface in the opening title sequence an odd one, though it is underwater footage, so you are not seeing him in his full glory. The creature design and underwater photography are impressive. There is no visible diving equipment on the zombie while attacking divers (much like the more well-known shark noshing ghoul that would rot onto the screen a couple of years later), and on dry land, the skull is a great gooey mess. Captain Aquaghost Skullface is a damn cool looking monster in his Captain’s hat and naval uniform. It makes me reminisce about a skanking Mr. Skull from Less Than Jake, though this bone villain is on a vendetta. 
This film was most likely shelved as it doesn’t nicely fit into one genre market. There is only one zombie/ghost, not hordes of the undead. Also, the plot features a psychic who assists the local useless police force (wearing uniforms that make them look more like nazis than cops). These psychic visions are not developed enough like in Seven Notes in Black (1977) and could have benefited from being expanded.
The nudity is fleeting and hardly deserved censoring, considering the image quality. The killings are fairly light on blood, with the exception of an epic gory kill when Aquaghost Skullface is fully revealed, above water that is. I had to wind this back and rewatch it a few times. It’s super fake but Grand Guignol in its delivery.
This is a slow burner but a worthwhile watch if any of the above sounds remotely interesting. Just don’t expect anything as bitchin’ as the poster art.
1h 31min | 1977 
Director: George Robotham
Writer: George Robotham


Review by GrindhouseCellar
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