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Shock Waves (Blu-ray)

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Blue Underground
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Ken Wiederhorn
Peter Cushing
John Carradine
Brooke Adams
Luke Halpin
Bottom Line: 
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Adolph Hitler was obsessed with the occult and supernatural. It is also believed that the Nazis experimented with supposed "super-soldiers" that were trained to excel in battle in certain terrain and environs. Armed with these plot devices, the 1977 thriller Shock Waves presented us with a very different sort of "zombie"; one equally at home on land and beneath the roiling waves, with an unquenchable bloodlust that’s reawakened after decades of dormancy.

An island hopping charter boat runs aground when it crashes into a derelict freighter off the coast of a small island. The crew and passengers abandon ship and discover a seemingly abandoned hotel, which is actually serving as a home to an old SS commander (Peter Cushing), who has been living there since the end of the second world war after being ordered to scuttle his ship and cargo of; soldiers made up of madmen and criminals engineered to adapt to battle at sea and, if necessary, beneath it.

I first saw Shock Waves back in the early 1980s, and it really scared the hell out of me. The plot is a simple one; our heroes, including Flipper vet (and Brad Pitt lookalike) Luke Halpin and the lovely Brooke Adams, must find their way off of the accursed island as Hitler’s hellish and intelligent creations pick them off one by one.  It’s an economical film in both budget and design, written and helmed by then-novice director Ken Wiederhorn, but the low-budget and occasionally shoddy production values actually enhance the film’s creep-out factor immensely. I remember being especially terrified by the fact that the Death Troops predominantly seemed to attack by day, and while I’m sure this was done to accommodate the lighting budget, this made for some clever use of backlighting and shadow, as well as some really effective shot composition (the scene in which the Death Troops rise from the ocean one at a time still gives me the willies).  

While the film is a virtually bloodless affair, what the film lacks in gore it makes up for in well-timed shocks and a consistent sense of dread – two very visceral elements that have both stood the test of time. Nearly forty years later, the film is just as spooky and entertaining, thanks to a solid cast (including a cameo by the legendary John Carradine as the charter boat’s ill-fated skipper), some really effective camera work, and a concept that, no matter how much it’s been aped since, really never gets old.

Back in 2003, then-fledgling horror imprint, Blue Underground, pulled off something of a minor miracle in preventing Shock Waves from vanishing off of the face of the Earth forever.  The original prints of Shock Waves were lost over 30 years ago, explaining why this film hadn't been available in any form since its original VHS release back in the early 1980's. Blue Underground teamed up with Wiederhorn and used his original 16mm to 35mm blow-up vault negative of the film and remastered for the film’s inaugural DVD release.

With this, the film’s Blu-ray debut, Blue Underground have once again returned to their labs and have taken those same vault materials and restored them in glorious 1080p, with striking results. While the image is still fairly grainy, especially in the film’s darker scenes, there’s a noticeable improvement in sharpness and detail, and the visual improvements are especially evident in the light of day, where most of the action takes place anyway. When compared to the DVD, the image is more vibrant, and fine details like the Death Troops scarred visages and the tattered fabric of their uniforms really pop! While PQ junkies looking for pristine quality will most likely be disappointed, fans of the film familiar with the story behind its restoration will be positively elated.

The film’s DTS-HD mono soundtrack is also a huge improvement over the already excellent quality of the DVD’s 5.1 Dolby mix. This is a crisp and booming track, with clean and organic sounding dialogue, and a marvelous representation of Richard Einhorn’s disturbing synth score.

Bonus features comprise a few carryovers from the DVD, including an interview with Halpin (SD), a feature-length commentary with with Wiederhorn, Fred Olen Ray and make-up artist, Alan Ormsby, TV, Theatrical and radio spots for the film. New features include interviews with Brooke Adams (HD), Einhorn, and Cinematographer Reuben Trane.

One of the seventies best kept secrets, Shock Waves probably won’t have the same effect on modern audiences as it did on those of us who first saw the film during the glory days of VHS, but for the latter, Blue Underground’s Blu-ray release should be considered a must-buy. The upgrade in picture and sound quality is quite impressive, and the new bonus features add even more value to an already enticing product. Recommended! 

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