When you think about it, Nazis and zombies are a pretty natural combination, given that both have occultic roots (the Nazis with various Norse/Teutonic cults, zombies with the unique Haitian strain of voodoo), and since it’s long been rumored that Hitler and the boys were throwing a lot of shit at the walls to see what stuck (“Foo Fighters,” “Vril”-powered UFOs, etc.) in their desperate final hours of WW II, the idea at the core of director Ken Weiderhorn(who also co-wrote the script)’s 1977 low-budget living dead thriller Shock Waves — namely that the Germans bred a race of super-soldiers in the war’s final months who couldn’t be killed and sunk the whole lot of them on a doomed U-boat in the middle of the Atlantic in order to prevent the Allies from discovering of their existence and therefore providing a template for copying the idea for their own uses — is definitely plausible enough as far as these things go.
Yet for whatever reason, the Nazi/zombie connection is one that’s only been exploited a couple of times as far as I know in cinematic history, namely here and in 2009’s Dead Snow. And yet it’s powerful enough as a meme to have filtered its way up into even Hollywood blockbuster fare like Hellboy and Captain America, albeit as minor subplot material. So maybe the true Nazi/zombie masterpiece remains, as yet, unwritten and unmade, but for now, Weiderhorn’s film remains a pretty solid template for future moviemakers to follow.
To be sure, it’s got some flaws — it’s a bit on the slow side, and the gore factor is pretty much non-existent, but what it lacks in blood-n’-guts it more than makes up for in creepily oppressive atmospherics, and the film is anchored by a couple of terrific performances, one from the always-reliable (and at this point in his career apparently doing anything anything for a buck) John Carradine, who plays the drunken captain of a decidedly cut-rate pleasure cruise populated by the usual horror-flick ensemble of good-hearted simpletons, rich assholes, confused everymen and their more confused wives, etc. who have a tragic accident on their boat and are forced to make their way ashore on a (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) uncharted island that hides the last, and deadliest, secret of World War II, and the other from the even-more-reliable Peter Cushing, who portrays the Nazi SS commander who once lead the so-called “Death Corps” and is now readying himself to oversee his former charge’s return from the depths after 35 years (although why it’s happening now is never really explained and frankly doesn’t matter all that much since there wouldn’t be much of a storyline here if it weren’t happening — in short, just go with it). Cushing, who was fresh off Star Wars when he made this, is essentially just playing Grand Moff Tarkin with the creepiness factor dialed up a couple of notches, but hell, it works and he casts just exactly the right air in his time on-screen.
Apart from our two venerable acting stalwarts, the other star here, besides the admittedly effective black-goggle-bespectacled “Death Corps” themselves, is the lush but somehow brooding scenery of the Coral Gables, Florida area where this film was shot. It feels remote, isolated, and impossibly thick with menace thanks to Wiederhorn’s gimmick-free visual style that just allows the setting, and the story, to speak for itself. There’s nothing fancy going on here, just solid celluloid craftsmanship, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, these days it almost feels like something of a lost art.
Shock Waves is far from a masterpiece, and is definitely a product of its time and budget (apparently the whole thing cost around $200,000), but it’s an atmospheric, professional, generally-pretty-suspenseful piece of zombie-film fare, and makes terrifically effective use of both its shooting locale and its very-cool-and-still-as-of-yet-not-explored,-to-its-full-potential-by-Hollywood premise and the DVD release from Blue Underground that I’m basing this review on does it pretty adequate justice by including a couple of trailers for the film, some radio advertising spots a nice little gallery of poster and advertising artwork and production stills, and an interview on the making of the film with cast member Luke Halpin. The print certainly shows its age but on the whole looks pretty decent and the stereo sound is simple enough but perfectly adequate.
And to think this flick comes to us courtesy of the same guy who directed King Frat! I kid you not.