by Jack Sommersby
It's certainly got something of a cult following and isn't atrocious by any means, but it just hasn't been thought through enough to qualify as something other than a middling curiosity.The Nazi-zombie horror tale Shock Waves boasts a few frightening moments and some reasonably unnerving atmospherics, but the screenplay is a patchwork of half-baked ideas that never really come together, and with a slew of idiotic character motivations added to the mix, it's hard to respect in the end. The moviemakers started out with a catchy story premise and expected a minimal amount of development was necessary to fill it out, but even at a mere eighty-five-minute running time it's stretched considerably thin. And because the debuting director, Ken Wiederhorn, who co-wrote the screenplay with two others, isn't an expressive enough storyteller, with no semblances of style or the gift of manipulative prowess, the vulnerable gaps in the narrative aren't tactfully camouflaged -- we're left to take everything at face value, which the sloppy material simply can't withstand. Things start out passably, though, as a woman passed out in a dinghy in the open ocean in the Caribbean is found by the crew of a fishing vessel; badly dehydrated, sun-blasted and disoriented, she can't bring herself to speak to her rescuers about the terrible ordeal she's clearly gone through. But via voiceover she informs us she was on holiday, and the scene segues into a flashback of her attractive, bikinied self swimming underwater and then pulling herself up on the chartered boat she and her boyfriend are on, along with another vacationing married couple and three crew members, headed by a cankerous old-salt of a captain played by B-movie veteran John Carradine (still dyeing his hair black and growling his lines with a thunderous baritone that could shatter glass). Later that night, with very little moonlight making visibility near zero, the boat collides with a damaged ancient battleship still afloat, rendering it immobile; the next morning the captain is nowhere to be found, and with the boat starting to leak water, everybody else makes their way to a small nearby island, where the captain's corpse is found in shallow water. They also come across a long-abandoned, cathedral-sized hotel with only one occupant, a former SS officer (played by another B-movie actor, Peter Cushing), who doesn't take kindly to visitors and orders them away, but not before warning them the island is infested with a horde of climate-resilient, virtually-indestructible super-soldiers once on that battleship and engineered by WWII Nazi-command scientists as the ultimate killing machines that have survived all this time. Clad in old military uniforms and wearing black goggles, they rest in the ocean and arise from their sleep to kill anyone who stumbles across them. (H.G. Welles's Dr. Moreau would've been quite envious of such a creation.)
"A Few 'Shock's But Not Enough"
Slower-moving than George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead zombies but with a brute efficiency in close proximity to their prey, they're plenty menacing, especially when shown in long shot moving in unison out of the ocean, though there are some in other areas, like the half-filled end of the hotel swimming pool. Expressionless and mute, and shown only sporadically in the first half, they make quite the blood-curdling adversaries. And there's a neat touch wisely revealed later on when we think they can't be stopped: when their goggles are torn off, they die when their eyes are exposed to light. (Also helping in a way is the ultra-cruddy cinematography: in this very low-budget production, it helps obscure the make-up effects.) But in the second half, when people start getting picked off and the tension level should be ratcheting up, especially when they're made to hole up in the dilapidated hotel with no light source except a single flashlight, the screenwriters have them do some truly idiotic things. A large walk-in freezer with thick walls would seem the ideal place to hide until morning, but a character, previously level-headed, for no discernible reason freaks out and discharges a flare gun, causing everyone to spill outside due to the noxious smoke. They can't radio for help because, conveniently, the captain had previously thrown it overboard. And though the dinghy they arrived on is still intact, neither of the remaining crew members bothers to go back to the boat to repair it. And if the zombies have no qualms killing Lee's officer later on down the line, why didn't they any time over the last three decades? Richard Einhorn's music score is suitably creepy, only it conjures up more suspense than Wiederhorn is able to deliver. While his treatment is restrained, it's also vague -- the movie's an imprecise array of endless fits and starts with very little in the way of forward momentum, with the island's topography frustratingly ill-defined so we're never enveloped with a true sense of isolation. (We might as well be at a Club Med.) And the concluding action sequence that should be hair-raising is a major let-down because who we assume is going to emerge as the victor has to temporarily be made a nincompoop just to ensure his untimely demise. Of the cast, Brooke Adams, looking spectacular in skimpy swimwear, and Luke Halpin, as the boat's second-in-command, fare best, with the others strictly second-rate. Shock Waves is preferable to Lucio Fulci's awful island-set Zombie, and it doesn't stoop to gratuitous violence for the sole sake of sensationalism, but it doesn't have the sustained visceral intensity it needs. All and all, a negligible nice-try.The DVD package from Blue Underground doesn't boast as nearly a pristine video transfer as we've usually come to expect from them, but the source print was obviously subpar. Audio is adequate though without much in the way of channel separations. On the other hand, the special features are good: an informative and interesting audio commentary, and a good deal of cool production stills and the like.
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originally posted: 08/28/12 06:15:33