Shock Waves, Ken Wiederhorn's debut film from 1977 is a fast paced energetic zombie film about a group of tourists who find themselves marooned on an island and stalked by living dead Nazi soldiers. While the post-Night of the Living Dead set-up of a group of characters stuck in a isolated place sounds familiar, Shock Waves comes as something of a surprise, swapping the flesh-eating carnage of Romero's iconic film for a more old-fashioned, moody vibe closer to say Hammer's Plague of the Zombies.
If the opening act seems eerie - with scenes of the cruise boat sailing through a weird atmospheric disturbance, and colliding with a dilapidated shipwreck, the second half of the film when the action moves to the island is positively scary. That the film manages to sustain its tone in the second half is something of an achievement for director Wiederhorn, who shot all the scenes in stark daylight, and never resorts to cheap gags. Look out too for some very expressive underwater photography as the camera drifts through the remains of the shipwrecked SS boat. Of course the star of the show here are the zombie shock troops, with their white waterlogged flesh and black goggles (to keep out the destructive glare of day it seems). The scenes where they rise from the watery depths are some of the best of their kind in zombie Cinema. The zombies themselves were designed by Alan Ormsby, of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and Deranged fame). The film is strengthened also by a fine cast headed by the always great Brooke Adams, and two short but memorable cameos by John Carradine as the salty captain of the cruise boat, and Peter Cushing who explains the back-story behind the SS and how they met their end at the bottom of the ocean. Finally, not to forget one of film's major assets - Richard Einhorn's brilliant creepy electronic score this adds considerable power to Shock Waves' visuals.
Interestingly, the living dead would occupy the bodies of SS for a few more cinematic outings - namely Jess Franco's Oasis of the Zombies, Jean Rollin's waterlogged Zombie Lake, and Bloodsucking Freaks director Joel M. Reed's unremarkable Night of the Zombies, all of which fall well short of the ingenuity of Shock Waves. The film would in fact make for a great late night double-bill with Death Ship, a 1980 chiller about a haunted Nazi ship...
Shock Waves has been around on DVD for quite awhile now. Its first incarnation was a dire VIPCO effort which was hardly a step up from VHS. Avoid. Thankfully Shock Waves would resurface as a Blue Underground disc and despite the film looking rather grainy (taken from the best surviving print), the film looks better than ever. The disc is rounded out with a lively entertaining commentary track by director Ken Wiederhorn, Make-Up Designer Alan Ormsby and schlock filmmaker Fred Olen Ray.