A lot of movie genres have what folks call “sub-genres,” where you can find more specialized types of tales within the greater grouping. The sci-fi and horror genres are pretty unique areas of film-making, because not even do the two genres cross-over quite often, even their sub-genres have sub-genres of their own! Within the realm of horror films, for example, one of the hottest sub-genres right now is, of course, stories about zombies. But even within this grouping, many sub-sub-genres exist: you’ve got your zombie comedy, fast-zombie stories, zombie romances, infection-style zombies…the list could go on for quite some time. In my opinion, one of the quirkiest ones on the list easily has to be the sub-sub-genre for Nazi zombies. It’s such an odd pairing, like chocolate and oranges or Eminem and Elton John, but always seems to work very well together!
The entrants into this sub-sub-genre are surprisingly plentiful in number: you can easily find films like ‘Dead Snow,’ ‘Zombie Lake,’ ‘Night of the Zombies,’ ‘Horrors of War,’ ‘Oasis of the Zombies,’ ‘Outpost,’ and the list goes on. But we must give credit where credit is due, and there is one film that truly started the Zombie Nazi-sploitation movement: 1977’s ‘Shock Waves.’ (Some may argue that 1967’s ‘The Frozen Dead’ was the first, but that film features semi-zombie bio-engineered monsters, at best).
‘Shock Waves’ is an enjoyable entry into the zombie universe, even if it is often overlooked by fans or not even known about at all. In it, Peter Cushing stars as a “retired” Nazi Commander living “mostly” alone on an island off of the coast of Florida. When a group of shipwrecked divers come ashore and start poking around where they shouldn’t, trouble (for them) ensues. In a case of either smelling out new prey or just really bad timing, a squad of Nazi Zombies known as The Death Corps, who have been living under the sea for the last few decades, decide to head ashore and partake in some good old-fashioned flesh-eating mayhem.
The zombies featured in this film are a unique-looking bunch: they are green and scaly, possibly a side-effect of living underwater for so long, and they all wear odd-looking black goggles that obscure their eyes. In all honesty, the goggles were probably added to the monsters’ get-ups more for practicality than anything else, as the zombies (and the actors who play them) spend a fair amount of time ambling around the ocean floor. Although it appears that there is an entire squad of at least twenty-plus of the undead, the zombies were actually all played by only eight different actors. Although they may not look particularly scary in relation to some of the living dead in other films, the scenes of them all slowly rising as one out of the water is quite chilling, and to me is one of the most iconic zombie video moments of all time.
Like I said previously, this film was one of the definite forefathers of what has become a very interesting sub-sub-genre, so for that originality I do have to give it credit. The plot is nothing to write home about – average people get stuck in a situation they never imagined and desperately try to survive it – but the physical presentation of the undead and their singular backstory at the time of the film’s release easily help the film feel original and fresh.
As per the usual in many zombie films, the lead characters make questionable decisions throughout the movie. In addition, it’s highly suspect that a former Nazi Commandant just happens to be hanging out on an island with his team of undead troops ambling aimlessly around the nearby ocean floor for decades without deciding to take off for greener pastures. In terms of actual acting talent, ‘Shock Waves’ features a few key names. The viewer is treated to a definite bonus of Peter Cushing hamming it up with full gusto. He and co-star John Carradine each worked only four days on the film – ‘Shock Waves’ took a total of 25 days to shoot – and were each paid $5,000 for their time. A largely-unknown cast rounded out the rest of the production. Director Ken Weiderhorn would go on to languish in relative obscurity, helming such forgettable films as ‘Meatballs II’ and ‘A House in the Hills,’ although it is worth noting he did direct another zombie film, 1988’s ‘Return of the Living Dead Part II.’
I said it before, but it bears repeating: the zombies look pretty darn singularly cool, even if there isn’t much actual gore to be found throughout the film. Much of the film takes place inside an abandoned hotel on the island, in which Cushing’s SS Commandant has taken up residence. The hotel featured is an actual Biltmore hotel in Florida; it was shut down for a two-year period and abandoned at the time of filming. Weiderhorn paid $250 to rent the building for the shoot. In an amusing twist of fate, the hotel was actually renovated a couple of years after the film shot there, and each room now costs significantly more than $250 per night! Astute viewers will also notice the wrecked ship used in the background of many sea and shore shots. In real-life, this vessel is the S.S. Sapona, a concrete-hulled cargo steamer that ran aground near the Bahamian island of Bimini during a hurricane in 1926. The ship remains at this location to this day, and serves as both a navigational landmark for boaters and as a popular recreational dive site.
When you get right down to it, ‘Shock Waves’ doesn’t exactly break any molds or change the face of cinema forever, but it definitely has its place in zombie-movie history. It’s quite an original take on the genre, with some very interesting ideas being tossed around. The film is definitely worth a watch, especially to those of you who consider yourselves true zombie fans.
Tony Schaab wonders who would win in an epic, Gladiator-style fight between the Grumpy Cat and the “This is Fine” Dog – an animal-heavy meme battle for the ages! A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.