Shock Waves, 1977, 85 mins – Amazon Prime
Directed by Ken Wiederhorn– Return of the Living Dead Part II
Starring Peter Cushing – The Curse of Frankenstein, The Abominable Snowman, Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, The Brides of Dracula, Suspect, Cash on Demand, Captain Clegg, The Gorgon, The Skull, The Blood Beast Terror, Corruption, The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil, Dracula AD 1972, Horror Express, And Now the Screaming Starts!, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Devil’s Men, Star Wars. John Carradine– The Howling, The Monster Club, Brooke Adams – Days of Heaven, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Dead Zone.
Shock Waves is a surprisingly effective 1970s horror, with plenty of mood thanks to some remarkably atmospheric locations, some great visuals, and an old-school synth score that drips menace. It shouldn’t really work, but it does- I really quite liked it.
Part of this film’s success is its surprisingly intriguing premise, that would no doubt work better in the 1970s than if it were done now (the Second World War still being a fairly recent memory back when this film was released), although these days we’re possibly more accepting of that entire ‘Nazi’s experimenting with supernatural forces’ thing (thanks to Mike MIgnola’s Hellboy etc.) that has since pervaded so much of genre culture in the years since 1977.
A prologue suggests that supernatural research by the Nazi’s during WWII resulted in a corps of the SS being formed of dead solders and criminals resurrected into Zombie killing machines. Put onboard a cargo ship in the last days of the war, the ship was sunk off a tropical island and long forgotten, except by its aging SS commander (Peter Cushing) who abandoned the sinking ship all those years ago and has waited on the island over the decades since, convinced his Undead corps will one day return. However, the rusting hulk finally releases its Undead Nazi’s just as a yacht of holidaymakers is shipwrecked on the same island.
Its basically just the good old Ten Little Indians horror-trope set on a remote island, with a few hapless civilians hunted down one by one by Nazi zombies who rise up out of the sea. The film is very low-budget, shot very quickly (both Cushing and Carradine only filmed for five days and have fairly limited roles) but benefitting immensely from using an abandoned hotel for a location, adding production value and atmosphere that belies the films humble origin. The imagery of the silent Nazi horrors rising up from out of watery depths is really effective, too. This isn’t a gory film; its really more one of moody horror and the threat of violence- the slow pace (dictated no doubt by budgetary limitations) possibly even raising the tension.
While they don’t have much to do, both Cushing and Carradine add some weight to the proceedings in their limited screen time- its a shame they never appear onscreen together. Their limited time onscreen results in individual storylines that are short, but the film works this in its favour, giving them abrupt ends that surprise. Brooke Adams is very good in an early role, and the rest of the cast (I was amused by the -unintentional? who knows?- similarity in appearance of two of the main leads to James Caan and Robert Redford) largely just function as one-dimensional characters, hapless tourists who will prove bait for the Undead.
Those Undead are a big plus point for the film: I thought the moody shots of their black-goggled, rotting faces rising up out of the waves was very effective. They don’t express any emotion or talk, they just move relentlessly and coldly kill, providing a great sense of threat. These days if a film like this was made and proved to be a success, I can imagine it would result in all sorts of spin-off films, a mini-franchise of rotting SS zombies, but this film seems to have largely sunk (sic) without trace back in the 1970s. I must admit, I wouldn’t have come near this film if it had not been for noticing Peter Cushing in the credits, but I’m so glad I did. I have a liking for these kind of moody horrors, and while its up on Amazon Prime Shock Waves is likely worth a shot for anyone in the mood for a late-night Friday fright. Far superior to that same year’s Empire of the Ants, anyway.