Shock Waves (1977)


Introduction

Shock Wavesis a 1977 American horror film written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn. The film is about a group of tourists who encounter aquatic Nazi zombies when they become shipwrecked.

It stars Peter Cushing as a former SS commander, Brooke Adams as a tourist, and John Carradine as the captain of the tourists’ boat.

Also known as Almost Human (UK, alternative title) and Death Corps (US, working title).

Outline

The film opens as Rose is found drifting alone in a small rowboat. Two fishermen find it and pull her onto their own boat, barely alive and in a horrible state. Her voiceover indicates she had been rescued from some terrifying experience and the film’s events are flashbacks of it.

Young and pretty, Rose is part of a group of tourists on a small de recreo boat run by a crusty old captain and his handsome mate, Keith. Also on board are Dobbs, who is the boat’s cook; Chuck, another tourist; and a bickering married couple named Norman and Beverly. After trouble with the engine, the navigation system goes haywire when they encounter a strange orange haze. The others sense that something is wrong. Norman in particular becomes abrasive. In the darkness of night, a hulking cargo ship suddenly appears and sideswipes their boat. The Captain sends up a flare, which momentarily lights up the eerie sight of a huge, rotting vessel wrecked nearby.

The next morning, everyone wakes to find the Captain missing. Realising the boat is slowly taking on water, everyone evacuates in the lifeboat and makes for a nearby island. They see the huge wreck in the light of day; she appears to have been there for decades, nothing more than a skeletal framework, and now seemingly immobile, stranded on the island’s reef. The group is startled to find the body of the Captain, apparently drowned while he was trying to check the underside of the boat for damage. They explore the island and discover a large, rundown hotel. At first they think it is deserted, but they discover a reclusive old man living there.

The man seems alarmed by their story, saying there is no shipwreck on the island and seems to recognise the name they say was the one they saw on the ship, and he goes down to the beach to personally investigate. Under the water, strange zombie-like men gather, walking from the wreck along the ocean floor to the island. As Dobbs gathers items to help prepare food, the zombies corner him in the water and one of them attacks; before it kills him, Dobbs falls in a cluster of sea urchins and is horribly mangled. Rose discovers his body while swimming. As they pull the body to shore, Keith finds a piece of torn uniform bearing the insignia of the Nazi SS in his hand. Back inside the hotel, their reluctant host tells them that he was a Nazi commander in charge of the “Death Corps”, a group of zombies designed to be unstoppable super-soldiers that could thrive in any environment, with his group specialised for aquatic operations. The creatures were intended to be a powerful weapon for the Nazis, but they proved too difficult to control, with incidents involving them attacking their own soldiers. When Germany lost the war, he sank their ship and went into exile on the island. With the ship having raised herself from the ocean floor to the reef, he says the zombies have returned and that they are doomed. The Commander goes down to the beach again and sees a few of the zombies off in the distance. He tries to order them to stop, but they refuse to obey. He tries to chase them, but they end up drowning him.

The others locate a boat that the Commander told them about and pilot it out through the streams to the open water. They lose control of the boat, and it sails away from them, empty. A zombie drowns Norman in a stream, and another chases Rose back to the hotel, where she kills it by pulling off its goggles. Chuck, Beverly, and Keith return to the hotel, and they barricade themselves in the refrigerator unit. The close quarters and stress cause the survivors to begin infighting, and Chuck accidentally fires a flare gun, blinding Beverly. Keith and Rose escape to an old furnace room, where they hide inside two metal grates, while Beverly hides in a closet. The zombies drown Chuck in a swimming pool outside.

The next morning, Keith and Rose discover Beverly dead, drowned in a large fish tank. Now on their own, they try to escape in a small sightseeing rowboat with a glass bottom. The zombies attack, and although Keith manages to defeat one by pulling off its goggles, a second one grabs him and drowns him just as the dinghy breaches the reef and drifts free. Rose sees Keith’s lifeless body pressed up against the glass bottom of the boat and screams.

The film comes full circle, and Rose’s voiceover returns. She is now in a hospital bed, seemingly writing in a journal. Her dialogue begins to repeat itself over and over, and she is revealed to be writing nonsense in her journal, showing that she has gone insane. The film ends with one last shot of the rotting ship, still stranded on the reef.

Cast

  • Peter Cushing as SS Commander.
  • John Carradine as Captain Ben Morris.
  • Brooke Adams as Rose.
  • Fred Buch as Chuck.
  • Jack Davidson as Norman.
  • Luke Halpin as Keith.
  • D.J. Sidney as Beverly.
  • Don Stout as Dobbs.

Production

Prior to making Shock Waves, producer Reuben Trane and director Ken Wiederhorn were students at Columbia University in New York City where they won the 1973 Academy Award for Best Dramatic Student Film. Their next work was filming Shock Waves as their first commercial feature film. Principal photography on the film began in July 1975, shooting in 16mm, which was later blown up to 35mm.

An issue of Cinemagic magazine shows and details the film being shot under the title Death Corps in Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1975 with a budget of $150,000. The swamp scenes in the film were shot near Miami’s Crandon Park. It was later noted in the Los Angeles Times in 1978, that the filmmakers raised $200,000 to complete the film.

According to a 2013 interview, Wiederhorn and Trane made Shock Waves because the investors had one requirement: they wanted a horror movie, because, according to Wiederhorn, “they heard that horror movies have a better chance of making their money back than any other genre”. Wiederhorn and Trane then “started spitballing ideas. What’s scary? Since we were going to be filming in Florida, we thought: water can be scary. Then I came across this book called The Morning of the Magicians, which lays out a theory that the Third Reich was heavily into magic, so we thought: Nazi’s always work! So my first movie became a horror movie because the people who put up the money wanted a horror movie.”

Release

Shock Waves was shown in Los Angeles on 21 September 1977. The film was released in the United Kingdom as Almost Human.

Home Media

The film was released on VHS by Prism Entertainment and, later, Starmaker in the 1980s and on a special edition DVD by Blue Underground in 2003, from which it was sourced from the director’s personal collection as the original negative is believed to be lost.

To promote the film’s Blu-ray release, Blue Underground re-released the film theatrically in November 2014.

In addition to standalone releases, the film can be found as part of the 3-DVD box set Superstars of Horror: Volume 1: Peter Cushing (Umbrella Entertainment, 2005).

Trivia

  • Zombie Lake (1981) received generally negative reviews from contemporary critics who focused their reviews on the film’s low production quality and similarity to Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1977).
  • Headlining stars John Carradine and Peter Cushing each worked five days. Carradine earned $5,000 while Cushing earned $25,000 (plus first class airfare to and from London, hotel accommodations and a driver).
  • The hotel in the film is an actual Biltmore Hotel in Florida that was shut down for a two-year period and was abandoned at the time of filming.
    • Director Ken Wiederhorn paid $250 to rent the building for the shoot.
    • The hotel was renovated a couple of years after the shoot and now charges significantly more than $250 per room, per night.
  • The original negative mysteriously disappeared over 20 years ago.
    • The print used for the Blue-Underground DVD is from director Ken Wiederhorn’s personal collection.
  • The wreck of the Nazi freighter where the zombies reside is the SS Sapona, a concrete-hulled cargo steamer that ran aground near Bimini in the western Bahamas during a hurricane in 1926.
  • Jay Maeder, who plays one of the zombies, is actually a reporter for the Miami Herald.
    • He wrote a article in the 10 August 1975 Sunday Miami Herald about his experience acting the part of a Nazi zombie for the Shock Waves movie.
    • The article was titled “I was a Zombie”.
    • He never told anyone involved with the movie that he was a reporter.
  • There are actually eight actors playing eight different zombies in the film, although it appears that there are many more.
  • The film was shot in 35 days in 1975.
  • The zombies were not originally supposed to be wearing goggles but when extra Max Trumpton returned from recent glaucoma surgery in protective eyewear the director liked the ‘look’ so much he instructed the wardrobe department to make a pair for each zombie.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Ken Wiederhorn.
  • Producer(s):
    • Reuben Trane … producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • John Kent Harrison (screenplay).
    • Ken Wiederhorn (screenplay).
    • Ken Pare (uncredited).
  • Music:
    • Richard Einhorn.
  • Cinematography:
    • Reuben Trane (director of photography).
  • Editor(s):
    • Norman Gay.
  • Production:
    • Zopix Company.
  • Distributor(s):
    • Joseph Brenner Associates (JBA) (1977) (USA) (theatrical).
    • Creswin Distribution (1977) (Canada) (theatrical).
    • Superstar International (1978) (Italy) (theatrical).
    • Blue Underground (2014) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Postels (1978) (West Germany) (theatrical).
    • Astro Distribution (2002) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Blue Underground (2002) (USA) (DVD).
    • CBS (1978) (USA) (TV) (broadcast premiere).
    • DigiDreams Studios (2016) (Germany) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • ITT Contrast (West Germany) (VHS).
    • JVC Videothek (West Germany) (VHS).
    • Prism Entertainment (1985) (USA) (VHS).
    • Research Entertainment (2002) (Spain) (video).
    • Savoy Film (2012) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Seven Keys Home Video (1984) (Australia) (VHS).
    • UCM.ONE (2020) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
    • UCM.ONE (2020) (Germany) (DVD).
    • UCM.ONE (2020) (Germany) (video).
    • Umbrella Entertainment (2005) (Australia) (DVD).
    • Video Guecar (Mexico) (VHS).
    • Video Medien Pool (VMP) (West Germany) (VHS).
  • Release Date: 22 June 1977 (Lexington, Kentucky, US).
  • Running Time: 85 minutes.
  • Rating: 15.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

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