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Shock Waves

Year: 1977
Production Co: Zopix Company
Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Writer: Ken Wiederhorn/John Kent Harrison
Cast: Brooke Adams, Peter Cushing, John Carradine

The strange thing about a lot of exploitation flicks from the video nasty era is that although they had no way of knowing all those years ago, their appeal would have lasted a lot longer if they'd just embraced their grindhouse ethos and gone the whole hog with nudity, gore or some other element that's still gloriously over the top years later.

Where the directors and (presumably) the producers behind movies like Maniac, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , Cannibal Holocaust and Bloodsucking Freaks obviously wanted to slap moviegoers in the face, those behind a lot more films from the era that look like trashy delights – like this film – seemed to be labouring under the illusion they were making serious horror movies or thrillers.

It's even more of a shame here because the set-up (undead SS officers who've been lying in wait in the shallow water around a forbidden island since a secret Nazi project to reanimate a race of supersoldiers) is grindhouse genius. So much so in fact that the very idea of Nazi zombies was a single-movie meme in Dead Snow.

They even have a brilliant horror movie design, rising slowly and unbreathing out of the water with their fish-white skin and black goggles to walk slowly but inexorably towards their victims.

The victims in this case are on a pleasurecraft charter – some of the characters rendered more caricatures than real people so they can merely bounce off each other – that runs into trouble. First the ocean air around them fills with a strange orange haze nobody can explain. Later that night a huge, hulking wreck sideswipes their boat, damaging it and stranding them.

The next morning, with the crusty, ill-tempered captain having already disappeared, they make for the nearby island in the lifeboat, the huge rotting vessel having beached itself offshore nearby.

But as they explore the island and the huge, apparently deserted hotel compound they stumble across, it turns out the ship isn't as dead as it seems. Underwater scenes of black jackboots walking across the wreckage of the ship reveal the creatures, making their way towards the trespassers.

Sill with no idea of what's stalking them and streadily depleting their number, the passengers come across the sole inhabitant of the hotel, a none too friendly old man (Peter Cushing) who basically plays Basil Exposition, explaining the whole setup in his introductory scene. A former Nazi commander (despite a plum-in-mouth British) accent), he was in charge of the Death Corps, a top secret program to reanimate dead soldiers and set them against enemy soldiers during WWII. When his subjects grew too difficult to control the project was abandoned and he sailed to the island, scuttling their ship and exiling himself.

But now they're awake, and everyone's in danger. They rise out of the shallows off the beach and the river winding its way through the inland jungle, bashing their way inside the hotel and wherever else their terrified victims are hiding.

And that's where Shock Waves loses its teeth. If they were real zombies, tearing their victims limb from limb like in Dawn of the Dead or Zombie Flesh Eaters, the execution would have been as cool and iconic as the concept. But while having them simply drag their victims underwater to drown them certainly isn't the stuff of Disney (not that there are even any real death scenes – in each case the survivors simply find the victims after the Death Corps have done their work), it makes the whole movie lose – excusing the pun – bite.

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