Shock Waves (1977)

The beginning of Shock Waves reminded me a lot of Gilligan’s Island. Oddly enough, it begins with seven people on a boat, sailing around the coast of Florida. The first twenty minutes of the film are spent introducing viewers to the group of people that it will then spend the next sixty minutes trying to kill. On board the dilapitated old ship are three crew members: kooky Captain Ben (John Carradine), drunk galley hand Dobbs (Don Stout), and first mate Keith (Luke Halpin from the television show Flipper). The four passengers include Rose (Brooke Adams) and Chuck (Fred Buch) as the younger, hipper couple, and used-car salesman Norman (Jack Davidson) and his wife Beverly (D.J. Sidney) as the older, wealthier, less-adventurous couple.

Twenty minutes into the film, everything turns yellow due to some strange occurance with the sun. Everyone runs to the ship’s deck and stares at the sky, trying to figure out why this is happening. At the same time, viewers will be scratching their head, wondering, “why is this happening?” Captain Ben pashaws the occurance as “a mirage caused by the hot air clashing with cool ocean under currents,” while Drunk Dobbs tries to soothe the passengers by telling them stories about ghost ships and deep sea monsters. Zoiks!

After the “yellowness” disappears (an effect annoyingly obtained by just slapping a yellow lense over the camera), it turns dark. Is it night or not? Hell I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure out what the hell the yellow thing was! Eventually it must have turned into night because everyone goes to bed, but not before dissention is raised. “We should take command of this ship before things get out of control,” Norman says at the dinner table. Huh? I’m confused, did he want to mutiny the ship’s crew because of of the yellow sun incident, or because it’s night?

During the middle of the night, first mate Keith steers the vessel into another ship — or wait, was it a GHOST ship?? (Creepy music here.) It’s too dark to tell what happened. In the morning when the sun comes up (yellow filter-free, fortunately), the crew discovers Keith actually high centered the boat on a reef, where they’ll be stuck until high tide comes in. In the daylight, the crew spots a nearby island. After a few trips in a rowboat, everyone is aboard the island and accounted for, except for Captain Ben, who went for a morning swim, and doesn’t come back. Well, he comes back, but he’s floating and stiff with rigor mortis. “Oh well,” everyone says, and drags him back to the island.

While searching the island, the group finds a huge abandoned hotel. Without shouting “Hello? Does anybody live here?”, the group move in and set up camp, making themselves right at home. Soon, a booming voice with a bad German accent calls out from the shadows. “Who aaaaaaare you people?” the voice says. “Hey! Why should we answer YOUR questions!,” Chuck yells back. Of course I’m thinking, “well, you just broke into some guys house and set up shop and now he’s asking what the hell you’re doing in his living room, the least you can do is tell the dude who you are!”

After a bit of cat and mouse chasing, the group finally comes face to face with the owner of the property. During a five minute bit of exposition, elusive German guy (Peter Cushing) finally explains the plot to the rest of the boobs in this film. Of course, as a viewer, the plot was explained to us in a 30 second voice over intro at the beginning of the film.

In World War II, the German army apparently developed a “killer zombie”. Not dead but not alive, these soldiers, dubbed the “Death Corps”, were trained to kill with their bare hands. This specific group of soliders worked in the water, and had an insatiable taste for violence. After the war, the commander was banished to sea (I guess because the zombies were so dangerous), so the SS commander (Cushing isn’t actually given a name, which makes this review a bit difficult) sunk his ship, swam to shore, and has lived in exile ever since.

“But now, they are awake,” he says. How they awoke, we’re not sure. Was it the darkness spell, the yellow sun effect, the hitting of the ship, the crashing on the island, or what? We don’t know, but one thing is for sure — the troops are now awake, and ready for BLOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

Throughout some of these opening scenes viewers have been getting glimpses of these soldiers, but not until now do we get a good look at them. Blond hair, black suits, and black goggles give these guys a pretty creepy appearance. Plus, since they’re really undead zombies, they don’t need to breathe, so they spend most of their time underwater, only popping up to KILL KILL KILL. In their black costumes and white faces, they almost end up looking like Cenobytes from Hellraiser.

The SS turn out to be quick and quiet killing machines. But unlike Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees, these guys don’t just go after the whiney characters. No, they pretty much kill everyone indescriminantly. They’re goddamn undead German Nazis and they don’t take crap from anyone.

The last half of the film turns into a chase/survival flick, which is pulled off fairly well. Neither the stranded tourists nor the viewers know exactly how many of these SS killing machines there or, or more importantly, how to kill them. Only by accident does one of the soldiers have their blackened goggles removed, which turns his face into runny oatmeal and causes him to die.

Why? Well fuck all who knows, I mean, you could really drive yourself crazy asking why at flicks like this. Like, why is it called Shock Waves??

The recently released DVD version of Shock Waves includes trailers, radio and television spots, a huge photo section, but most importantly, a commentary track with the director. Despite being a semi-low budget flick, the director has plenty so say, and some of his insight made me appreciate the film even more (like the fact that it was filmed in 35 days, and the jungle scenes were shot about 50 miles south of Miami, FL).

Ultimately, Shock Waves suffers from too long of a setup. With SS Killing Machine Zombies on the front of the box and a 30 second introduction which tells all about the zombies. I went into this movie wanting to see zombies! Instead, it’s closer to the 45 minute mark before any real action goes down. When we do finally get to see the zombies, they turn out to be pretty creepy. Basically, they’re undead soldiers trained to kill with their bare hands, and our protaganists are stuck on an island with no way to get off (they almost manage a sailboat escape, but it doesn’t work out). So there’s no “why” as to why these zombies are trying to kill people, they just are, and it’s up to the strongest to survive. Of course, since the entire movie is a flashback, you know who survives in the first two minutes of the film. Poor planning in a horror flick, baby. While the zombies in Shock Waves lack enough personality to thrust them into any sort of “movie baddie hall of fame”, Shock Waves both entertains and creeps it’s audience. What it lacks in special effects or decent dialogue it makes up for in good execution and an interesting story.

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