Thursday, August 18, 2005

It Came from Blockbuster! Shock Waves

In the ‘damning with faint praise’ department, calling Shock Waves the ‘Best Nazi Zombie Movie’ would certainly rank high. Being better than laughable dreck like Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies isn’t exactly a stellar cinematic achievement. So let’s leave it here: Shock Waves is a pretty decent horror movie, period.

Of course, tastes vary. Shock Waves falls into the classically spooky category, with nary a gush of blood, much less guts, in sight. This probably will consign it to the ‘oh, never mind then’ pile for many zombie fans, at least those raised since George Romero defined the genre. Still, if you’re the sort of fan who goes, “John Carradine and Peter Cushing?!…Cool!” then you’ll probably like this one.

The film opens with a classic horror premise: the lone survivor found drifting around the ocean. You’d think it would diminish the impact of what comes after, since it telegraphs who survives the zombie attacks. Instead, it adds a nice sense of doomed inevitability to the proceedings.

The story line is nothing fancy, either. A cheap little cruise boat, captained by old salt Carradine and manned by former Flipper kid star Luke Halpin, is sheparding a small number of passengers around when a bizarre solar event blankets the area. In less sure hands, this yellow filter might have just seemed dumb. Here it plays as satisfyingly ominous.

The boat is hit by what appears to be a ‘ghost ship,’ and the occupants seek refuge on a nearby island. There they find a once luxorious but now decrepit hotel, whose only occupant is a scarred old man (Cushing). He proves to be an ex-Nazi, and the leader of a group of supernaturally powered SS soldiers who went down with the nearby wrecked ship after WWII. And that weird solar event seems to have roused them from their sleep...

This is a neat little film, if not a classic than certainly well worth a look. Some fans have complained that Cushing and Carradine don’t share any screentime, but as director Ken Wiederhorn explains on the commentary track (where he is joined by Alan Ormsby and Fred Olen Ray!!), this was a strategy to maximize their use since he only had the services of each for four days apiece.

Ormsby mentions on the commentary that he had intended much more elaborate make-ups for the zombies, and his sketches to this effect are included in the DVD’s still galleries. In the end, everything worked out for the better. The peeling, albino pale, platinum blond soldiers move with silent menace, calling to mind the creepy kids from the original Village of the Damned. Any effort to be more elaborate would have probably diminished their sense of menace, and at worst just made them look silly. Do Nazi Zombies really need swasticas carved into their foreheads to look scary? Probably not.

Wiederhorn apparently doesn’t have much affection for his creation (while Ray must be wondering how the director could be so unsatisfied with a film that’s, objectively speaking, at least ten times better than anything Ray has every cranked out). He still seems bitter that the film didn’t advance his career much, and moreover mentions more than once his general dislike of horror movies. (Even so, he went on to work in the genre several more times.) Too bad, because I don’t think he gives himself, or his work, enough credit here.

It’s sad to say that you’re pleasantly surprised by films that are at least competent in acting, script, direction and general execution, but horror fans will know of what I speak. Shock Waves may not go on anybody’s greatest ever list, but it’s a little gem in its own right.

5 Comments:

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Marty McKee said...

Agreed. SHOCK WAVES is a genuinely creepy movie, especially in its depiction of the zombies. I noticed that Romero seemed to be paying homage to them in his LAND OF THE DEAD.

Another reason to watch is Brooke Adams in her fetching yellow bikini. This was her first major film role, and she was soon to be a Hollywood Flavor of the Month in major pictures like DAYS OF HEAVEN, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and CUBA. She's married to Tony Shalhoub (lucky bastard) today and still works occasionally.

It's funny to hear Wiederhorn grumbling about what is really a good film, and it's a shame he can't come to terms with it. His interview in FILMMAKING ON THE FRINGE is similarly disgruntling. His next horror movie, EYES OF A STRANGER, is also a pretty good slasher movie that was unfortunately snipped of Tom Savini's gore effects before release. Wiederhorn hates this movie too. And KING FRAT, which I can't possibly defend, except to say that I love it, so there.

 
At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked Shock Waves in part because of the low-keyed zombies -- they genuinely looked like what you get if the SS were creating amphibious animated corpses.

-- John Nowak

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

Wierderhorn doesn't like horror movies? That's odd, considering that's all I know of him (this film and Return of the Living Dead II...didn't he make a Fright Night film?).

Oh, I guess he directed a "Meatballs" sequel, eh? That must rank high on his resume.

 
At 2:31 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

That's what I thought when I saw his IMDB listing. For a guy with a (figerative) axe to grind with horror movies, he sure cranked out a lot of them.

Several are pretty decent, too, so I wish he got more enjoyment from them.

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

As for the 'plain looking' zombies, like I said, the production sketches show these elaborate zombie make-ups with carvings in the foreheads and glowing eyes, etc.

Subtle was definately better in this case.

 

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