Retro Reviews

Shock Waves (1977) – Directed by Ken Wiederhorn

In 1977 Shock Waves combined two popular themes: underwater monsters with Nazi Zombies to great effect.

Zombie games, notably Call of Duty Black Ops, have promulgated the lore and popularity of Nazi Zombies in recent years. However over four decades ago, one horror movie set the benchmark for the sub-genre ‘Nazi Zombies’.  That movie was the low-budget flick, Shock Waves. 

The cult cinema classic combines George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. This is a great little film that combines two of the 70s most popular horror movie themes: monsters in the water and undead zombiesAdd in an eerie analog synthesizer score, excellent cinematography and DIY attitude that maximized it’s meager budget, and you have a zombie movie that deserves more credit. 

Watch Shock Waves (1977) Now

How Shock Waves changed the rules in Zombie Movies

While the Nazi Zombies in Shock Waves are still reanimated soulless corpses possessed by murderous intent, there are two main differences from stereotypical zombies. First, they kill by drowning their victims instead of eating them. This is an interesting twist, as it plays on a different fear that humans are afflicted by. Notably, being scared of the water. Particularly, oceans, or other bodies of water that an individual are unable to know how deep is the water. The fear of drowning is a primal survival skill. Many people can relate to a childhood experience of getting a mouthful (or nasalful) of water during some stupid stunt or dare. It scares you, and you learn very quickly that water can be fun, but also deadly!  

A dead body floats under a glass bottom boat in the Nazi Zombie movie Shock Waves (1977).
A dead body floats under a glass bottom boat in the Nazi Zombie movie Shock Waves (1977).

The second area where Shock Waves diverges from standard NOLTD fare is how the zombies murder their prey. In the bulk of zombie fiction, the walking dead are killed by shooting them in the head, these zombies are killed by removing the dark lenses that cover their eyes. Unable to tolerate the bright sunlight, once their eyes are exposed they wither and perish. This is a creative take on the old cliché of, “You’ve got to shoot them in the head!” line that is necessary in almost all zombie movies now. It truly helps Shock Waves distinguish itself from other zombie movies.  

Cashing in on the water sports craze of 1970’s

The suspenseful masterpiece Jaws is sometimes called the best B-movie ever made. As of January 2018, it is the 204th-highest-grossing film of all time with $470.7 million worldwide, and the 66th highest domestically with a total North American gross of $260 million. It has tremendous re-viewing power and for most of the movie the monster shark stays hidden. 

Shock Waves also gets in on the popular trend of setting the story in and around the water. It has fantastic underwater scenes, lots of action with boats, and cat and mouse suspense in and around various bodies of water. All of which mimics Jaws and other. While not the first zombie to depict the walking dead underwater, it certainly made it a feature of the movie. With great stuntmen constantly holding their breath while filming, there isn’t one single bubble that escapes from the undead’s mouths. An impressive feat to say the least.   

There was a definite boom in scuba diving in the 1970’s, and many television shows and movies capitalized on newfound sporting fad. Just to name a few would be, Sea Quest and Into the Blue. If nothing else, filming the movie on a tourist boat allows an excuse for the beautiful actress Brooke Adams to parade around in a bikini. Her all natural good looks are on full display throughout the movie.  

Brooke Adams Bikini in Shock Waves
Actress Brooke Adams, watches a strange eclipse from the deck of a boat in Shock Waves (1977).

A clever title for a zombie movie

At first, the name Shock Waves, doesn’t seem to fit the movie. Perhaps, “Island of the Dead” would make more sense.  After all, that is exactly what the movie is about; a group of luxury vacationers stranded on a lush tropical island with hordes of zombies. The term shockwave is actually about breaking the sound barrier, but commonly used to express a term of disbelief among people from an unexpected event. Used in the later sense, the movie title seems to fit much better. Also, the use a double entendre of ‘wave’ referring to the ocean from whence the Undead arrive and the literal ‘aftershocks’ of an earthquake that rises a ship from the depths, is extremely clever. 

In Shock Waves a squad of Nazi Zombies emerge from underwater to kill unsuspecting tourists. (1977)
In Shock Waves a squad of Nazi Zombies emerge from underwater to kill unsuspecting tourists. (1977)

Shock Waves isn’t that scary

One of the drawbacks of Shock Waves is that is fails to deliver some real “sitting on the edge of your seat” suspense. The initial scenes of the undead rising from the water are creepy for sure, but the novelty wears off quickly.  Noticeably, there is also much less gore and blood as a result of the zombies killing people by drowning them as opposed to eating them alive. There are some mild jump scares, but even these are telegraphed and lack potency.  Favoring sinister atmosphere over bloodshed, the longer the movie goes on the more the fear factor dissipates. 

The famous British stage actor Peter Cushing (Star Wars) does his best with the meager script. As does John Carradine and a young and sexy lead of Adams. They brings a lot of talent to a cast that was clearly purchased on a shoestring budget. Due to his (Cushing) limited screen time and eventual demise, it’s presumable that he wasn’t on the production for very long. Yet, while on screen he lends weight to a bloodless zombie film.

 

Impressive low budget 70s horror movie

The term “low-budget” is often synonymous with “terrible” but it isn’t always the case. Shock Waves isn’t a classic film, but it is a cult classic and worth a watch. Aquatic Nazi Zombies is a fun idea and was way ahead of its time with the “SS Zombies” gaming trend. Nazis are easy to dislike and make the perfect enemy in almost all fiction. Shock Waves is no different, and plays upon their evil tendencies with precision.

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1 comment on “Shock Waves (1977) – Directed by Ken Wiederhorn

  1. Pingback: Zombie Combat – Fire Zombies – THE DEAD WALK: Your Source For Horror, Cult, & Exploitation Cinema!

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