Shock Waves (1977)

(aka, ALMOST HUMAN; DEATH CORPS)

This is one of those eerie and effective minor films that stick with you long after you’ve seen them.

A small boat on a pleasure cruise encounters a strange orange mist and a mysterious, rusting hulk of a ship.  They run aground, the captain vanishes, and the passengers and crew abandon ship.  They find a deserted hotel on a tiny island:  the stranger they find living there tells them that he headed a secret Nazi program that created zombie soldiers capable of living underwater.  They proved far too dangerous to control, were buried at the bottom of the sea — and now he fears they have returned…

Most of what makes this one work is that the former S.S. Commandant is played by Peter Cushing, who gives us a quiet, genuinely concerned man who fears that his unexpected guests will be caught in the consequences of his actions.  It’s a nicely low-key performance which subverts our expectations for a Nazi officer capable of running such a monstrous program.

However, we also have John Carradine in an all too brief role as the Captain of the cruise boat, and the undeniable creepy presence of the zombies.  They are shown lying peacefully on the bottom of the sea, or rising unexpectedly out of unruffled water, and give the impression of something terribly alien, as if there is little, if anything, left of their original humanity.

As this is an extremely low-budget production, it achieves most of these effects simply (most notably in the use of two real shipwrecks, standing in for the Nazi hulk).  However, for the most part this works reasonably well.

The plot could have stood a little more complexity, although, arguably, this sort of monster on the loose film tends towards — and on the whole needs — a certain simplicity.  And perhaps the Nazi zombies do get overused a bit, although the film never makes the mistake of letting them become more human or in any way sympathetic.

This is a B movie and never pretends to be anything else. It is one of the better “B”s, though, and generates a lot of atmosphere.  Its monsters seem like a genuine threat, and there are enough real thrills to keep the average horror viewer happy for 85 minutes.

And that is really all we ask of this sort of film.

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