Turkey Thursday: Shock Waves (1977)

You know what's good on Thanksgiving? Well, very nearly everything. You've got a nicely cooked bird, some mac and cheese, some dressing, and Aunt Martha's jello salad. Now I said very nearly everything, but what if I told you that Aunt Martha makes the best jello salad you've ever had in your life? What if I told you those unidentifiable bits of fruit floating in it were actually the nectar of the gods? What if I convinced you that five star restaurants all over the world have been clamoring for her recipe? Well then you'd simply have to try it, and while I am falling out of my chair with laughter and you're chugging from the gravy boat to get the taste out of your mouth, you might be a bit angry with me for fooling you. That was not intention though. I wanted to teach you a lesson. See something might be bad, but if people build it up in your mind to be great then it's just proportionally that much worse.

That's what happened to me with this last Turkey. This was a film I kept hearing great things about so when I picked up the video on the cheap I couldn't wait to watch it. I even made Fran Goria sit through it because I thought we were going to see an obscure classic. Yet instead of the sublime wonders of a '70's grind house masterwork, all I got was a big mouth full of Jello salad and a couple of hours riding the....

Shock Waves (1977) starring John Carradine, Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, and Luke Halpin. Directed by Ken Wiederhorn.

The film opens with the legend of a group of supernatural Nazis who fought with an unstoppable determination and used only their hands as weapons. Or as the narrator intones "No one knows who they were or what became of them, but one thing is certain: Of all the SS units, there was only one that the Allies never captured a single member of."

This seems to have little bearing on the group of vacationers who've chartered The Captain (Carradine) to take them around the Caribbean, but when the intrepid crew slams their boat into a sunken hull off the coast of a mysterious island, well, things start to go bad. They make it to shore and find an abandoned mansion which is the home to former a former SS Commander (Cushing) who warns them to get off the island. Naturally as anyone who is warned off an island will do; they ignore his advice.

Turns out they should have listened because soon the island becomes rotten with waterlogged, living dead, genetic super-soldier Nazis. The Nazis rise up from the sea and start to pick off folks by drowning them in the salty waters. It's up to the few survivors to try and find some way off the island or become the victims of the Reich.

Film Facts

--Cushing and Carradine worked four days on the film and made $5000 dollars each.

--There are actually only 8 actors playing zombies in the film. Careful edits made it seem like many more.

--The original negative disappeared some 20 years ago. This is proof that in the future I will perfect a time machine.

--Director Ken Wiederhorn would go on to direct the slightly superior film Return of the Living Dead Part II.

The Bug Speaks

I had seriously heard so many good things about this film. That it was moody and atmospheric. That the Nazi zombies were scary. That Cushing and Carradine gave good performances. That it's insanely underrated. Well, folks, I'm here to let you know it's a bunch of bunk.

Moody and atmospheric? The film took place for the most part in the day in Florida (doubling as the islands) and it could not have been shot in a more workmanlike manner. There is nothing special about the direction, and even though it was Wiederhorn's first feature, it was still abysmal for those standards. The score by Richard Einhorn is one of the most headache producing bits of music I have ever encountered. I actually had to break up my viewing in bits to make it though the film because of it. It was full of shrill notes that seemed slapped on at an insane volume as if to obfuscate the drivel that passed for dialog.

Next up the Nazi zombies. First point of order, they were not zombies. The Nazis were some kind of nonliving, genetically engineered super-soldiers, and if you were not A) at one time living B) the product of an outbreak or voodoo curse and C) don't crave the taste of human flesh, then sorry, Charlie, you're not a zombie. Second point of order, drowning? Seriously, drowning? Now I'm sure it would suck to be drowned of that I have no doubt. However, how lame is it to make your big bad kill with the help of one of the most common things on earth. What's next, ghosts that kill you with the aid of a very gusty day? I will have to say that the long shots of the Nazis coming up from the water were the pinnacle of the movie and very well done, but there were also overhead shots of Nazis laying in shallow tidal pools that looked so lame that it totally destroyed the cooler imagery.

Cushing and Carradine's performances. Well they played respectively The Captain and the SS Commander. If your character can't come up with a proper name (now there are exceptions to this like Walter Hill's The Driver), then chances are there's not going to be much well fleshed out development there. The two genre stalwarts went past phoning in their performances to sending them via pony express. By the time something interesting might happen to them, their screen time is over. This leaves the film to be carried mostly by Brooke Adams and Luke Halpin. Adams seems to be taking her acting cues from the veteran stars, while Halpin a veteran himself of TV's Flipper, probably was thinking he should have stayed to the type of aquatic fare he was more familiar with. I do have to send a shout out to Don Stout in his only film role as the ship's cook, Dobbs. Looking like Ron Jeremy's doppelganger he provided some amusement to the dull proceedings.

Lastly, I've heard people express that opinion that this is a forgotten gem, a classic to be rediscovered, a underrated masterpiece. Well if you haven't guessed by now, I don't share this
opinion. The sad part is with a different director, cast, and script the basic premise of the movie could be quite good, but with what it had it just falls apart. There is part of me that wonders if I hadn't heard anything about this flick, would I have enjoyed it. Probably not, but just like the cruel trick with Aunt Martha's Jello salad, the buildup is crushed by the reality.

So maybe I'm doing a few of you a service. There will be those of you who will not see this film on the basis on how bad I'm portraying it. That's probably for the best. Then there are those of you who'll think "there's no way it could be that bad, I'm going to have to see for myself.", and you might watch it and decide it really wasn't that bad. Consider this though, if I told you that Turkey tasted just like pureed garbage and then you tried it, how good it would it taste then.
Bug Rating
I could only find the trailer in German. Doesn't that figure.


  1. *LOL* I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one--it's no masterpiece, but it's one of my favorite b-movies--I grew up w/it though, so that always makes a difference. It was actually my first horror movie memory along w/Creepshow, so it's kind near and dear. Ironically, I love Jell-O salad too!

  2. See there you go to each his own. If I had seen it when I was young then I might have a soft spot for it too. Like I said I really think it was the buildup on this one that made me not like it, but I wasn't alone my friend Fran was with me and she shares me opinion.

    But hey, If no one ate the J-ello salad the world would be overcome by it. Always happy to hear a differing opinion so don't hold back Rev.

  3. Dude, I love jello salad too( we call it Russian salad at my place ), but this film was so bad, LB should have only given it 1 bug. That extra 1/2 a bug may mislead the masses.


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