Adrift at sea in a small boat for weeks, Rose (Brooke Adams) is finally rescued. As she recovers in a hospital she gradually remembers her ill fated voyage. Rose was one of four passengers who set sail with Cpt. Morris (John Carradine), his first mate (Luke Halpin), and cook (Don Stout). When the boat collides with a mysterious “ghost” ship in the middle of the night Rose and fellow passengers Chuck (Fred Buch), Norman (Jack Davidson), and Beverley (D.J. Sidney) are taken to the shore of a deserted island by the crew. However all is not as it seems when they encounter an SS Commander (Peter Cushing) living in voluntary exile.
Shock Waves (1977) is a survival thriller about aquatic Nazi zombies hunting the survivors of a ship wreck. It’s the kind of story one relishes in the pages of an old EC horror comic. But as pulpy and lurid as it is, Shock Waves remains surprisingly affecting. Shock Waves prefers to suggest gore rather than show it, using the Nazi zombies in much the same way as the Creature was used in the classic Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). So despite the presence of zombies, Shock Waves has more in common with a thriller picture rather than a traditional horror film.
Director Ken Wiederhorn uses every conceivable low-budget horror movie technique in the book in order to create a sustained atmosphere of tension while gradually amplifying the suspense. Wiederhorn made his directorial debut with this cheap supernatural thriller but proved so adept at the genre that he subsequently went on to direct multiple episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares as well as the films Return Of The Living Dead Part II (1984) and Eyes Of A Stranger (1981). Wiederhorn’s style is subtle, drawing on the classic “less is more” stratagems of the best Hammer Horror films rather than the more contemporary gore fests of the Italian zombie films.
Of course it doesn’t hurt Shock Waves to have Peter Cushing involved. Cushing’s ability to elevate B-Movies with his skillful performances legitimizes the serious tone of Shock Waves. There is no camp to be found in the acting or in Wiederhorn’s images. The camp in Shock Waves exists only in its premise which Cushing allows the viewer to take entirely serious with his well seasoned skills in selling the most preposterous horror concepts to audiences. Skepticism just flies out the window the minute that Cushing begins his exposition.
Cushing is hardly in Shock Waves but his presence not only reinforces Wiederhorn’s tone, it also looms large over the entire proceedings. In contrast, Brooke Adams is all over Shock Waves yet she hardly has much to do other than run around in terror wearing a yellow bikini. Shock Waves was Adams’ first featured role so her incredible talents that helped make Days Of Heaven (1978), Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (1978) and Vengeance Is Mine (1984) modern masterpieces was unknown to Wiederhorn and company. Even so, Adams does everything she can with her character, effectively keeping herself from being nothing more than a damsel in distress.
All in all Shock Waves is far better than it seems to have any right to be. This is a great little summer movie and, like Piranha (1978), a good alternative to watching Jaws (1975) again. Personally I love B-Movies like Shock Waves that can take themselves seriously without being pretentious. In my mind films like Piranha and Shock Waves are superior entertainments to Jaws because they do not pretend to do anything other than to frighten and titillate. Shock Waves gets a strong recommendation.