SHOCK WAVES (1977) Blu-ray
Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Blue Underground

Ken Wiederhorn’s low budget late 1970s mix of iconic horror stars and Gestapo walking dead now makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Blue Underground.

Schlock master John Carradine (THE MONSTER CLUB) stars as the arthritic, crusty captain of a deteriorating cruiser touring with four passengers: Rose (INVASIONS OF THE BODY SNATCHERS 1978’s Brooke Adams, who sports a yellow bikini for most of the film), a daring athletic type (Fred Buch, CADDYSHACK), an annoying used-car salesman (Jack Davidson, I THE JURY) and his tolerant wife (D.J. Sidney). Also aboard is the alcoholic galley hand (Don Stout) and first mate blond pretty boy Keith (Luke Halpin, MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH). After some unexplained solar phenomenon, which makes everything look orange, the boat crashes into an ancient "ghost" vessel. The next morning they are forced to evacuate and find refuge on a small island, but the captain ends up dead. On the island, they discover a large, abandoned hotel: its single occupant turns out to be an ex Nazi commander (Peter Cushing, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED). Battered and scarred, the Commandant (Cushing, professional as always and with a very convincing accent) was exiled during WW2 while experimenting with the "death corps," genetically altered soldiers meant to act as unstoppable, unflinching killing machines (created from “cheap hoodlums and thugs and a good number of pathological murderers and sadists as well”). The Commandant warns them to leave, as his experiments are out of control. Sporting decades-old Nazi regalia, these rotting corpses live in and out of water, killing anyone that gets in their way.

Originally shot in Florida as “Death Corps”, this first-time effort by director Ken Wiederhorn (EYES OF A STRANGER, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II) is a moody low budget thriller perfect for late night viewing. Shot entirely on location in Florida in the summer of 1975, the film has flaws, but it's genuinely scary, and the zombie make-up (by CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THING's Alan Ormsby) is quite effective. There’s just something about seeing the decrepit walking dead in green SS uniforms, with craggily, sore-ridden grey flesh, bleach white hair and aviator goggles! Far better than the European zombie/Nazi flicks that would quickly follow (ZOMBIE LAKE, OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES), it's PG-rated and doesn't rely on gore to deliver some nice shocks. Wiederhorn acquired the England-based Cushing for the film via a friendly nod from ace producer Richard Gordon (who worked with Cushing ten years earlier on ISLAND OF TERROR), and having him in the same movie as Carradine is a plus, even if the two have no scenes together or never even met on the set (and that, with the fact that zombies are now more popular than ever, have given the film a lasting cult infamy). Even though their screen time is limited, it’s still nice to see the two legends on screen (they would later appear in Pete Walker’s HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS in scenes together) with Cushing’s character having a nasty scar across his face, also applied by Ormsby. There are a few Impressive underwater photography scenes, with some nice shots of these zombies creeping out from under and attacking their unsuspecting victims. Richard Einhorn provides an eerie-sounding synth score which is no doubt a product of its era.

Blue Underground first released SHOCK WAVES on DVD in 2003, and the transfer was taken from the director’s own vault print since the original negative mysteriously disappeared, so the film seemed an unlikely candidate for a Blu-ray facelift. Now freshly transferred and fully restored in High Definition from the only surviving materials, for a film shot in Super 16mm and blown up to 35mm, it looks quite nice and greatly improved over the previous DVD. Presented in 1080p and in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, detail is greatly improved, especially in the daytime outdoor scenes and underwater scenes, which now have a good amount of depth to them. Naturally, grain is present and heavier in some of the night-time scenes, but never excessively problematic, and colors have a nice saturation to them. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD 1.0 option and is well balanced, with sound effects and music coming through fine and dialog being clear. Optional subtitles are included in English SDH, French and Spanish.

Ported over from the 2003 DVD is a commentary with director Wiederhorn, make-up man Ormsby and filmmaker Fred Olen Ray. The young Ray was the uncredited still photographer on the film, and he pleaded for the job when he discovered that the two veteran horror stalwarts were cast. All three share some fun stories about Cushing and Carradine (who were on the set for less than five days each), as well as the other cast members, the locations and the filming conditions. You’ll hear all about Carradine nearly drowning during a scene shot in a backyard swimming pool, as well as funny stories about some of the actors playing the zombies. Also picked up from the DVD release is a featurette entitled, "From FLIPPER to SHOCK WAVES” (7:45) which is an interview with actor Luke Halpin, who at the time of the interview, looked pretty much the same as he did in the film. The former "Flipper" star (who later found work as a stuntman) shares his memories of working with old pros Cushing and Carradine, and co-star Adams and it sounds as though he had a great time making it.

Premiering on this Blu-ray are three new featurettes. First is “Nazi Zombies on a Budget” (21:14) which is a solid interview with producer/cinematographer Reuben Trane. Trane begins by saying that the zombie scenes were the best bits in the movie, and about first hitting it off with Wiederhorn (they made their student thesis film together) and how they decided to collaborate on a “real” project. He goes on to mention three different Interior locations (including two different empty Biltmore Hotels) to make it appear as one abandoned hotel, specifics about the production (he says Carradine got paid $5,000 and Cushing got paid $25,000 plus airfare, both for five days work), the open casting call for zombies and some of the stories about the actors that played them, as well as info about the profits from the overseas sales and sales to television. “Notes for the Undead” (13:46) is an interview with composer Richard Einhorn, who expresses his love for horror movies (and watching KING KONG on “Million Dollar Movie” in New York as a kid) and wanting to do something very different with the music for SHOCK WAVES, his very first feature. He describes working closely with Wiederhorn when it came to scoring it and the difficult process (using two synthesizers) in doing the electrical score, saying it was a wonderful learning experience. Surprisingly aboard since she supposedly always left SHOCK WAVES off of her film resume, star Brooke Adams is interviewed for “Sole Survivor” (7:18). The actress (married to actor Tony Shalhoub since 1992) was working as a waitress at the time she got hired for SHOCK WAVES and had to wear a bikini on the audition. She goes on to say she had fun working in Miami (though she thought she overacted when she saw the film) and describes Cushing as “old world” and “eccentric” and Carradine as a fun but tough guy. Also included are the original U.S. trailer, a TV spot, and two radio spots. The photo and still gallery is most impressive, showcasing not only behind-the-scene pics, but also original newspaper and drive-in theater ads, video artwork, personal production items from Wiederhorn, Ormsby's original zombie design art, and much more. (George R. Reis)