Shock Waves (1977) – By Nic Brown

Nazis make great villains. They goose stepped their way across Europe during World War II, killing millions of innocent people for no reason other than their religious beliefs. They just are not what my mom would call “good people”. Now, throw in some occult mysticism and a liberal dose of Peter Cushing and what have you got? SHOCK WAVES, the only movie that features killer, underwater Nazis zombies!

A chartered touring boat captained by horror legend John Carradine, is traveling around the Caribbean when they encounter something strange. During the night a large ship seems to appear out of nowhere, causing them to run aground on a reef. Fortunately they are near a small island. The captain is nowhere to be found, and worried that the ship may sink, the two remaining crew members take the ship’s four tourist passengers ashore.
As they are rowing their way in, they find the body of the captain, drowned in the water near the beach.

Shocked by the discovery of the body and fearful of being shipwrecked on the island, the group searches for a way out of the predicament. They are pleased to discover buildings on the island. Unfortunately, the civilization they thought they’d found turns out to be nothing more than a seemingly abandoned vacation resort. Worse yet, the only other person on the island is a strange hermit with a German accent (Peter Cushing). At first he refuses to talk to the group, but when one of the other crewmen is also found drowned, this time in the swampy waters that seem to cover the island, they confront the man.

It turns out that the hermit is actually a former SS Commander who was in charge of a very special squad of SS elite troops. His squad was the product of Nazi experiments with the occult. They were soldiers that were already dead, now caught somewhere between life and death. The commander explained that despite the great possibilities for the zombie troops, they had to be pulled from the lines because they were too hard to control, often killing their own men as well as the enemy. It had been the SS commander’s job to prevent his squad from falling into Allied hands. So he’d sailed far from Germany with his charges, but their ship sank near the very same island and he had left them on board, hoping to keep them trapped at the bottom of the sea. That didn’t work out so well however, because this group’s unique ability was to function underwater without the need for air. Now the tourists and crew face more than just the problem of being shipwrecked as the undead Nazi killers begin rising from the sea looking for victims to kill.

SHOCK WAVES is not your typical zombie horror movie. The ghouls in this film are not mindless drones driven by an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Instead they are calculating killers  with a darker urge, not to kill for food, but to kill for the sake of killing. They are made even creepier by their ability to live, or maybe more accurately, exist, underwater. Director Ken Wiederhorn uses this idea to great effect in the film, having the undead Nazi’s rise menacingly from the water in complete silence. They also do not bite or eat their victims, they choose to drown them. In fact, despite their desire to kill, the zombies seem to go out of their way to make sure that they drown their prey, even going so far as to stuff one of the tourists into a large fish tank.

The characters in SHOCK WAVES are one of the film’s weakest points, as they are almost all one dimensional: the dark, former Nazi commander, the crazy old ship captain, the drunk cook, it goes on and on.  But, they aren’t really what makes SHOCK WAVES a fun horror film to watch, they are just the catalyst to bring out the film’s real stars: the Nazi zombies. Silent and ruthless, these killers are menacing and creepy.

Despite its somewhat simplistic storyline, SHOCK WAVES is a very enjoyable horror film. With excellent underwater cinematography and a particularly creepy twist to both the zombie and Nazi genres, SHOCK WAVES delivers plenty of scares. So if the idea of underwater, Nazi, zombies isn’t enough to sell you on this film then try it as a drinking game: every time a character goes running willy-nilly into the water, despite knowing there are killer zombies in it, drink! I’d be surprised if you have time to put your glass down.