This off-the-wall, low-budget horror film is just as goofy as it sounds, but it's still pretty good fun. And believe it or not, it actually spawned a bizarre sub-genre of Nazi zombie films that includes 1981's THE LAKE OF THE LIVING DEAD (a.k.a. ZOMBIE LAKE), 1981's NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, and 1983's THE OASIS OF THE LIVING DEAD (a.k.a. BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES), to name just a few. None of its cinematic offspring quite reach the guilty-pleasure or cult status of SHOCK WAVES, though.
British horror icon Peter Cushing portrays the former S.S. officer, his interpretation somewhat reminiscent of his turns as Dr. Frankenstein in the films that came out of England's Hammer Studios in the 1960s and early 1970s. Actor John Carradine, a familiar face in American horror from the 1930s through the 1980s, appears in the minor role of the captain of the shipwrecked vessel. Carradine's character dies early in the film, however, so the two great horror veterans never get to share any screen time. A very unfortunate missed opportunity, as such a pairing certainly could've pushed SHOCK WAVES just a smidgen closer to notability.
Actress Brooke Adams has a prominent role as one of the shipwreck survivors. (Indeed, the story actually unfolds like a sort of flashback as her character thinks back to the experience.) Genre fans will recognize her from such films as the 1978 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, the 1983 film version of Stephen King's THE DEAD ZONE, a cameo in Larry Cohen's 1985 horror satire THE STUFF, and many others.
The edition of SHOCK WAVES on DVD from the folks at Blue Underground is pretty good. Considering that the film was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, and taking into account the fact that the disc was digitized from the director's personal copy of the film (the only complete version known to exist, according to the DVD jacket notes), this transfer--in anamorphic widescreen at the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1--looks quite good. In fact, when compared to the crappy video versions previously available, it's easy to forgive the minor filmic artifacts and the sometimes soft details.
And the DVD has some great bonus material, too. The best is the feature commentary with director Ken Wiederhorn, make-up man Alan Ormsby, and filmmaker Fred Olen Ray. The trio are delightfully glib and candid, offering lots of humorous and informative anecdotes regarding their experiences in making low-budget horror. There's an interview with star Luke Halpin, who offers some info about his costars and some of his memories about making the film, and there are also a few radio spots, a television spot, and the film's theatrical trailer.
As far as films go, SHOCK WAVES is not the best that Blue Underground has to offer, but it's nonetheless one of those fun guilty pleasures that fans of schlocky low-budget horror will want to add to their DVD collections.
A group of vacationers on a charted boat encounter trouble when a strange weather condition sends the boat off course. The captain of the vessel (played by John Carradine) downplays the entire incident in an attempt to soothe his passengers' frayed nerves, but even he is slightly worried about what's going on. His navigator Keith (Luke Halpin) expresses concern, too, especially when the boat nearly runs into an abandoned freighter in the middle of the night. As for the passengers, only Norman (Jack Davidson) makes a lot of noise about being lost at sea. The other travelers, including Norman's wife Beverly (D.J. Sidney), Rose (Brooke Adams), and Chuck (Fred Bush) seem to take it all in stride. When that wrecked freighter floats by, however, the tension ratchets up considerably. For one thing, the two boats touched just enough to push our group's ship onto a coral reef. Stranded without a radio-Carradine's character inexplicably tossed it overboard when it would not work-the crew and passengers row to a nearby island. There they find an abandoned building inhabited by a threatening former SS commander (Peter Cushing) who tells them a weird story about the freighter now sitting on the rocks offshore.
According to this ex-military officer, he was in charge of a special division of the SS during the war called Der Toden Korps, or the Death Corps, an outfit composed of criminal elements of society turned into some sort of living/non-living soldiers by German scientists. The results were horrific, and as the war ended Cushing's character sank his vessel rather than turn these odd hybrids over to the Allies. Now, it seems the soldiers have risen from the seabed and returned to their commander. The remaining crew and passengers of the charter boat are now caught on an island populated by zombies clad in military uniforms and wearing dark goggles that have the ability to function underwater. These very creepy looking zombies for some reason wish to destroy everyone on the island. It is going to be very difficult to get off an atoll without a boat, and phones are out of the question. The people trapped in this situation will need to use their wits if they want to survive.
Nothing in this summary gives away important aspects of the movie. In fact, you will learn most of this information from the film's short introduction and from the trailer included as an extra. What the trailer will not give you is a sense of the film's creepy atmosphere and claustrophobic environment. Aside from the performances, which are all great for a low budget thriller, it is the island, the zombies, and the musical score that raises the goose bumps on your arms. Setting the story on a small tropical island completely out of touch with the rest of society imbues the film with a distinct sense of isolation, an isolation the filmmakers punch up on a routine basis with lingering shots of the vacant sea and the empty terrain of the island. Moreover, the zombies are downright ominous. This particular bunch of SS soldiers was trained to fight and live underwater, so when they arrive on the island they tend to move in and out of the ocean. There's a great shot of the Toden Korps "waking up" and rising out of the sea that recalls to some extent Nosferatu rising from his coffin in F.W. Murnau's classic film. And don't forget that music! A more brooding synth score would be difficult to find. It has that late 1970s and early 1980s feel to it without sounding cheesy. These three elements make the movie; so much so that I hardly missed the gore that usually accompanies any true zombie film.
The movie has a few plot problems. How, for example, is it possible for zombies to remain underwater for thirty years yet their uniforms are still intact? Too, the Rose character figures out how to stop the zombies yet no one else seems interested. The only thing mentioned is a vague reference to the SS soldiers despising the light. If I knew how to survive in a situation like this, I would tell everyone around me how to do it. Still, these problems don't hamper the overall effect of the movie. The Blue Underground DVD contains a short interview with actor Luke Halpin, a commentary track, a trailer, television and radio advertisements, and a detailed gallery. The transfer quality, although in widescreen, isn't very good. Colors are hazy and washed out with significant grain marring the picture. It's surprising to see a Blue Underground transfer of less than stellar quality. Horror fans should pick up "Shock Waves" in a hurry. It's a nice addition to your zombies run amuck collection.