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Shock Waves (1977)

Blue Underground
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/25/2014

All Ratings out of


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/5/2014

In my reviews for Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies, I wrote about the "Nazi Zombie" sub-genre of horror films. (Or is it "Zombie Nazis"?) There may have been those who balked at the concept and didn't believe the such a group exists. But it does, and we're still seeing these movies to this day, as evidenced by the recent release of Dead Snow 2. We've been seeing these movies for decades now and the other thing that they have in common, besides the dead storm troopers, is that the zombies hide under something, such as sand or snow. Shock Waves continues this tradition of underwater Zombie Nazis. Does it do enough to separate from the pack?

As Shock Waves opens, a group on a pleasure cruise run into trouble. While Captain Morris (John Carradine) and his crew, Keith (Luke Halpin and Dobbs (Don Stout), attempt to get the ship back on course, passengers Rose (Brooke Adams), Chuck (Fred Buch), Norman (Jack Davidson), and Beverly (D.J. Sidney) try to pass the time. The boat approaches an island and gets stuck on a sandbar, so the group rows ashore. They discover an old resort which appears to be abandoned, but they find an old man (Peter Cushing) living inside. They also discover that the island is being overrun by walking corpses. As the zombies begin to attack, the survivors search for the truth and a way off of the island. They learn that the zombies are part of an elite Nazi experiment and that they will not stop.

If we're going to shower a movie with awards for premise and visuals, Shock Waves is definitely deserving. Indulging in speculative fiction, Screenwriters John Kent Harrison, Ken Pare, and Ken Weiderhorn tap into the idea that the Nazis conducted bizarre experiments and dabbled in the occult to create the story of deceased soldiers being brought back to life as super soldiers. This notion goes deeper by exploring the idea that the aquatic soldiers were only one section of the experiment. (Which, intentionally or not, sets up multiple sequels.) And when it comes to visuals, Shock Waves is top-notch. Weiderhorn does a fantastic job of staging shots where the zombies arise from the waters or stride through the waves. If you just saw those shots, you would assume that Shock Waves is an awesome movie. (Or you would see some moments which would make an awesome music video.)

The problem with Shock Waves is that it never moves beyond this. The movie introduces the premise and then leaves creativity behind and the second half of the movie becomes little more than a slasher movie, as the character are stalked by the zombies. We simply sit and watch the characters run around the island, slogging through water most of the time. At times, it looks as if shots are being repeated. The issues are confounded by the fact that the zombies aren't as badass as advertised. These super soldiers who fight with their bare hands mostly just drown their victims. And, they are easily defeated. The zombies may have a creepy look, but they are a letdown in the end,.

Shock Waves is one of those movies that I watch every few years and I always look forward to it. The first half fulfills the promises of the box art (which is very cool), and sets the bar pretty high. It's the second half where the movie come back to Earth and really drags. This breakdown draws attention away from the cool zombie design, the presence of horror legends Carradine and Cushing and the fact that most of the acting is passable. Until Dead Snow came along, Shock Waves was the best of the Zombie Nazi movies. While it's still an overall fun movie, some of it doesn't hold up and we can't help but wish that the second half of the film would come back to life.

Shock Waves brings us a glass-bottom rowboat on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 38 Mbps. While checking out this transfer, one must keep in mind that this is a low-budget, nearly 30-year old movie which was shot on 16mm film. Therefore, we get the sort of problems associated with these criteria, even while knowing that Bill Lustig and co. did the best that they could. A lot of the film takes place during the day and these shots show a notable amount of grain. (My wife wandering through the room and said, "That is grainy!"). At times, it looks as if gnats are swarming. There is also flickering at the edges of the frame. There are haloes around the actors. On the positive side, as with many 16mm transfers, the colors look good. The image is never overly dark and the depth is notable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.9 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The score never overpowers the dialogue and there is no hissing or popping on the track.

The Shock Waves Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Co-writer/Director Ken Wiederhorn, special make-up designer Alan Ormsby, and filmmaker Fred Olen Ray, who served as still photographer on the shoot. "Notes for the Undead" (14 minute) is an interview with Composer Richard Einhorn. "Sole Survivor" (7 minutes) is an interview with Brooke Adams who shares her memories of the film, starting with her bikini-clad audition and moving into a talk about her co-stars. In "From Flipper to Shock Waves" (8 minutes) Luke Halpin offers his reflections on the movie in this archive interview. We have the THEATRICAL TRAILER, letterboxed at 1.85:1. There is a surprisingly violent TV SPOT, which is also letterboxed at 1.85:1 (they showed that on TV?!). There are two 30-second RADIO SPOTS for the film, which are basically identical. Finally, there is a detailed STILL GALLERY, which contains over 100 images, highlighting production stills and promotional art.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long