The lingering image from this low-budget shocker depicts a squad of expressionless zombies wearing goggles and World War II SS uniforms as they emerge from bodies of still water, intent on spreading bloody mayhem. As one of the film’s supporting characters notes, “The sea spits up what it can’t keep down.” Utterly loopy in conception, and yet compelling because of its no-nonsense execution and the unnerving synthesizer music on the soundtrack, Shock Waves is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s early work. What the film lacks in depth and logic, it makes up for with menace and mood. And while writer-director Ken Wiederhorn is no John Carpenter, as evidenced by the unimpressive nature of Wiederhorn’s subsequent career, Shock Waves works quite well as an offbeat horror show.
The picture begins when the crew of a sea vessel discovers Rose (Brooke Adams) floating alone on the ocean in a battered dingy. In voiceover, Rose describes the ordeal she just experienced. Along with several other folks, she took a pleasure cruise on a low-rent boat skippered by Captain Ben Morris (John Carradine). One night, Morris’ boat encountered the wreck of a massive ship. Soon thereafter, strange things started happening, culminating with the death of Captain Morris under mysterious circumstances and the scuttling of Morris’ boat. The passengers found refuge on a remote island, the only resident of which was a mystery man (Peter Cushing) with a scar across his face. Revealed as a former SS commander, the man explained the nature of the ship the passengers encountered. During World War II, the commander oversaw the “Death Corps,” a squad of genetically engineered zombie soldiers capable of breathing air and water. Deemed too dangerous for deployment, the “Death Corps” were decommissioned, and the commander sunk the boat containing his inhuman soldiers. For some reason, the “Death Corps” resurfaced at the moment that Morris’ boat arrived, and carnage ensued.
The plot is ridiculous, and Weiderhorn succumbs to a few lowbrow impulses (such as squeezing Adams into a bikini for most of the picture). Nonetheless, Weiderhorn delivers a fair measure of creepy weirdness. Zombies stalk people through swamps. Survivors struggle to find hiding places in an old mansion, adding claustrophobia to the mix. Cushing unfurls the requisite expositional monologue. And so on. Thanks to its eerie music, familiar actors, grainy photography, and gruesome premise, Shock Waves could either haunt you or strike you as silly, depending on your receptivity to this type of dark fantasy. Either way, it’s vivid stuff.
Shock Waves: GROOVY