Shock Waves 1977
SHOCK WAVES: NAZI ZOMBIES
In 1978 there was a lot of buzz around my house because there was a new television mini-series gearing up to begin. In our present world of multimedia bombardment we can take for granted just how much entertainment we have at our disposal. Before the new millennium television was a central part of entertainment in the American home. It was more so in 1978. I was very young at the time but I can remember my older siblings being very excited about the latest television mini-series, Holocaust. Even though it was television, to a young mind television can seem very real. I sat with my older siblings and watched the terrifying images of war and human on human atrocities. Night after night we watched as the mini-series played out. My young mind was affected by these images of war and the casualties of war and more so because I was informed that they were based on fact. This mini-series introduced me to the term Nazi. As I grew up and went to school I can remember being taught World War 2 history and shown images of the horrors that occurred in the Nazi concentration camps. The film monsters that I was so enamored with did not compare to real life monsters that I came to know as Nazis. It was burned into my brain that in the real world there are monsters and they come in the form of people.
Shockwaves was released in 1977 but I did not see it until 1988. A friend of mine got a job at a convenience store as teenagers tend to do. The store my friend worked at had decided to rent videos. The store had received a large shipment of videos to rent and my friend was organizing them getting them ready to be rented. He let have my pick of the titles so long as I brought them back the next day. Within the large pile of videos, the cover art on one in particular caught my eye. Right there on the cover were goggled Nazis holding a boat in their hands rising out of the water. Given the fear of Nazis that had been burned into my brain years prior I had to take this video home. I did just that and to this day Shockwaves, a film written by John Kent Harrison and Ken Wiederhorn and directed by Wiederhorn, remains one of my favorite Nazi themed Horror films.
Shock Waves opens as a small boat stumbles upon a small dingy adrift in the open ocean. The boat Captain and his son bring in the dingy only to discover that there is a woman, Rose (Brooke Adams), aboard. She is weak from dehydration so they quickly get her out of the sun and give her some water. Through a short narration she begins to tell her story as the film segues to the beginning of her tale.
The film cuts to the Bonaventure, a small boat that has been chartered by two couples, Rose, Chuck (Fred Buch), Norman (Jack Davidson) and Beverly (D.J. Sidney). The Bonaventure has seen better days and the Captain (John Carradine) and his crew, a first mate (Keith ((Luke Halpin)) and a cook (Dobbs (Don Stout)), struggle to keep it running. The Bonaventure not only seems to have trouble keeping its engines running but the compass does not work either. Strange weather and strange goings on overcomes the Bonaventure which only adds to the problem of the Captain and his crew not knowing their current location. During the night the Bonaventure runs aground after and encounter with a ghost ship that can’t be explained.
In the morning the Captain is nowhere to be found and the remaining crew discovers that the Bonaventure is taking on water. Luckily an island can be seen near by so everyone evacuates to the island. During the ferrying of everyone to the island the body of the Captain is found floating aimlessly in the water. One of the men climbs a palm tree for a higher vantage point and spots a villa in the distance. The group heads in the direction of he villa. As if on cue, something awakes from an under water slumber from a wreckage just off shore. The something wears a German SS uniform and heads to shore.
The narrative device of the lone survivor telling the story of how she, Rose, wound up floating in a dingy in the open ocean is interesting and helps blanket the entire tale with dread. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Japanese film Matango (1963), which uses the same narrative device only to greater effect. The ending is not as dramatic as it is in Matango but it still ends the story well.
Shock Waves employs a slow methodical pace so do not expect non stop action. Shock Waves is not that kind of movie. Shock Waves’ goal is to tell a slow paced story that will, over the course of the film’s run time, create atmosphere and dread. We, the audience, know that only Rose survives so it is just a matter of answering the question of what happened to everyone else. The answer becomes a weird day and night of Nazi terror.
The story in Shock Waves seems to be put together in a clunky fashion but it manages to do what it needs to tell its weird story. I say clunky because in the beginning of the film we are not told much. Where are they? Why would they leave port without a compass? Everything that happens before the crew and passengers of the Bonaventure are stranded on the island is not well fleshed out. We are left just having to accept everything as it comes with no justification. Sometimes it feels like there is footage missing that is needed to fill in gaps. It can feel a little frustrating but things become more coherent once the group gets to the island.
Those looking for blood and guts will be disappointed. Shock Waves is an atmospheric creepy piece. There are no blood and guts and no make up effects set pieces. The only make up effects we see are the ones used to fashion the Nazi zombie make up which is simple and straightforward. The majority of the deaths happen off screen and the ones we do bare witness to are drownings and a strangling by belt. The best death scene we get is when one of the group, while in shallow water, stumbles and falls on several small spined sea animals. It sounds a bit tame but it is actually executed well.
The eerie music in Shock Waves helps to add tension and atmosphere to an otherwise monotone albeit creepy affair. After awhile the music starts to get under your skin. Shock Waves is all about slowly and methodically creating an atmosphere of menace and the music goes a long way to doing exactly that.
The appearance of Peter Cushing is a nice surprise and added a sense of legitimacy to an otherwise low budget production, at least for Horror genre fans. His role is a small one and his character’s only purpose is a narrative one. That purpose is to explain what is going on and to provide the back story of the “Death Corps”. He also provides the warning to the group to leave immediately that goes unheeded. I’m a big fan of Mr. Cushing and I was happy to see him in the film.
Shock Waves is low budget film that may feel a bit clunky but good performances, atmospheric music, interesting stalk and slash elements and an interesting menace make for a weird little story. Sure there is no blood to speak of but it manages to create an interesting experience in a practical and old school way. Shock Waves is one of my favorites and if you give it a chance it may become one of yours. Check it out.