After a brief voice-over explaining the origin of its Nazi zombies, Shock Waves begins with the end of the movie; someday I shall have to find out if there is a technical term for that. Rose (Brooke Adams) floats, sunburned and confused, in a rowboat, and is rescued by two sailors. The rest of the film is her flashback.
She is on a diving boat with four other passengers and a crew of three men when the sky turns a sickly yellow. Everyone instinctively feels certain that something is terribly wrong, and this is confirmed later that night by first mate Keith (Luke Halpin) when he confesses to Rose that the compass has quit working. Then the boat hits a wrecked ship that seems to appear from nowhere, the passengers have to go ashore on an island, and then they spend the rest of their short lives running from the Nazi zombies which have appeared from the wreck. Except for Rose, of course, who technically survives the ordeal, although her sanity may not have.
Shock Waves is a very straightforward picture, very well scripted and acted. All the horror character types are represented: the slacker (Halpin), the hot chick (Adams), the tough guy (Fred Buch), the annoying guy (Jack Davidson), the drunk guy (Don Stout), the helpless lady (D.J. Sidney), the bad-tempered old dude (John Carradine), and the asshole who knows the nature of the threat but doesn’t tell anyone else until it is too late (Peter Cushing). Yet, with all that familiarity, the movie still manages to be innovative. The way that one can defeat the zombies is unusual, and the twist, which is a small one, is a character flaw in one of the passengers.
When a movie is this quietly good, there’s not that much to say, but I did find a couple of points that struck me. Cushing’s character lives alone in an abandoned luxury hotel on the island, and has done so for thirty years. When he finally allows the castaways into his private quarters, we see that one of his walls is covered with mirrors of different sizes. I believe that this is because he wanted to be forced to look at himself and remember that he has done some terrible things. He was the commander of the undead soldiers during WWII, which brings me to my next point. In the 40s, he sank the ship they were on and escaped, but it rises up again and the soldiers are able to take more lives. This symbolizes the idea that you can’t just bury the past and walk away from it.
There is no formula for a movie like this which epitomizes the cult film in its undeniable appeal. Sometimes we’re just lucky enough that a movie like this happens. Shock Waves is a low-budget movie without any gore. The zombies kill by choking or drowning, and the film consists mostly of people acting frightened. It’s a very bleak film, as you might can tell by the fact that I have nothing amusing to say about it. However, it is not a boring movie, and I can’t recommend it enough. It simply rises from the depths of the 70s, grabs you by the throat, and pulls you under.