Shock Waves (American, 1977): When plain old zombies just aren’t enough!

Despite all indications to the contrary, I think a solitary swim in this brackish, murky pool is a great idea! What could possibly happen?

Despite all indications to the contrary, I think a solitary swim in this brackish, murky pool is a great idea! What could possibly happen?

I love it when a writer can bring something genuinely new and fresh to well-worn subject matter. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are awesome, of course – but they’re even better when placed in an unexpected situation, or seen from different perspectives than the ones we know so well. This strategy served Stephen King well in Salem’s Lot (vampires… in small-town Maine!), and it’s a major reason why State of Decay (vampires… in space!) is one of my favorite stories from the original run of Doctor Who.

Knowing of my affection for zombie films, perhaps you can imagine my excitement about Shock Waves – this is a film with underwater Nazi zombies! Wow! As soon as I heard about it, I bumped it to the top of my Netflix queue and waited in breathless anticipation for the disc to arrive. Was it everything I hoped for? Well… sort of.

I feel like I say this a lot, both here on the blog and in conversation with my patient spouse: this film has a lot going for it, but ultimately it falls short of its potential. The casting is quite good, beginning with two legends of the horror genre: John Carradine and Peter Cushing. Both gentlemen are consummate professionals, possessing such gravitas that their presence alone gives Shock Waves a degree of legitimacy. Unfortunately, neither of these veteran actors receives much screen time; Carradine in particular exits the narrative quite early on, and the filmmakers could have made much better use of him. Brooke Adams (perhaps best known for the excellent 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) also brings a lot to the film as our leading lady, Rose. As usual, she’s pleasantly quirky and girl-next-door loveable, while remaining believable in her role. Performances from the rest of the cast range from capable to surprisingly good.

Shock Waves also benefits from excellent location scouting. The wreck of the SS Sapona, grounded on a sandbar off Bimini, and the Biltmore Hotel (abandoned at the time of filming) in Coral Gables, FL provide an ideal setting for the action. There are several nice shots featuring these locations, but again – I think the filmmakers could have made better use of what they had available to create an even richer atmosphere. The pace of the film became a bit of an issue for me as well. Don’t misunderstand me – Shock Waves has plenty of action, but the main part of its narrative seems to occur in less than 48 hours. I don’t necessarily think the film itself needs to be longer, but implying our characters were stranded on the zombie-infested island for a week or so would add some welcome tension to the film, and might make Rose’s ultimate end (I’m trying hard to avoid a spoiler here) seem more plausible.

Memorable visuals: Here’s another area where Shock Waves doesn’t quite reach its full potential. There is some very good underwater shooting as the zombies first awaken and exit their watery tomb. The motionless, vertical way our Nazi undead rise from and submerge into the water is also quite unsettling (at least when the actors’ cheeks aren’t bulging with a final breath before slipping beneath the surface – I’m pretty sure zombies don’t need to breathe). Most of the zombie close-ups display decent make-up and maybe even some basic prosthetic effects, but I’d love to see their puffy, waterlogged look pushed much further. One last gripe: I think the zombies’ uniforms should be in much worse shape after 30 years underwater.

Horror cred: Though there weren’t many real scares and gore is totally absent, this film definitely belongs in the horror category. It’s a must for zombie movie fans!

Is it worth 39¢: Absolutely! Though the overall tone of my review might indicate otherwise, I quite enjoyed Shock Waves, and I’d willingly watch it again.

Find it here: Unlike a lot of the films I review, Shock Waves is not in the public domain. As I mentioned, I got a copy via Netflix; Amazon offers it on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Instant Video.

3 thoughts on “Shock Waves (American, 1977): When plain old zombies just aren’t enough!

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