Shock Waves (1977)

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There’s a question that every cult movie enthusiast asks, that’s caused all manner of debate at conventions, on forums, fistfights in the street, and so on. That question, of course, is “what’s the best underwater Nazi zombie movie?”

 

We’ve already covered “Zombie Lake”, the not-exactly-thrilling tale of Nazis having babies and being the green-skinned romantic leads; but this time, dear reader, I’m ready to get my name on the cover of the Blu-ray. It’s time for the first ever ISCFC pull quote:

 

“The greatest underwater Nazi zombie movie of all time!”

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This particular bunch of zombies were a German platoon who were experimented on, which left them somewhere between the living and the dead. They’d be taken to warzones and just let loose – indestructible, they would tear through the Allies, but the problem was they couldn’t be trusted to not attack their own side too. So, the Germans removed them for tests, and then they disappeared from history.

 

This entire movie is a flashback, which is often a boring idea (because you know who’s going to survive) but here it works rather well. A father and son are out fishing and see a boat, drifting, with a horribly sunburnt unconscious woman on board. They rescue her and we then hear her voiceover, unable to comprehend someone’s trying to help her; then we get the story. It’s the story of the least likely group of boat tourists ever! You’ve got the unhappy middle-aged couple who don’t like the water very much! The guy who’s extremely claustrophobic but decided to sleep in a tiny cabin there was no escape from! The crew – a grumpy old captain who hates everyone (John Carradine, who’s been in some of the worst movies of all time)! The hipster navigator! And the cook, because apparently four guests need a full-time cook!  Our star is Rose (Brooke Adams), who’s…nah, I got nothing.

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The movie shows it’s got more ambition than the average early on, as the boat’s journey at night is especially creepy and well-filmed. A lone light, panning across the waves, sees the hulk of a completely dark ship, seemingly long-abandoned, bearing down on them – it’s a great shot; and a few minutes later, not believing they’d hit anything, the captain fires a flare into the air, capturing a ghostly image of a different, completely derelict, ship, off in the distance. That boat is real, and is a great backdrop to the story – the SS Sapona, that ran aground off the coast of Bimini in 1926 during a storm, and despite being used for target practice by the US Air Force during WW2, is still there today, and is a popular diving destination.

 

Normally, I’d moan that it takes the zombies ages to show up, but the atmosphere is superb. The damage from the mysterious crash forces them to dock at the nearest island, just as the captain disappears in the middle of the night and shows up (under the small boat’s glass bottom) dead the next morning, of causes unknown. It’s while arguing and generally having a miserable time that they come across a large, seemingly abandoned mansion (another great visual, and a lucky find for an obviously low-budget movie), which is actually the home of Peter Cushing, a man who has no name but is listed in the credits as “SS Commander”.

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Anyway, they’re his zombie troops and for some reason they all live in shallow water, emerging in rather camp fashion every now and again. They’re all wearing goggles, which seems to be their only weakness; and pretty much as soon as they encounter the fresh meat, it’s all over as none of the humans seem all that interested in defending themselves. Where would we be without cannon fodder in our movies, though?

 

This movie features two legends of cinema, and while Carradine was an old alcoholic who’d long since stopped caring (I remember him un-fondly in such gems as “Red Zone Cuba” and “Horror Of The Blood Monsters”), Cushing was still fantastic and gave his scenes far too much gravitas. This was the same year as “Star Wars”, think on, but while it’s fun watching him, everyone else is trying a bit too hard (with the exception of Adams, who’s fine).

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It’s a weird movie, really. It’s not particularly gory and the plot’s a bit daft; but it was filmed by someone with a really great eye (with some almost hallucinatory shots, that really ramp up the tension), and that combined with some great locations make it actually interesting to watch, which is an incredible rarity in horror cinema. It’s even more surprising when you learn the director is Ken Wiederhorn, now a three-time ISCFC review recipient along with “Meatballs 2” and the all-time, cast-iron classic “King Frat” (although “Shock Waves” was his first movie, he was probably really trying to make a name for himself).

 

Rating: thumbs up

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