It must have been hard to be an independent producer in the golden age of exploitation cinema. Working on a minuscule budget with little room for a flop, the safest course of action was to hew to established formulas and trends. Yet your audience was comprised of thrill seekers, who flocked to the drive-ins and grindhouses of yore to glimpse something they’d never seen before. In most cases, the answer was simply to cut together a misleading trailer or paint a lurid poster. But a few rogue geniuses found an alternate solution: the mash-up. By mixing and matching disparate genre elements, shoestring filmmakers could present something simultaneously innovative and formulaic. These b-movie alchemists learned early on that James Dean-style teen melodrama paired well with creature feature monster movies, spawning I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, THE BLOB, and more than half a century of adolescent horrors. As the combinations became more outlandish, we got biker werewolves, blaxploitation vampires, and Christian anti-drug vampire were-turkeys.
With SHOCK WAVES, director Ken Wiederhorn stumbled upon one of the most eminently appealing combinations of schlock tropes: the Underwater Nazi Zombie Movie. By mixing the zombie template set by George A. Romero less than a decade earlier with the Nazi Occultism theories popularized in the ‘60s by Louis Pauwels’ and Jacques Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians, Wiederhorn created an almost perfect slice of pulp madness (“underwater” seems to have entered the equation by virtue of the fact that Wiederhorn was working in Florida). Amazingly, enough films followed suit to qualify “Underwater Nazi Zombie” as a bonafide subgenre – check out Jean Rollin’s ZOMBIE LAKE and Jess Franco’s OASIS OF THE LIVING DEAD! It helps that the movie has a lot going for it on top of that: a couple of reliable genre favorites (John Carradine and Peter Cushing, the latter especially awesome as the obligatory Nazi mad scientist); a pair of attractive young leads (a pre-BODY SNATCHERS Brooke Adams, a post-FLIPPER Luke Halpin); some effectively spooky location shooting around a few Florida ruins; and some of the most visually arresting zombies in movie history, all goggled and waterlogged, stomping across the ocean floor and rising silently out of the surf.
As part of their commitment to the preservation of exploitation film history, the good people of Blue Underground have given SHOCK WAVES the full restoration treatment, with a new blu-ray forthcoming and a brand new print hitting the Coolidge this weekend. As a bonus, tonight’s screening will be hosted by Wiederhorn himself, answering all of your Underwater Nazi Zombie questions! (And get there early – the first 100 attendees will receive free mini-posters!) Remember: Once, they were ALMOST human!
SHOCK WAVES (1977) dir. Ken Wiederhorn
Friday, 11/14, and Saturday, 11/15, 11:59 PM
Director in person! (Friday night only)
Coolidge Corner Theatre
290 Harvard Street
Brookline, MA 02446