Nazi zombies! Doesn’t that sound like a great idea for a horror film? Perhaps not an entire subgenre but certainly a film? Of course it does! Of course anyone who’s seen Jean Rollin’s ZOMBIE LAKE, and far more recently OUTPOST II, will know how it’s possible to monumentally waste such a good idea, but fortunately before all of that there was Ken Wiederhorn’s SHOCK WAVES, a film I had steered clear of for many years on the basis that I saw Mr Wiederhorn’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II in the cinema on its initial release, and despite some reviews to the contrary I wasn’t convinced that it was going to be any good.
SHOCK WAVES is certainly patchy, and even for a mid 1970s film it takes a while to get going. What it does have working for it, however are some of the creepiest zombie Nazi sequences ever put on film, including a fair few shot underwater which means that, while SHOCK WAVES will never be considered a classic like Fulci’s ZOMBI 2 or anything by Romero, it’s certainly worth a watch by anyone with a passing interest in the genre.
A group of 1970s young things with awful Laura Ashley dresses (Brooke Adams) and bouffant hairdos (Luke Halpin who, in the interview on the DVD, still has the same hairstyle - well done that man for sticking to his Barry Gibb guns!) are off on some kind of weird pleasure cruise on a boat captained by mad John Carradine who throws the radio overboard and gets killed as soon as there’s not enough money to pay him any more. After encountering a rotting Nazi ship that’s decided to pop up out of the water the yacht runs aground on an island and the survivors eventually stumble across a rotting country house where Peter Cushing lives, looking as if he’s been wearing the same clothes for the last thirty years. Cushing explains that he was responsible for creating a special Nazi Death Corps capable of working underwater without the need to breathe. This zombie regiment has been recruited from psychopaths, sadists, and all the other kinds of people you might think twice about putting into your death squad regiment. It’s therefore perhaps not surprising when Peter reveals that the zombies didn’t behave in quite the way they were supposed to and started attacking everyone. They’re supposed to be safely stored underwater but as we have already seen, they’re now on the march again and are getting closer.
As I’ve mentioned above, where SHOCK WAVES really wins is in its zombies, which have some great makeups by Alan Ormsby and are played by men who seem to be able to hold their breath underwater for a very long time. There are a lot of scenes of them wandering around but Ken Wiederhorn has somehow grasped the kind of magic that’s lacking in many similar pictures where these shots would get boring very quickly. Peter Cushing is obviously in it for marquee value as he doesn’t last long and his info dump could have been achieved with the discovery of a diary. Still, it’s just another little extra that goes a way towards elevating SHOCK WAVES out of the mire of low budget rubbish and into something approaching a minor classic.