Revenant Review Part 2: Shock Waves
It was my hope this April to commemorate the anniversary of the fall of the Third Reich with a few posts related to the Third Reich, including backstory material for the exotroopers “Space Nazis” adventure. Unfortunately, the spare time I hoped to have for it ended up being occupied mainly with the last round of revisions necessary to make my master’s project report satisfy the arcane and arbitrary whims of Turabian formatting. I decided the best thing to do would be to carve out some time to do the long-overdue second installment of this feature on a fairly infamous film titled Shock Waves, noted (if at all) as the first occurrence of the “Nazi zombies” meme. It has been a direct influence on me as the immediate inspiration for the above-mentioned “Space Nazis” episode, otherwise notable as the only occasion where i) the decisive consideration in writing out a story was that I could use it as setup for an unused gag idea and ii) where I “invented” a phrase that turned out not only to be in use but to have its own wikipedia page. Even before I thought of the outer space angle, I was attracted to the idea of an adventure based on Shock Waves, and before I developed and settled on my own concept, I very seriously considered flat-out copying the undead stormtroopers of this very weird film.
The film opens in media res with a lone woman being rescued at sea. Then we go back to find her at sea with a party of dumb tourists on a cruise captained by John Carradine, who is the first to go after they pass a mysterious ship wreck. When the rest of the party goes ashore, they find the hideout of a Nazi, played by Peter Cushing. Their host reveals that he was the commandant of a force of undead commandos the Reich retired by sinking the ship. Naturally, his old troops soon pay the house a visit. After rising from the water in perfect formation, they systematically hunt down and eliminate the tourists who don’t bump themselves off first.
I first watched this movie on a used VHS tape in 2004 or so, soon after first hearing of it from Peter Dendle’s Zombie Movie Encyclopedia. I was unimpressed enough that I promptly traded back the tape. After giving it another shot through n*tfl*x, I have some regrets about that, but my feelings about this film are still very, very mixed. Of the billed “talent”, B-movie legends John Carradine and Peter Cushing, Carradine (whom I only recall seeing in this film) is utterly wasted even before being, well, wasted, while Cushing supplies the best scene or so in the film only to be promptly and anticlimactically taken out. (His all-too-brief appearances also make this a striking case where the backstory is far more interesting than the proceedings at hand.) That leaves the viewers with the better part of an hour to watch the no-names who make up the rest of the cast get themselves killed. In fairness, even the no-name performances can probably be considered at least fair, for the film’s caliber and period; on the other hand, the likability and intelligence of their characters is far below par even for the horror genre. The story at least plays this into a vividly harsh streak: The survivors repeatedly end up in as much danger from themselves and each other as the stormtroopers, and one manages to get himself killed in an accident involving a sea urchin while one of the Nazis appears to do nothing but watch in contempt.
That brings us to the film’s most redeeming feature, the underwater Nazi zombies. The stormtroopers prove to be a little worse for wear (looking a little rotten, or perhaps chewed) but well-preserved and still in uniform, with goggles whose function is never explained despite being a significant story point. They are played with no more distinction than any of the characters, though there are enough differences in their appearance to give some sense of individuality. But what they do provide is an impressive sense of cold menace and especially of calculated and coordinated action. The scenes in which they rise from the water, particularly en masse, make the film truly unforgettable, though one might well wish otherwise. Of course, what one would wish for most is that these hypnotically menacing revenants had been used in a better movie, or at least one with more of Peter Cushing. Still, what there is is more than enough to make the film worth watching.