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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Zombie Lake (1981)

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After our review series of the 15 parts of the 5-film “Zombi” series, I thought we were done, and you probably weren’t interested in reading me being annoyed by crappy zombie movies, but this is sort of a cousin to one of my favourites, so it snuck in. Its relationship is to the classic “Virgin Among The Living Dead”, even though it was made 8 years later – the distributors of “Virgin…” realised it was a bit short for release with all the nudity they’d had to take out, so asked Jean Rollin, who they were employing at the time to make this, to shoot some extra footage to bulk it out a little. If you’ve seen “Virgin…” on VHS, chances are you saw the version with Rollin’s extra scenes – every time Christine falls asleep, it cuts to a “dream sequence” where a woman with long blonde hair is being chased through some gardens by a bunch of zombies. Quite a good bit, as it turned out, even if it had no relation to the rest of things.

 

The earlier movie’s director, Jesus Franco, was actually hired to direct this, and left after arguments with distributor Eurocine. Rollin was hired with a few days’ notice, and split directing duties with Julian de Laserna, both of them using the pseudonym “J.A. Lazer” as Rollin was apparently deeply embarrassed by it (he realised as soon as he read the script it was not only going to be terrible, but was also a cheap ripoff of “Shock Waves”, the original Nazi zombie movie from a few years earlier). Then, to really complete the weirdly incestuous little circle, Franco made his own Nazi zombie movie, “Oasis Of The Zombies”, in 1982.

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Was Rollin right to be so embarrassed by this, though? Of course he was. You want a movie where the romantic lead is a dead Nazi? You got it! You want a lot of naked women swimming, shot from underneath so it seems more gynaecological than erotic? You got it! You want maybe the worst zombie makeup ever, which is bright green and is never applied to necks, arms, the hairline or indeed anywhere other than faces and occasionally hand? You know you got it!

 

A young woman decides to remove all her clothes, lay around in the sun for a moment, then go for a swim in a lake, which doesn’t look like a lake for swimming in – covered in lilypads, dirty-ish water, and so on. There’s also a skull-and-crossbones warning sign, but she ignores that, throwing it to the ground even. Absent any other reason, the sight of a vagina is enough to cause a bunch of Nazi zombies to reanimate, and they swim up to the surface and kill her. I’ve checked to see if I missed a line about some environmental change, or a witch casting a spell, but I don’t think so. They were just horny!

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The zombies eventually realise they can hit the nearby village up for some fresh meat, and every now and again they’ll wander out of the lake (their home base, obviously) and do some killing. They’re kindly helped at one point with maybe the most gratuitous scene in this or any other zombie movie, when a bus full of female netball players stops by the side of the lake to do some camping, and, like all women do, strip naked and go for a swim together. It goes on for so long I genuinely thought the movie was going to drop the whole zombie thing and just become a naked netball-er story.

 

The other part of the movie is the friendly Nazi story. A reporter goes to the town to ask about the legend of Zombie Lake, and the Mayor (Howard Vernon, the John Carradine of Italian cinema) tells her about what happened to the village in WW2. A Nazi saved a woman from bombing, and they fell in love. He had to go and leave to oppress some Jews, but on the way back 9 months later, sees he has a child, and the mother is sick. But he can’t stop, off to defend Berlin from the advancing Allies, and then his entire platoon is killed by Italian partisans on their way out of town.

zl81-daddy3This brings us to the most curious part of the movie. The reanimated Nazi wanders back to his girlfriend’s old house and meets a girl of about 10, who it turns out is his daughter. He gives her the necklace that the mother gave him, and they develop a sort of relationship (I thought this bit was crazy, and I’ve seen a whole bunch of crazy recently). Now, the fashions appear to be contemporary to when the film was made, so…how long’s it been in this world since the end of the war? It can only be 1955, at the outside, but no effort at all is spent to make it look like anything other than 1981. A genuine puzzler, and not just because, you know, we’re supposed to be touched by this tale.

 

Women are, as always in Italian horror cinema, absolutely useless, existing entirely to be naked and scream. No-one makes the slightest effort to save themselves, including one woman who continues to try and fix her stockings while a zombie is attacking her! Luckily, there’s a stupid lazy ending, which includes a fight between our friendly Nazi and one of the bad ones, over the fate of the girl, which is at least original I suppose. While this is happening, you can marvel at how well preserved the uniforms and especially the metal helmets of the soldiers were, from their decade or more at the bottom of a lake.

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Everything about this screams hack-job. Rollin is not exactly renowned as a great auteur, and with two days notice and (obviously) not much money, it’s safe to say no-one was trying their hardest. My favourite thing – well, you need to try and entertain yourself somehow – is the dubbing. Shot in French, the English dubbing job is hilarious, with the need to match the mouth-movements of the actors leading to some brilliant dialogue that makes no sense whatsoever. The only other fun to be had is watching how easily the “central characters” die, almost as if no-one was in the slightest bit bothered about making it make sense or do any of the things that normal movies do.

 

So, of interest to people who really, really love full-frontal female nudity and literally no-one else. What a spectacularly dull movie this was.

 

Rating: thumbs down