Shock Waves (1977)

Shock Waves (1977)

Once They Were Almost Human! Beneath the living… Beyond the dead… From the depths of Hell’s Ocean! The Deep End of Horror!

A group of people are shipwrecked on a seemingly deserted island when their cruise ship is involved in a collision with a mysterious tanker. Once on the island, they find out that they’re not alone and a reclusive SS Commander is still living there. He tells them that their cruiser crashed into the wreck of a German WWII ship which housed Der Totenkorps- the Death Corps – a crack platoon of killers and thugs who had been turned into undead soldiers by the Nazis. Now the Totenkorps have been awakened and target the survivors for extermination.

 

Let’s face it, the Nazis and horror films are a match made in Hell. During the later days of the Third Reich when Hitler was becoming more desperate for ways to win the war, it was long thought that the Nazis experimented with the occult and Hollywood has linked the two together on many occasions, with their supernatural schemes cropping up in the likes of Captain America, Hellboy and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Long before it became cinematic cliché to link them together, Ken Wiederhorn was busy mixing the two elements together in Shock Waves, a low budget gem from the late 70s. I really can’t believe how obscure Shock Waves is in the horror market. Almost impossible to find on DVD, little known in wider circles and never shown on TV, Shock Waves can proudly boast to be the best Nazi zombie movie out there. That’s not saying much when you have the likes of Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies for company but it can still wear that slogan with pride.

Shock Waves is a complete slow burner and takes a long time for events to click into place and Der Totenkorps to come back to life so those who been weaned on instantly gratifying blood fests will no doubt bemoan the pacing. But this one is all about atmosphere and it prides itself on creating a surreal, highly eerie environment which is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The atmosphere is thick and oppressive, holding a blanket over the proceedings, refusing to disperse. To say everything is brooding would be an understatement. There are no camera tricks, no fancy lighting and no snappy editing. The remote Florida location where it was shot creates enough isolation and claustrophobia on its own and the scenes of the survivors exploring the forests and river area are filmed with a documentary-like realism. It’s really hard to describe the ambiance but it’s unsettling and chilling, giving off the sense that something bad is about to happen and there’s not a damned thing the survivors can do about it.

It’s just a shame then that Shock Waves hits about the half way mark before we even get a glimpse of Der Totenkorps. The script doesn’t really help the film either, throwing up strands which are never fully developed or explained. What is the deal with the tanker at the beginning? Did they just hit the wreckage or see a ghost ship and run aground? What’s up with the solar flares at the start of the film? Why do Der Totenkorps have a weakness against light but no character ever use it? There are plenty more issues raised which the script conveniently uses whenever the film needs something to happen. Thankfully once the soldiers have been awakened, the film turns into the more familiar standard stalk and kill style. Accompanying everything is a really freaky electronic synthesised score which will have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck more than anything shown.

Being all pasty-faced, blond-haired, goggle-wearing Aryans dressed up in full military uniform, Der Totenkorps sport a unique look. The first sight of the soldiers slowly rising from their watery grave is unforgettable and surely an inspiration for a similar scene in Romero’s recent Land of the Dead. The fact that these killers are silent and stealthy adds to their distinctive aura. They’re not slow, shuffling, moaning zombies but silent assassins. And I mean silent – these things never make a sound which makes their stealthy determination to hunt down and kill everyone alive even more terrifying. They’re not flesh-eaters either, a fact which seems to be draw criticism for them being labelled zombies in the first place, but tend to drown their victims instead – a fate most fitting their watery confinement before they were awoken.

This does mean that the fill is virtually free of blood and gore and the worst you’ll see is a floating body so anyone expecting a Night of the Living Dead-style orgy of flesh-munching and guts will be sorely disappointed that these Nazis don’t go down that route. But where does it state that zombies have to be flesh-eaters? They’re simply the walking dead. Opposing these undead soldiers is a small cast which is pretty strong and, although most of the characters on-screen are nothing more than cardboard cut-outs to serve as zombie fodder, the likes of Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams and John Carradine all put the effort in and make their characters as plausible as possible. Carradine and Cushing don’t share any screen time together but the old hands add that integrity and touch of class to proceedings. Both are grossly underused. Adams spends the majority of the film filling out her bikini but is likeable enough to rally behind when the going gets tough.

 

With a nightmarish tone and unique-looking ‘zombie’ menace, Shock Waves is a real undiscovered gem. It’s an odd-ball film which is a creepy, atmospheric watch and deserves a place on any fans’ DVD shelf….if you can find a copy.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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