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Shock Waves is one of those 70s cheap genre exploitation flicks where the artwork promoting it is much better than the movie itself. It takes a killer premise, Nazi zombies bred to survive underwater come back decades after World War II to wreak havoc, and destroys it with a dull and lifeless execution, depthless characters, horrid acting and worst of all for such a film, uninspired and bloodless death scenes.
First of all, if you're going to come up with horror movie antagonists as awesome as underwater Nazi zombies, you better do something worthwhile with them beyond merely serving them as the monsters of the week. There isn't any motivation behind why they rise from the water and go after their victims other than "They're Nazi zombies, and they kill". If they were replaced with regular zombies, or literally any other set of monsters for that matter, would anything in Shock Waves even need to be rewritten?
The plot follows, in a mind-numbingly slow pace, a group of interchangeable idiots who get stranded on a mysterious island after hitting a wrecked ship. After meandering around the cheapest and least visually interesting locations imaginable for about an hour of screen time, the aquatic zombies suddenly come out of the water and awkwardly pull every one of their victims back into the water. The end. I'm not kidding when I say every single death occurs in this manner.
It's easy to forgive inept screenwriting, directing, cinematography and acting in a low-budget horror film, but a lack of blood and any kind of exploitation-style edge is unforgivable. Even though it was released in 1977, Shock Waves feels like one of those recent neutered PG-13 horror films made for kiddies.
Now I understand that the film is PG, which is a shame to begin with. But even then, this is one of the tamest PG horror films I've ever seen. Before PG-13 came along, PG horror films still had some bite. Remember how violent Jaws really was? Or the infamous bathroom sink scene in Poltergeist? All we get in Shock Waves is bad actors (Except for Peter Cushing, who's only in the movie for five minutes to spew some clunky exposition) being pulled down into the water. Dunking your friends while playing around in a pool is scarier than this.
I understand that director Ken Wiederhorn's (Director of Meatballs II, which should give you an idea concerning his talent) intention might have been to focus on suspense rather than gore money shots, but two things work against him: None of the characters are remotely interesting and the young actors look asleep at the wheel, and such a goofy premise is very hard to take seriously, it should probably be handled with at least a little bit of a campy approach.
Speaking of remakes, Shock Waves actually presents an interesting idea wrapped around a terribly dull and uninteresting movie. In the middle of all the horror masterpieces being desecrated recently (Halloween, The Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street), why aren't bad films like this being remade with a decent budget and some serious gore? Surely super-soldier underwater Nazis being bred to survive every possible harsh weather gradually turning into bloodthirsty zombies is ripe for a rethread.
Apparently, the negative for Shock Waves has been lost for a long time and any home video transfer of it comes from director Wiederhorn's own print. Taking this fact under consideration, this Blu-Ray transfer is actually quite impressive, which is very, very faint praise. Shock Waves looks exactly like how you'd expect a low-budget horror flick to look like on home video: Grainy, soft, lacking definition and riddled with dirt and scratches. If the film itself was a more campy and B-movie style fun experience, the crappy 70s look might have helped the mood. In the case of Shock Waves, it's quite an eyesore.
Shock Waves comes with a DTS-HD mono mix coming out of a 2.0 transfer. This is a pet peeve of mine since I much prefer 1.0 mono mixes that focus on the center channel. In any case, this is a tinny and muddy sounding transfer of an unimpressive sound mix. You'll be able to hear most of the terrible dialogue clearly, but that's about it.
Interviews with Cinematographer Reuben Trane, Composer Richard Einhorn and Stars Brooke Adams and Luke Halpin: These interviews are presented separately but contain very similar material. They clock in at around 50 minutes in total. The subjects talk mostly about how much fun they had working on the film and how great seasoned actors like Peter Cushing and John Carradine were. It's interesting, perhaps not surprising, that they were all working service jobs in restaurant and bookstores before landing the gig. All of the interviews were filmed in 2014, except for Luke Halpin's, which look at least a decade old.
Audio Commentary by Ken Wiederhorn, Make-up Designer Alan Ormsby and Filmmaker Fred Olen Ray: This is a very laid back commentary as the filmmakers discuss how they secured the actors and the locations. It should be very informative for die-hard fans, otherwise it can be easily skipped.
We also get a Trailer, TV Spot, Two Radio Spots and a Poster Gallery.
Shock Waves is a cheap, uninteresting, and entirely too forgettable genre effort from the 70s, a decade that otherwise revitalized horror cinema. I don't understand its appeal as a cult film and for all intents as purposes, it should just disappear back into the dark waters.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com