Movie: Shock Waves (1977)

Zombie Nazis on a ghost ship attack a 70s version of the Gilligan’s Island passengers and crew.  If that sounds promising, then you’ll likely have a good time watching 1977’s Shock Waves.

As Peter Cushing will eventually explain, these zombies are super-soldiers developed by the Nazis.  Cushing commanded this unit of the undead and captained a ship which floated around the Atlantic until the Nazis won the war. Which they didn’t so, what to do with a boatload of unstoppable, undead killing machines?

One aspect of the film I greatly appreciated is the lack of gore.  I realized this only later, when I looked the movie up on IMDB and discovered it is PG.  Funny how, just by the nature of the material, I thought this had to have been R or unrated.  That it is obviously low-budget only compounds that sensation.

And yet, even without core, there are some strongly creepy scenes.  Among this picture’s best moments are the zombies walking slowly across the ocean floor or rising slowly out of the water.  If there is one reason to see this film, it is the moments like this.

Curiously, the film is only 67 minutes long, leading me to suspect this was made solely with the intention of it being the bottom run of double, triple, whatever features of drive-ins and grindhouse theaters.  I don’t have any complaints about the runtime.  I believe a movie should only be the length it warrants.  That said, there were still moments where you could sense the padding to even get it to this length.

Really, it would have worked better as a short film, though I know those were nearly impossible to see in the era this was made.  And this may sound like a dig, though it isn’t: it has a feel of a very well made student film.  It is very competently made, but it has that “hey, gang, let’s put on a show” vibe to it.  Once again, I like such low budget cinema and I will cut them more slack than big-budget features.  Also, there’s so much grain that this has be a blow-up from 16mm, though some shots look like it might have even been 8mm.

The cast is largely unknowns and their performances range from fair to above average.  None of the non-name actors did anything that made me want to look for other films they appeared in.  I didn’t even think of these as named characters, but just stereotypes: Pornstache, comic tank-top-and-shorts guy, and, straight from the comic pages, The Lockhorns.  Oh, and a ship’s cook who I’m guessing later tried and failed to be cast in Cabin Boy.

The established actors here are Peter Cushing, John Carradine and Brooke Adams.  Cushing’s appearance here is little more than a glorified cameo in which he plays the captain of the downed Nazi vessel.  He never phones in a performance, and so does a serviceable job here.  Inexplicably, Carradine turns in a better performance than most of the role he did only for a paycheck.  And Brooke Adams is, as always, a joy to watch.

The script is horror boilerplate for the most part, but with some notable lines, of which Adams has the most.  In response to the other woman asking how a guy could fall asleep so soundly so early, she replies in deadpan, “He played very hard today.”  The husband in the bitter middle-aged couple gets a memorable line with, “I keep asking myself if this is a dream, but then I realized this isn’t a dream anybody would believe, so it must be real!”

Taking potshots at this movie would be like kicking a puppy, albeit a living-dead Nazi one.  It is slight, but enjoyable.  Also, being a PG movie means it is good for younger audiences and those who especially want to avoid gore. 

Dir: Ken Wiederhorn

Starring: Peter Cushing, John Carradine, Brooke Adams

Watched on blu-ray