Peter Cushing - SS Commander
Brooke Adams - Rose
Luke Halpin - Keith
John Carradine - Captain Ben
Jack Davidson - Norman
Fred Buch - Chuck
D.J. Sidney - Beverly
Don Stout - Dobbs
Genre - Horror/Zombies/Naziploitation/Cult
Running Time - 84 Minutes
PLOT - Fisherman rescue Rose (Brooke Adams), who is alone at sea looking worse for wearer. Feeling appreciative, she tells them the story of the nightmare she and others experienced during a cruise aboard a sailboat called Bonaventure run by Captain Ben (John Carradine). Apparently, the boat eventually gets shipwrecked [due to Captain Ben disappearing], forcing those sailing to make their way to an abandoned island near Florida.
Once they make it to shore, the sailors realize that Captain Ben is dead. Looking for help, they find an abandoned hotel that's owned by a former SS Commander (Peter Cushing) who is hiding from some of his experiments. It seems these experiments are actually zombies who dwell in the water and pop up when any humans are in the area. With the arrival of the survivors, these SS Zombies have awakened and start killing them one by one.
STORY - There aren't a lot of Naziploitation films that deal with the zombie sub-genre. While 1981's ZOMBIES LAKE and 2009's DEAD SNOW may be some of the more popular ones, 1977's SHOCK WAVES [also known as ALMOST HUMAN or DEATH CORPS] is probably one of the first and best in its sub-genre. For a low budget film, Ken Wiederhorn manages to create an effective little zombie movie that doesn't require gore and a ton of zombie make up to create a creepy atmosphere.
Wiederhorn, along with John Harrison, wrote a very basic screenplay that follows a standard zombie plot where the undead play a deadly cat-and-mouse game with survivors who try to survive, but are unable to because they can't get on the same page. Instead of flesh hungry and brain obsessed zombies, these zombies don't like to eat their victims. They just like to drown them. A lot. I've never seen so many people drown in a single film in quite a while, if not ever. And they don't just drown in the ocean. They drown in swimming pools and in fish tanks! It's kind of funny seeing how the writers get these characters near things that have a decent amount of water, knowing that it's only going to lead to their deaths.
While the narrative is very easy to follow and understand, I still feel it's the weakest part of SHOCK WAVES. When you have a low budget film where you're unable to provide money for special effects or better technical aspects that could distract one from a weak script, the screenplay has to be your selling point. While it's not a horrible script, SHOCK WAVES has a pretty bare bones one that makes you wanting more.
For one, the characters are nothing but stereotypes. I couldn't tell you anything about these people other than what they do professionally. Most of them are so annoying anyway that you won't care unless a zombie attacks them and drowns them [which you'll probably cheer for]. I really couldn't sympathize with any of these characters, which hurt the film some. The SS Commander could have been awesome, but he was there for exposition purposes, revealing what was going on the island. I know characters in these films are fodder for the monsters, but it's still nice to see depth attempted every once in a while.
I also have issue with the zombies. They're cool and all, with their menacing black goggles hiding their eyes and the way they rise from the water [in one of the many classic scenes in this film]. But their weakness feels like an afterthought really. You see, these zombies are sensitive to light. Once the goggles are off, they go blind and eventually die. That's a fine subplot, but not much is done with it. We see it happen a couple of times but it's not explored much. It's an interesting twist to defeating a zombie - I just wish it was played out more.
Also, there are moments where SHOCK WAVES feels unfinished. There are instances where characters will talk about something, but it's never shown or even brought up again. I read that some scenes were edited out in post-production, but later scenes related to these missing scenes were left in because there was no way around it. Kind of unfortunate since the film seems a bit disjointed through its dialogue. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it's noticeable.
DIRECTION - Ken Wiederhorn, who would later direct 1984's MEATBALLS II and 1988's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, is pretty good. It's not a stylish film with odd angles and interesting composition/framing, but it gets the job done. The editing is a bit iffy, but it's not terrible. The pacing is sometimes off, due to the film being very slow at times and then very intense and suspenseful the next. The one thing that Wiederhorn does well is creating a very creepy mood once the characters arrive on the island. The way the zombies are shot sleeping in the ocean and rising up one-by-one before they hunt can be unsettling for some. The final act is shot and directed quite well as it's pretty tense to watch. I do wish there were more zombies doing what they do to stupid humans, but what can you do?
EDGE FACTOR - SHOCK WAVES is a very tame film. Barely any foul language. Hardly any skin besides Brooke Adams in a yellow bikini looking good. And the violence consists of people drowning. The zombie makeup by Alan Ormsby, who co-wrote 1972's CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, is effective in giving the zombies an Albino sort of look, with their pale skin and blonde hair.
ACTING - The acting is more than decent in SHOCK WAVES. Having both John Carradine and Peter Cushing in your cast in supporting roles helps class up the joint, which they both do exceptionally well. I wish their characters were fleshed out more, but they took the material seriously and shine. Brooke Adams is nice to look at and does decently with what she's given. Luke Halpin is better as the male lead, even though he broke character by laughing at one of the characters floating inside a fish tank dead towards the end. I would have broken character too. That shit was funny! Pretty good cast.
THE FINAL HOWL
If you're looking for a different type of zombie film that doesn't involve voodoo rituals or flesh-eating creatures, SHOCK WAVES might be for you. It's a bit slow moving, but once the zombies appears, it gets a lot more interesting. Even though the narrative could use more meat on its bones, the film is still worth checking out as it's a bit creepy at times and funny to watch these characters go to aquatic places where they'll undoubtedly drown at the hand of zombies. Interesting piece of Naziploitation fluff.
3 Howls Outta 4