OCTOBER 16 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SHOCK WAVES
There’s no question that zombie films make up their own subgenre of horror. What you might be able to question, is that there actually exists a subgenre of zombie horror movies… the nazi zombie movies. I guess that’s a sub-subgenre? I don’t subscribe to that notion, as I don’t think there are enough of them to make up a sub-subgenre. Though I could very well make a case for the sub-subgenre of "bad" zombie movies, because there are plenty of those. Shock Waves isn’t one of them, however.
During World War II, German scientists performed top-secret experiments in the paranormal and worked at creating an invincible super soldier. They succeeded on creating a squad of soldiers who were neither living, nor dead. Allied troops later spoke of battling with this elite SS unit, known as the Death Corps, who fought without weapons and killed with their bare hands. The allies never captured a single member of this SS unit.
Two couples looking for some leisure time on the ocean take a dive boat out for some relaxation. The boat’s captain (John Carradine) and first mate (Luke Halpin) expertly manage to shipwreck the boat near a remote island. Upon finding the home of a self-exiled Nazi commander (Peter Cushing) they all learn of the story of the undead super soldiers and what became of them. And unfortunately for the living, the troops are ready for service once again.
While the screenplay certainly has some holes in it and leaves a few questions unanswered, its doesn’t fall into the "painful" category. Though, there is a particularly head-scratching scene on the boat where the captain and his guests are talking about something that was ultimately cut from movie. You see, earlier in the day there was some type of solar "occurrence" that has everyone looking towards the sky. Then in the next scene, the captain is explaining it away as, "…a minor underwater disturbance. With the hot sky acting on the cold current coming from a mile down below." Huh? Apparently there was a scene where a skull and/or body parts were supposed to surface near the ship.
Ken Widerhorn’s direction was passable, but ultimately, I think it’s the acting that keeps this movie afloat…no pun intended. No, they’re not spectacular performances, but overall it’s pretty decent. As it should be expected, veteran actors Carradine (The Astro-Zombies) and Cushing (Star Wars) are the standouts, though I don’t think it’s on either one of their best roles lists. Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Halpin (Flipper) put in some honest work while the rest of the main cast are fairly forgettable. Though don’t discount the eight actors playing zombies. They did a yeoman’s job and seemed to take their roles very seriously, adding a lot of believability to the film. That’s saying a lot since they were cast from an ad put in the paper down on location in Florida.
These Nazi zombies look good for being some thirty plus years old. By that I mean they’re not very decomposed. To their credit, they are on the pasty side and they’re pretty wrinkled. You know how you get when you’re in the bubble bath, er…shower too long? Sorta like that. They’re still fairly creepy, though. Since we don’t know how exactly these guys were created, you could explain away the decomposition by some kind of anti-aging zombification serum. Maybe they used an early form of Dr. Herbert West’s good stuff. What’s more impressive is that their uniforms don’t look decayed at all. You can rationalize the zombies, but not the uniforms I’m afraid.
Shock Waves is the first film for director Ken Wiederhorn. Likewise, it’s the first film for all the credited screenwriters as well as the producer. Many of the film’s flaws can be attributed to the lack of experience, but even with its flaws, Shock Waves is very watchable and managed to attain a cult following over the years. I think there are a few reasons why.
First of all, it manages to escape what most zombie movies can’t…simply being a crappy movie. If you can at least be an average zombie film, with the glut of all the really bad ones, you’re destined to stick out among the crowd. Secondly, it’s a rather unique take on the undead. Only Zombie Lake really comes close to the premise of underwater Nazi zombies, and Shock Waves is head and shoulders above that dried-up piece of dead wood. Thirdly, there are a few very memorable scenes that will stick in your mind. For me, the best was the scene where all the undead Nazis rise up out of the water one by one and slowly head to shore. And lastly, you have the mere presence of John Carradine and Peter Cushing. Between the two, I think they’ve been in about a billion films and have both accumulated their own legions of fans throughout their career. Put it all together and you’ve got a flick that will continue to add to its following for quite some time to come.
OCTOBER 16 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SHOCK WAVES
Underwater Nazi Zombies. It practically writes itself!
SHOCK WAVES was directed by Ken Wiederhorn (EYES OF A STRANGER, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, DARK TOWER) and written by Mr. Wiederhorn along with John Kent Harrison (MURDER BY PHONE) and Ken Pare. The story opens with a short bit of narration describing the German High Command's interest in the supernatural and how SS scientists had created a squad of undead soldiers that were devastating on the battlefield but were ultimately unusable because they were very difficult to control. In other words we start with a brief description of the monster we'll finally meet much later in the film. Rather heavy handed foreshadowing.
Cut to a girl named Rose (Brooke Adams: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE DEAD ZONE, THE STUFF, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK) adrift in a rowboat. She's found by fishermen and taken to a hospital where she takes over the narrating duties. We flash back to a few days before when Rose was a passenger on a small passenger ship in (I think) the Caribbean. The passengers are all tourists and the ship is run by Captain Ben (John Carradine: EVIL SPAWN, THE NESTING, DOCTOR DRACULA, SATAN'S MISTRESS, THE HOWLING, VAMPIRE HOOKERS, SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS, and many more).
A pleasant day turns ugly when the strange orange clouds cover the sun. Not long after the ship runs aground and Captain Ben goes missing. Passengers and the small crew take a dinghy to a nearby island to look for help and find Captain Ben's corpse, thus ending Carradine's cameo. A bit of wandering leads to the discovery of a seemingly abandoned hotel on this otherwise empty island.
But it's not quite abandoned. An old Nazi SS commander (Peter Cushing: MONSTER ISLAND, AT THE EARTH'S CORE, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, THE CREEPING FLESH, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, and many, many more) is living a solitary life there. He has no interest in company and demands they all leave. They'd love to if only their boat wasn't aground.
Meanwhile, as promised by the opening narration, the Nazi zombie soldiers, still wearing their spotless uniforms, begin waking up. They are lying dormant underwater in lagoons and off beaches all over and around the island. These aren't shambling zombies as in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. These are more like trained zombies, which reminded me of Bub in DAY OF THE DEAD.
Will the former Nazi guy help these people? Is there any way to stop trained Nazi zombies? Why do the zombies spend so much time under water? Will Peter Cushing's appearance later this same year in Star Wars revitalize his career? All good questions. Instead of answering any of them, I'll tell you this: as B movie monsters the underwater Nazi zombies weren't bad. I give SHOCK WAVES three shriek girls.
OCTOBER 16 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SHOCK WAVES
by Peter Nielsen
“Once they were almost human! Beneath the living… Beyond the dead…
From the depths of Hell’s ocean! The deep end of horror!”
It’s a beautiful day in a tropical paradise somewhere and Rose, played by Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Dead Zone), is enjoying a swim in the clear ocean whilst the tour-boat she’s on, is being repaired. It’s obvious that it’s not a new boat, it has broken down before, and some of the other vacationers are kind of grumpy about that. All of a sudden the sky turn a yellowish color and strange noises are heard from the depths.
No one can explain it and the captain disregards it as nothing more than a strange occurrence. Later that evening some of the passengers complain about that and the state of disrepair the boat is in. The captain, played by the legendary John Carradine (the man has more than 300 credits to his name, for Christ’s sake), tells them that they don’t know what they’re talking about and that they should basically mind their own business.
That same night, the boat is hit by a large ship seemingly coming out of nowhere, damaging the smaller vessel so much that they have to abandon it. The mysterious dark ship appears to be deserted and old. The next morning the crew and passengers row ashore on a nearby island and take shelter in a desolate and abandoned (well, almost abandoned) hotel. It’s inhabited by an old SS Commander who’s been living there since the end of World War II.
He tells them they’re in great danger and should leave the island right away. When asked why, he tells them of a secret experiment performed by the German government during the war. They made so called super-soldiers out of the dead bodies of psychopaths and murderers. Soldiers who didn’t need food, water or even air. Soldiers who killed without remorse and with their bare hands. Unstoppable! Unfeeling! They were able to adapt to any environment they were put into… desert, snow or even water.
This is were the zombies come in! With black goggles and nazi uniforms they stride across the bottom of the ocean. They come from the mysterious ship that collided with the cruise-boat earlier, seeking the survivors. They don’t want their flesh. They don’t want their brains… They just want them dead! Plain and simple!
The killings themselves are blood- and gore-less and happens fairly quickly. There’s not even much fighting with the zombies, but what we DO get in abundance though, is a creepy and unsettling atmosphere. The scenes where they suddenly appear out of the ocean are genuinely scary.
What also helps setting the mood is an eerie and disturbing electronic score, composed by Richard Einhorn.
The director Ken Wiederhorn (King Frat, Return of the Living Dead Part II), has made a great little movie with a rather small budget and a largely unknown cast, apart from Mr. Carradine and also Peter Cushing who plays the aging SS Commander. Mr. Cushing you of course know from, among countless titles, such classics as Horror of Dracula, Star Wars and Horror Express. The other “semi-known” actor is Luke Halpin who had mostly worked in television (the Flipper TV-show) and also in Mako: The Jaw of Death.
But having mostly unknowns cast in a movie like this works to its advantage, I think. I like Shock Waves! It’s slow-paced, but never boring, and a deliciously creepy little horror-gem. Sure, there are plot-holes big enough to drive a bus through sometimes, but, hey… In a movie like this, they’re to be ignored. Enjoy the movie for what it is and you’ll do just fine.
And with that, my friends, I’ll leave you, so until next time… Make sure to check the water before you go for a swim!
And I don’t mean the temperature.
OCTOBER 16 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SHOCK WAVES
It's summer time, and I've been spending an unusual amount of time swimming. See, I don't like to get my head wet, so I usually just float around with my nose, eyes, and ears above the surface, much like the Nazi Zombies seen in Shock Waves, Ken Wiederhorn's flawed yet enduring cult horror film. Although all this swimming got me in the mind to revisit Shock Waves, I wish I could say it made a splash with me. It's not a bad film, but it's problematic at best. For a film set in and around the water, it's surprisingly dry on scares.
In this low-budget zombie offering, the crew and passengers of a chartered pleasure craft off the coast of Florida (captained by genre staple John Carradine) accidentally runs aground on an island with an abandoned hotel that is home to a strange hermit (Peter Cushing). To everyone's surprise, they find themselves being hunted by aquatic, undead Nazi soldiers created during WWII when the Nazis created super soldiers out of bloodthirsty sociopaths (you're not going to see that in Captain America this summer, I guarantee it). The survivors discover that the hermit living in the hotel is the former SS Commander of this zombie "Death Corps," but he can't help when the zombies emerge silently from the murky deeps and start drowning anyone they can get their hands on. These aren't the flesh-hungry or brain-addicted undead; Nazi Zombies just want to drown you.
Shock Waves has a lot of problems, but the cast isn't one. Although we get next to no back story on any of the characters, they are immediately identifiable in broad strokes: the beautiful young woman in a bikini (Brooke Adams), the handsome but neglected hero waiting for the chance to shine (Luke Halpin), the cantankerous and contemptuous - and probably drunk - Captain (Carradine), the petulant husband and suffering wife (Jack Davidson and D.J. Sidney), etc. All the characters play off each other well and the acting is good. Even the design of the zombies is nothing to complain about. Although I'd imagine WWII era zombies would look a bit more fish-eaten after being submerged for so long, Alan Ormsby's impressive special makeup effects gives the Nazis an appropriately pale, bleached, and water-logged pallor. When they rise silently like pillars from the deep with their black goggles and bleached hair, they cut an imposing silhouette.
Unfortunately, Shock Waves is all waves and no shock. The film is made with little sense of horror, or drama. The narrative just floats from scene to scene with little tension or mood . In the shock department, Shock Waves is depressingly tame. We don't see a zombie kill anyone until more than 30 minutes into the picture, and even then the majority of the deaths are off screen. There's also no blood or gore. Scenes involving blood squibs and rotten corpses were eventually cut from the film; the director admits as much on the Blue Underground DVD film commentary that he has no taste for gore or horror films. Not all horror films need to be filled to the brim with blood and guts, but if you're not going to bring gore then you have to bring tension and atmosphere. Here, Shock Waves fails too.
Although Shock Waves uses history's greatest villains and has people's fear of death and water to exploit, the film just doesn't know how to make its zombies scary. Our first glimpse of the zombies is a teasing shot of boots walking on the ocean floor, but then we cut to a undramatic, full body shot of a plain-looking zombies tromping along the ocean bed. This completely uninteresting and blatant reveal saps the power of the "money shot" that follows: a great sequence of lifeless bodies under the surface slowly and quietly rising up, one by one, from the dark waves and then marching on the beach. This rising scene packs the most punch, but it's not only pre-empted but also over-used from then on; it's repeated again and again with diminishing returns. Like the overused rising scenes, none of the zombies attacks are very exciting either. When the zombies attack, they inevitable strangle and drown their victims. Many of the kills, however, happen off-screen. The bodies are found by the other characters in scenes of varying degrees of tension. The zombies also have little interaction with the other characters as if the human scenes and the zombie scenes were filmed on different days. Except for the kill scenes, zombies never appear in frame with their victims. Even the early electronic score that accompanies these scenes struggles to convey dread. From start to finish, there's very little scary about Shock Waves.
Finally, Shock Waves is inexcusably sloppy and contradictory. Because of its low budget, a scene in which a sunken ship is supposed to rise and collide with another boat is shot with sloppily edited footage of a stationary freighter. Also, scenes are cut from the film that characters reference as if the audience is supposed to know what they're talking about. The scenes were cut because the filmmakers realized it doesn't make sense to have the characters talk about what was just seen, but at the same time the conversation left in the film doesn't make sense if the audience didn't see the cut footage. Worst of all, the zombies exhibit some strangely inconsistent behavior. When one zombie has its goggles torn away, it stumbles around disoriented and blinded before falling lifeless to the ground. Considerable attention is given to this fact as well as at the end of the film when it happens again. However, during scenes in which the zombies are ransacking the hotel, two zombie appear inexplicably without goggles and seem no worse for wear. Not only is the goggle connection ever explained, but its nonsensical power to kill the zombies is not even observed in parts of the movie.
Nazi zombies! A cool, real-life abandoned hotel. Peter Cushing and David Carradine! Despite all its potential, Shock Waves is a very problematic film in which the problems outweigh the payoffs. If you want to see some Devo-looking zombies splash around in the shallows with a generally solid cast, then Shock Waves is worth viewing. But strap on your life preserver: these waves will carry you through some very watered-down scares and into the deep end of sloppy story logic.
OCTOBER 16 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SHOCK WAVES
Directed By: Ken Weiderhorn
Starring: Brooke Adams, Peter Cushing, John Carradine, Luke Halpin, Fred Buch, Jack Davidson, D.J. Sidney, Don Stout
Running Time: 85 of the most bloodless, undead infested minutes you’ll ever set eyes on.
This was actually supposed to be a review of The Roommate, but odd things sometimes happen in the life of a wandering internet movie reviewer. For instance, I didn’t think it’d be all that difficult to sell my usual celluloid watching crew on a flick where Leighton Meester attacks Aly Michalka in the shower, but damned if prior plans and general disinterest didn’t whittle the number to just me. And while I’m all for seeing bad movies, one can’t be a large, rather ominous looking man and see The Roommate all by oneself. If you’re seeing it in a group, most folks will rightly think you’re taking it in ironically, but viewing it alone is a good way for people to start wondering about just how many bodies might be buried in your unfinished basement. Long story short, I was without a movie to watch on Saturday night. That could not stand. So I rounded up a pal (one of those jerks who didn’t want to see the aforementioned CW SWF romp) and half a gift card and wandered over to Barnes & Noble to see what I could find. Some patient digging through the depths of their DVD horror section yielded Shock Waves, a movie from 1977 that I’d never heard of, but immediately had to own it because the box art was all sorts of awesome. So did the movie inside the box live up to the promises made by the delightfully schlocky poster? Alas no, but it wasn’t a complete loss by any means and quite possibly something worth tracking down for those who can’t get enough of Nazis, zombies or water.
The plot (or what I was able to pick up anyway) goes a little something like this. Rose (Adams) is out with some other folks (they MIGHT have been friends, it was never made clear) on a three hour tour type pleasure cruise when they encounter some sort of weather phenomena that looks an awful lot like a heavy yellow filter. This causes the equipment to malfunction and tempers to flare despite the fact that no one actually seems very concerned. After a long night that involves a brush with a ghost ship and a disappearing captain (Carradine), the boat dwellers find themselves in sight of an island and make for shore in hopes of finding help. But their situation goes from bad to downright odd as they find nothing but a dilapidated hotel and a German officer from WW2 (Cushing) who tells them they need to get out before something terrible happens. Too late. Turns out the “ghost ship” was actually an old freighter containing several dozen undead Nazi Super Soldiers. Now the pruny skinned, goggle wearing, immaculately dressed fiends have escaped their watery grave and are wandering the island in search of anyone foolish enough to get in their way.
So what’s good? Well the premise is damned near perfect. Zombies and Nazis are the horror version of chocolate and peanut butter, while throwing in the whole trapped beneath the waves angle adds a nice touch of THE FOG and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately the execution leaves much to be desired, but since this is the happy thoughts paragraph, I’ll keep the vitriol to myself for the time being. The acting is solid for the most part, albeit rather unmemorable with only Brooke Adams making any sort of impression as the plucky survivor girl. Cushing and Carradine do the best they can with commandant and captain respectively, but the roles are really nothing more than extended cameos so they come off as classier versions of Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th (He’s the “It’s got a death curse!” guy). From a visual standpoint the design of the zombies is great. They don’t come off nearly as rotted as I would’ve expected, but the pale complexion, subtle signs of water damage, dark goggles and of course the SS Shock Trooper style uniforms make for a unique look in the hallowed halls of cinematic shamblers. It’s just too damned bad they’re not causing problems in a more interesting story.
The Not So Good
What’s not good? I know mentioning this first is going to get me some flack from the folks who value atmosphere about all else, but for a movie dealing with a merciless horde of undead Nazi Killing machines, Shock Waves is disappointingly light on the grue. And when I say light, I mean, there’s none at all. A bumbling oaf turned into a pincushion by some sort of urchin is the best we get and that hardly warrants looking away from the screen. Some of you might make the argument that these are Super Soldiers and not Romero-inspired brain munchers and I won’t argue the point (because you’re right). However, it seems to me that someone who started life as a murderer and ended up being a secret weapon designed to kill with its bare hands would probably employ a strategy a bit more brutal than the awkward Bear Hug or a Frankenstein style chokehold, especially if they’ve been stewing underwater for the last several decades. Speaking of water, zombies rising from the ocean are creepy and cool. Zombies rising from a shallow stream or what looks like a tide pool? Not so much. Same goes for the zombie’s weakness. Lemme get this straight, Nazi scientists created a creature that can fight and survive in any terrain on the planet, just make sure you don’t (bring on the spoiler tape) yank their goggles off? Really? That’s just silly.
Should You See It?
Should you see it? Unless you’re an aficionado of the arcane, I don’t think there’s any real reason to go out of your way to find Shock Waves. That said, if you stumble across it during the course of rummaging through random stacks of movies, there are far worse ways to spend an hour and a half. Just make sure you have a couple friends to help ease the zinger throwing burden for you. Oh and try not to think about how the one dude looks an awful lot like a young John C. Riley trying out for Baywatch.
Because anything clever escapes me at the moment, I’m awarding Shock Waves two and a half severed limbs out of five.
Til next time, always remember that the calls are coming from inside the house.
Tom Bess recently shaved his legendary sideburns at a cost of two hours and five pounds. The end result is a slightly puffier, but much more aerodynamic movie-reviewing machine who is still patiently waiting for Allison Mack to return his calls. While he’s waiting, he’ll read copious amounts of Lovecraft and eat too many Peach Gummy Bears.