Saturday, April 26, 2014


Ken Wiederhorn, 1977
Starring: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine, Fred Buch

A young woman, Rose, is unconscious in a small boat out in the ocean. She is rescued by fisherman and relates a the horrible experience she has barely survived. She was part of a group of vacationers out on the sea, including a surly Captain, his first mate Keith, a cook, and three other tourists. After the Captain has trouble with the boat — it eventually begins taking on water — they encounter an old, menacing looking shipwreck and heads towards a strange island. The Captain goes missing and they later find his dead body, presumably drowned. An old man living on the island helps them, but they are soon overwhelmed by strange, undead men. They discover that these men were a special unit of aquatic Nazi commandos, the highly trained “Death Corps,” who were eventually abandoned. They have returned for vengeance. 

The surviving members of the group make it back to the hotel to try to barricade themselves in. They are killed, one by one, drowned by the zombies, until just Rose and Keith, the second in command, are left, struggling to survive.

Though other Nazi zombie films have come and gone — Zombie Lake, Oasis of the Zombies, Frankenstein’s Army, the dreadfully bad Dead SnowShock Waves will always be the best. Though I’ve been a fan of this film for years, I never realized that it’s a U.S. production, probably because it has such a European sensibility. Shock Waves is something of a combination of the Blind Dead series and Fulci’s Zombie. It has Fulci’s tropical setting and boat travel, but Ossorio’s sense of dread and hallucinatory atmosphere that made his Spanish zombie series such a beloved cult classic.

Writer and director Ken Weiderhorn did a phenomenal job making this look far more expensive than it really was and there is a great sense of style throughout. Einhorn also directed Return of the Living Dead II, another excellent effort that is far better than it has any right to be. Actor, writer, and make-up artist Alan Ormsby of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things does the make-up here and frankly, his soaked, water-logged Nazis look great. They are decaying, but not quite in the same way as George Romero or Lucio Fulci’s zombies. 

The zombies don’t eat flesh, but drown their victims instead, making this pretty light on the gore. Though they become a bit repetitive, the scenes of the Nazi zombies hiding in pools, waves, and coves and suddenly emerges is incredibly effective and very stylishly shot. The underwater shots are absolutely beautiful, and even give Fulci a run for his money. Moody and understated, Shock Waves overcomes its illogical, messy script often enough that there are far more hits than misses. Richard Einhorn's electronic score is fantastic and, much like the Tombs of the Blind Dead’s score, is key to the terrifying atmosphere.

Horror veterans Peter Cushing and John Carradine are really the only big name actors in the film and they both give predictably wonderful performances. Cushing and Carradine have little more than cameos, but bring the full force of their respective talents into the film, without which it surely would have suffered. Brooke Adams (Days of Heaven, the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Luke Halpin (Mako: The Jaws of Death) also give decent performances.

Also know as Death Corps and Almost Human, Shock Waves is on DVD from Blue Underground, a nice release with some worthwhile special features. Both the release and the film come highly recommended, though I will admit that this is probably something of an acquired taste. But really — aquatic Nazi zombies.

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