Shock Waves (1977)

Peter Cushing and John Carradine star in this effectively creepy horror film. Blue Underground R0 US DVD.

The Film

Although the 1970s was considered a period of excess for cult horror films, with sex and gore being pushed to the limit in Europe, and the impending birth of the slasher film in the USA, there was still some appeal for some old-school horror movies that aimed to scare and not just shock.

A small group of people are traveling on a battered old boat through the Carribean - the Captain (Jon Carradine) tries to keep the ship together, but when it collides with a huge freighter that appears from no-where, with no running lights, the boat runs aground near a small island. The captain vanishes and soon turns up dead, and the passengers and crew land on this isolated and seemingly deserted island, and make their way to a large building, that they find is an abandoned hotel. After exploring for a while they encounter an emaciated old man (Peter Cushing) who warns them away from the island, but it is too late and the passengers soon find themselves being hunted down by an unstoppable corps of German soldiers from the Second World War, the result of some horrific supernatural experiments, who have returned from their watery graves...

The idea of supernatural forces being used in wartime is hardly an original one - Dennis Wheatley wrote of Nazi specialists using voodoo in Strange Forces (1941), while poverty row horror Revolt of the Zombies (1936) had featured the notion of 'zombies' being used in warfare. More recently, such themes have been used in the gory zombie horror Return of the Living Dead 3 (1990) and in a slew of low budget alien horror films. Fortunately, Shock Waves stays away from the predictable technobabble and experimentation-gone-wrong of these later films to create a very impressive little shocker.

The opening of the story is a little vague, we never really find out the purpose of the ship's journey or much about the characters, although we do quickly learn which of the characters is purely annoying (a large loudmouth type who you just hope will die as soon as possible). Although generally a worse film, Hammer's Lost Continent (1968) achieved a far more successful ship based opening that built some effective and plausible characterisation that could have further boosted the tension in the later scenes. After an inexplicable moment when the sky goes orange, the boat runs into the darkened freighter in a very creepy nighttime sequence and the passengers are soon on the overgrown island. The desolation here is effectively realised, and with the jungle setting it is at time reminiscent of a Jess Franco film (although with considerably less sleaze).

The creatures soon appear, and we discover their history from the SS Commander who has lived in exile on the island through the years (avoiding the genre cliché where one of the passengers would just happen to be an expert on the supernatural - see Ghost Galleon (1974)). There are some curious plot holes - most notably the fact that Rose decides to go swimming on her own in a river - despite having just arrived on this overgrown island and being warned to leave by a sinister individual who lives there. Because the film is told via flashback we know from the start that just one of the passengers survives and this actually helps to give the film an additional edge of tension, as we know something is going to go horribly wrong when the group try to leave the island aboard a small boat about half way through. Ultimately the film builds to a very effective climax and conclusion that is aided by some very tight editing and scripting, avoiding the lengthy and predictable climactic fight sequences that blight many similar films.

As per the storyline, the production of the film is very understated - beginning with the simple title sequence and synthesised soundtrack, even the killings are often carried out off camera and with minimal gore. The creatures themselves are very impressive; making no noise and simply rising up from the water to seize their victims, they are scary in a way that rivals George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) and easily outdoes most of its contemporaries, while the island and hotel look completely overgrown and desolate and lend a suitably convincing atmosphere to the whole film. Shot on 16mm film and blown up to 35mm for screening, the film looks suitably gritty throughout that helps to completely remove it from the glossy 'Hollywood' look of many American horror films.

Top billed on the cast are two of the big names of classic horror, Peter Cushing and John Carradine. Although only in extended cameos, both actors get a good amount of screentime and look very good - Cushing often found himself playing Nazi-style Officers (Scream and Scream Again (1969) and Son of Hitler (1978)) and looks very effective here although almost disturbingly thin while Carradine gets to show off his classic stare. The attractive Brooke Adams is the only other big name on the cast although all of them perform well and in keeping with the film's gritty tone they all look like real people not just Hollywood stars.

This effectively creepy film eschew the sleaze of most 1970s horror movies for some good atmosphere and decent characterisation, and certainly stands out above its low budget origins. Definitely of interest to any horror movie fans, it will certainly appeal to fans of Cushing or Carradine as they get larger than normal cameo roles. Generally recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Peter Cushing - The star of the classic Hammer Horror films, including Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
John Carradine - Star of many of the classic Universal Horror films, including House of Frankenstein (1944).
Directed by anyone interesting? Ken Wiederhorn - only really otherwise known for directing Return of the Living Dead II (1988).
Is it scary?There are a few scares, but mostly just a very creepy atmosphere.
Any gore? Several death scenes, a bit of blood but quite tame for the era.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Of general interest to horror fans, and fans of Peter Cushing or John Carradine.
Good Soundtrack?A very effective synthesised score from Richard Einhorn, who also scored creepy slasher The Prowler (1981).


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print quality is good including the nighttime scenes, although there is some noticeable print damage in a few scenes. Very heavy grain throughout is part of the intentional look of the film and is retained here.
Audio English original mono sound - sounds strong throughout.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with director Ken Wiederhorn, make-up man Alan Ormsby and low budget filmmaker Fred Olen Ray who had worked in the crew of this film. Interesting and quite light hearted.
  • Interview with the actor Luke Haplin with plenty of interesting information on the film's production (although not edited with film clips unlike the normal BU interview pieces). (8 minutes)
  • Original trailer, TV spot and two radio spots.
  • A lengthy (84 image) poster, stills and lobby card gallery with some interesting behind-the-scenes shots.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Other regions? Available on similar DVDs in Italy and Germany, and a low quality fullscreen version in the UK.
Cuts? The film is believed to be uncut. The print and credits are English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 25th March 2007. Released as part of Horror September 2.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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