1977 - 85m.
When asked “How do you like your aquatic zombies?” the answer should always be Nazi (of course!). It seems to be a theme when it comes to water dwelling flesh-eaters as we’ve seen in Jean Rollin’s atrocious 1981 film, Zombie Lake, and in this late 70’s low-budgeter from director Ken Wiederhorn (Eyes of a Stranger). I’m really not sure why Nazis and H2O seem to, ahem, mix but our opening narration tries to give you some idea by effectively mixing vintage photographs of soldiers and letting us know the Germans were harnessing the supernatural in order to make them unstoppable on the battlefield.
From this starting point we’re introduced to Rose (Brooke Adams) who is found adrift in the ocean by some sailors, kicking off our main story as it flashes back to how she ended up there. Seems she was a passenger on a touring boat helmed by the always busy B-movie regular John Carradine (who gets the film’s best line by saying, “The sea spits up what it can’t keep down” – foreshadowing!) and various other stereotypes including the awesomely grumpy Norman (Jack Davidson) and his suffering wife. After having a close call with a runaway freight ship in the middle of the night, the good captain disappearing, and the boat starting to sink, they all have to take the lifeboat in order to seek refuge on a nearby island.
After exploring, they come across a vast, rundown mansion that’s lone inhabitant is an eccentric old man (Peter Cushing). From here the story ambles along quite slowly as we discover they’re surrounded by some goggle-wearing undead SS soldiers, that our strange host may have something to do with it all, and they start being killed off one-by-one. This gives Wiederhorn ample opportunity to pile on some decent underwater shots, swelling music, Cushing emoting quite animatedly, and lots of shots of our zombies standing around.
Making her official film debut after many un-credited appearances previously, Adams does what’s expected of her. I’ve always liked her as an actress in such fare as The Dead Zone and The Unborn and she brings enough naive innocence here to root for. Meanwhile, Davidson hits just the right balance of “asshole” to dislike and anticipate him being killed, Cushing is as solid as ever but is basically just here to explain the plot and Carradine is, well, Carradine.
On the way to its finale Shock Waves stumbles along. It’s a film that has some obvious flaws and I just can’t get over how mind numbingly dull it gets at times – it takes over half-an-hour to even trot out the zombies so prominently displayed on the artwork. That being said, this definitely has its fans and I can partially understand why as it has as the premise and appearance of the zombies is quite unique amongst the crowded sub-genre. I also have to give it marks for containing some good low-budget moodiness at times (including a striking first appearance of the zombies emerging from the water) and decent underwater photography. It’s certainly not a great film but it is watchable and deserves to be seen at least once. Just be prepared to swing between two moods: “this is pretty good” and “this is super boring”. I also wish they’d of stuck with the original title, the much more awesome The Death Corps.
Wiederhorn would return to zombie territory for the much maligned second Return of the Living Dead entry – which I actually find pretty fun – and a Meatballs sequel that’s so over-the-top and unlike the original you have to see it. Co-writer John Harrison continues to work in the television realm and it’s also worth noting that the make-up was created by Alan Ormsby who genre fans will know for his frequent collaborations with Bob Clark on Deathdream and Porky’s II as well as writing such films as My Bodyguard, 1982’s Cat People remake, Deranged, and Popcorn – the latter two he also directed. (Chris Hartley, 2/19/18)
Directed By: Ken Wiederhorn.
Written By: John Harrison, Ken Wiederhorn.
Starring: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, Fred Buch, Jack Davidson.
aka: The Death Corps.