Release Date(s)1977 (November 25, 2014)
Studio(s)Zopix Company (Blue Underground)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
The Nazi Zombie subgenre has become surprisingly robust in recent years with movies like Dead Snow, Outpost and others rising up from their dirt naps. I suspect a big reason for this resurgence has more to do with the enduring popularity of video games like the Wolfenstein series than with any specific cinematic forebears. But they still owe a debt of gratitude to Shock Waves, the cult indie horror movie that got there first.
A group of tourists take a pleasure cruise on a none-too pleasurable boat helmed by John Carradine. The ship begins to have mechanical trouble after passing through a weird fog (or maybe it’s a solar flare…the effect is a little vague on the specifics). The next day, the captain has disappeared and his ship is sinking. All hands abandon ship and head for a nearby island whose only resident is a former SS Commander (Peter Cushing). He was responsible for a top-secret experimental troop of unkillable storm troopers known as the Death Corps. The zombies are back and beyond anyone’s control, so the Commander urges them to flee while they still can.
Shock Waves isn’t particularly gory or action-packed. There are plenty of sequences featuring nothing but characters, both alive and undead, just roaming the island. The movie derives its power from the undeniably creepy images of the Nazi zombies (in effective waterlogged makeup designed by Alan Ormsby) rising from the depths and slowly menacing their victims. Director Ken Wiederhorn and producer/cinematographer Reuben Trane shoot these moments wonderfully and they’re perfectly complemented by Richard Einhorn’s electronic score. It’s one of the few horror movies of the era that can be legitimately described as eerie.
The movie also benefits from a gifted cast of both old pros and newcomers. Cushing and especially Carradine aren’t given nearly enough to do but, considering the low budget, they were lucky to get them at all. Their presence alone generates a modicum of good will from fans and both actors make the most of their limited screen time. Brooke Adams gets her first major film role and is an instantly appealing presence. Former child star Luke Halpin of Flipper is also well cast as Carradine’s first mate. The movie’s biggest flaw is that the zombies seem kind of easy to kill or, if nothing else, stay out of the way from. And unlike other zombie movies, this isn’t an infection that will spread. If the Death Corps catches you, they just kill you and that’s it. But the movie’s tone and atmosphere are more than enough to compensate for the narrative shortcomings.
Shock Waves was an early DVD release from Blue Underground back in 2003 but I’m guessing the condition of the source materials held up its Blu-ray debut until now. The movie was shot on Super 16 and blown up to 35mm for its theatrical release, so do not expect this to look like Transformers. It’s a very grainy image and the materials are in very good but not perfect condition. That said, it looks accurate and cinematic with consistent colors and a fine level of detail. I believe the film looks as good as possible. Blue Underground kept things simple with the audio, resisting the temptation to do a new multichannel mix and presenting only the original mono in DTS-HD.
Returning extras from the earlier DVD include a very good audio commentary by Ken Wiederhorn, makeup designer Alan Ormsby and Fred Olen Ray, who had one of his first jobs as still photographer and gofer on Shock Waves. The three men keep things lively and have plenty of good stories about the cast and the production. Also ported over is a brief but interesting interview with Luke Halpin. The Blu-ray ups the ante with three new interviews featuring Reuben Trane, Richard Einhorn and even Brooke Adams. They’re all worth checking out. Finally, the disc includes a trailer, a TV spot, two radio spots and a poster/still gallery.
Shock Waves is really a throwback to a simpler kind of horror movie. There’s nothing overly complicated or ambiguous about it. Despite the fact that it’s about Nazi zombies, monsters that could (and have) been given a far more visceral and shocking treatment, the movie is surprisingly non-exploitative. The movie chills more than it horrifies, sneaking up on you with lingering imagery you won’t soon forget. It’s far from perfect but it’s a ride worth taking.
On behalf of all of us here at The Bits, Happy Halloween.
- Adam Jahnke
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