SHOCK WAVES (1977)
Shock Waves is a very effective and spooky 70s horror flick that goes in slightly different direction with the traditional zombie formula and does a lot with a little.
The film opens with old WWII newsreel footage telling of rumored German experiments to create a super solider and of allied troops actually meeting squads of German commandos that were relentless, unstoppable and fought with only their bare hands. We then cut to the present with a young woman (Brooke Adams) in shock, being pulled from a boat and it is her narration that sets the tale in motion. The woman, named Rose, was aboard a tour boat near the Bahamas that had an engine malfunctioned and became lost. In the middle of the night, it strikes what appears to be an abandoned ship and is damaged, forcing guests and crew onto a small island where they find an old, apparently abandoned hotel. But the structure is not abandoned and is inhabited by an old German man (horror legend Peter Cushing) who warns that the appearance of the ghost ship that struck them, “The Pretorius” means they are all in mortal danger. He reveals that he was a soldier who commanded a platoon of scientifically altered troops who were vicious and unstoppable and designed to fight in the water. The soldiers were uncontrollable and were taken out to sea to be kept out of allied hands. When the war was lost, he sank his shipload of them and came to live on this island. But now that the ship and it’s living dead cargo has washed up on a reef, the ‘Death Corp.’ are now free to do what they were created to… kill!
Despite a PG rating and being very tame in terms of violence, Shock Waves is a very atmospheric and spooky flick thanks to director Ken Wiederhorn’s creating of a constant and heavy mood of dread and keeping his zombie-like soldiers shrouded in mystery even once they are revealed. He manages no small feat by creating such atmosphere on a sunlit tropical island, but his camera work and skilled scene set-ups overcome the idyllic setting to make a satisfyingly gothic horror. The scenes of his Death Corp. troops rising silently from the water with their scarred faces and dark goggles chills each time as does their silent and relentless pursuit of our ill-fated castaways. Despite a modest budget, Wiederhorn creates the illusion that they are everywhere and that no one is safe, no matter where they try to hide. The fact that they are renown for attacking their fellow soldiers and commanders makes even the former SS commander fearful of them and that he is also afraid, translates to the rest of the characters and to the audience. Add to this a really creepy electronic score by Richard Einhorn and you have a movie that, depute being relatively bloodless and very tame in it’s actual violence, is still quite unsettling from beginning to end. For those who whine about today’s trend of teen friendly PG-13 horror need only look to this PG rated fright flick to learn that it is the atmosphere and chills that make a horror work, not the gore and guts… though I do love a good gore fest, too!
The cast are all fine. Obviously Cushing is in top form, as always, as the SS commander and he is joined by the legendary John Carradine in a small role as the shipwrecked tour boat’s captain. A young Brooke Adams is a strong-willed heroine in her Rose and the fact that the film gets the shapely young actress in a bikini frequently, doesn’t hurt either. The rest of the small cast are relative unknowns, but do a decent job though, there won’t be any awards either. And the men who portray the stalking Death Corp. troops give their characters some lethal and deadly presence, which adds to the film’s effectiveness.
So, in effect, Ken Weiderhorn delivers a very atmospheric and chilling horror, that he co-wrote with John Kent Harrison, that is very successful in delivering the creepy goods, despite it’s low budget and minimalist approach. The film is practically bloodless and is very moderately paced, but it still gives goosebumps and makes very good use of the deserted motel location and even the jungle surrounding it. It’s not a great movie, but is still a very effective little horror that proves that you can chill without extravagant make-up FX or gore. Today’s impatient and visually overstimulated audiences might not be impressed, but for those who can appreciate it’s laid-back approach, it is a very spooky 90 minutes.
3 spooky submerged stormtroopers.