During the mid 1970's, zombie films became very popular, thanks in large part to the success of "Night of the Living Dead." And during this time, low-budget filmmakers were always on the lookout for a way to up the ante up the zombie film. Hey, how about Nazi zombies? Even better, what about underwater Nazi zombies? Thus was born the 1977 cult classic "Shock Waves", which is one of the debut discs from Bill Lustig's new company Blue Underground.
"Shock Waves" opens with Rose (Brooke Adams) being pulled from a wayward rowboat by a pair of fisherman. She is soiled and catatonic, and in a voiceover, she begins to tell the story of what brought her to this lowly fate.
The scene then shifts to a charter boat, captained by Captain Ben (John Carradine). The boat has been experiencing some technical problems, and the four tourist on board, Rose, Norman (Jack Davidson), Beverly (D.J. Sidney), and Chuck (Fred Buch) are becoming annoyed. Things get worse when there is a sudden solar disturbance which wreaks havoc on the boats controls, much to the chagrin of first mate Keith (Luke Halpin). After being side-swiped by a large ship, the boat runs aground on a small island.
As dawn breaks, the group realizes that the boat that hit them is actually a derelict ship that appears to have risen from the sea. As they explore that island, they come across an old, dilapidated hotel and its one inhabitant, Scar (Peter Cushing). Scar demands that they leave the island immediately, as they are in great danger. As if on cue, a group of undead Nazi soldiers arise from the sea. Scar explains that these super-soldiers were created during World War II, and nothing, not even spending years on the ocean floor, can stop them. Now, Keith and the tourists must flee for their lives.
Most likely due to budget constraints, "Shock Waves" focuses more on suspense and atmosphere than on action. Thus, it can be a bit slow at times. It takes nearly an hour for the zombies to truly appear, and even then, they don't do all that much until the last fifteen minutes. Also, the film suffers from the standard, "How do we get off this island?" cliches, combined with the bickering between the tourists.
But, the film certainly delivers on creepy visuals. The zombies, with their blonde hair, pockmarked skin, and black goggles, are a frightening crew, and the shots of them rising from the water are definitely memorable. Director Ken Wiederhorn and crew also make great use of their locations, such as the abandoned ship (which looks great) and the white beaches of Florida.
The cast, lead by "Flipper" veteran Halpin are pretty good. The real stars of the film are Brooke Adams, in one of her first starring roles, and horror greats John Carradine and Peter Cushing. It's a shame that they didn't share any scenes here. But, of course, it's those zombies that steal the show.
Horror fans looking for a zombie gorefest will be quite disappointed by "Shock Waves", but those who want a subtle and unique experience may enjoy this quirky low-budget film.
While "Shock Waves" is an enjoyable film, the transfer offered on this DVD looks as if it has spent some time at the bottom of the sea. The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen and has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. The image is incredibly grainy and this grain is visible in most every shot. The image shimmers at times as well. Although this doesn't appear to be a theatrical print, there are noticable defects from the source material, most notably around the 42-minute point, and there is at least one scene where frames are missing. On the plus side, the colors are good, and there is little artifacting.
The audio track on this DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack, which offers clear dialogue and good musical reproduction. Being a mono track, the sound lacks any real oomph! that could accentuate the shock scenes, but the sound is well balanced, and the hiss is minimal.
Blue Underground has loaded this DVD with goodies. We start with an audio commentary featuring co-writer/director Ken Wiederhorn, special make-up designer Alan Ormsby, and filmmaker Fred Olen Ray, who served as still photographer on the shoot. This is a fun commentary, as this trio relives the ups and downs of making a low-budget horror film and shares many anecdotes about the production and crew. (It's amazing how much they remember!) This is followed by an interview with star Luke Halpin entitled "From 'Flipper' to 'Shock Waves'". Ironically, "Flipper" is never mentioned in the eight-minute interview, but Halpin does discuss the film and his co-stars.
The rest of the extras are more standard fare. We have the theatrical trailer, letterboxed at 1.85:1. There is a surprisingly violent TV spot, which is also letterboxed at 1.85:1 (they showed that on TV?!). There are two 30-second radio spots for the film, which are basically identical. Finally, there is a detailed still gallery, which contains over 100 images, highlighting production stills and promotional art.
Despite some technical problems with the transfer, Blue Underground has done a fine job with this DVD. It's nice to see obscure films such as "Shock Waves" get the special edition treatment.