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Film Review: Shockwaves (1977)

Zombie Mondays Ken Weiderhorn’s cheap-looking Shockwaves is an ambitious little horror film with an nteresting idea for a story. Unfortunately, despite some decent atmospherics and an interesting cast, it doesn’t quite come off.The film opens with narration explaining the existence of the Death Corps – an undead group of German super soldiers that were put into mothballs during World War II after the Nazis determined that they uncontrollable. The film makes it unclear whether science, magic or a mixture of the two was used to create the creatures (where is Indiana Jones when you need him?).

The main body of the film unfolds in the flashback of a hospitalized young woman played by Brooke Adams (who starred in the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Dead Zone) recounting the experience that unhinged her. It’s a little unfair because it is a borderline spoiler.

Things begin in earnest with a group of vacationers on a yacht that runs ashore on a tropic island in an undisclosed location (the movie was shot in Florida, according to its IMBD entry). Horror icon John Carradine is the scruffy captain of the yacht who provides exposition and dies early.

The group eventually encounters a German commander from the war who lives in relative luxury on the island. Hammer Studios veteran actor Peter Cushing, who is perhaps best known as Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars, does his usual quality work as the commander. It is gradually revealed that Cushing scuttled a ship carrying the Death Corps in the waters near the island, but the presence of the stranded tourists somehow caused them to rise from the ocean.

The corps members are black-goggled zombies in Nazi uniforms with bleached blond hair and water-logged complexions that make them resemble mummies. They make for visually arresting monsters, but they do nothing other than shuffle around and kill people. The ex-Nazi, who just wants to live peacefully on the island, is unable to control them – the idea that the zombies are stand-ins for unsuccessful attempts to suppress historical totalitarianism in modern times is an interesting theme that is not really developed.

Shock Waves has genuinely creepy moments, contrasting its lush tropical setting with the horror of its situation nicely. It also takes the time to build suspense, is reasonably well-acted and features a few good scares (a death by Porcupine Fish to the face is particularly memorable). But it provides too much information too early without much really happening and plays along predictable lines.

There are also a few odd plot holes. As an example, Adams tears the goggles off of one of the zombies and accidently exposes his eyes to light, which kills him – the good guys should be tearing off goggles for the rest of the movie but don’t.

Shock Waves is not outright bad and is just quirky enough to interest zombie fans. It is certainly better than Zombie Lake or Oasis of the Zombies – two other films featuring Nazis and zombies in an aquatic setting. But it will appeal primarily to completist fans of low-budget 70s’ horror films.

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