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Shock Waves Review

    Good Morrow, Dear Readers. Welcome to Thrill-o-Ween! A section on our blog, where for the rest of September and majority of October, I, in the spirit of Halloween, will post reviews of horror movies, with every subject in the genre guaranteed to give you shivers aplenty! Trick or treat, anyone?

    When The Creature from the Black Lagoon was released in 1954, it not only shocked filmgoers just like its contemporaries of Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), and the Wolfman (1941), but instilled the idea that not even the water was a safe haven from creeps and ghoulies. With the Gillman prowling the cinematic waters, the ocean went from a summertime habitat for families into a graveyard of lost souls, suffered to be swallowed up by the hungry sea. Poetic, isn’t it?

    The Creature from the Black Lagoon’s success ensured that it would be followed by a bevy of sequels (Revenge of the Creature (1955), The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)), and countless contemporaries trying to capture the same lighting in the bottle twice (The Alligator People (1959), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961).Incidentally, some of these knock-offs, directed by Roger Corman, would go on to be cult favorites and famous in their own right.

    Of course, if a genre or franchise is given too much baggage or films of pure schlock, there will be an inevitable decline. Sadly, the underwater creature feature suffered this terrible fate, sinking like a stone, only to be brought back to life in the hit Jaws (1975). Some might call bullshit on this, and say Jaws is a rip-roarin’ sea adventure blockbuster, but really think about it for a moment. You have a tranquil town next to the sea, when an underwater creature, a monster some might call it, swims up to surface, nabs and eats people left and right, and the job to get rid of it rests in the hands of the underdog hero, preferably played by the likes Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw. (Bless ‘em)

    With the success of Jaws, the sea was once again a dangerous place to go. The true terror of Jaws lies in the fact that the monster was a real creature that was famous and feared for its unpredictable nature. Much like Creature, it was given many sequels (Jaws 2 (1978), Jaws 3-D (1983), Jaws: The Revenge (1987)), and knock-offs trying to capture its essence (The Deep (1977), Orca (1977)).

    Studio execs took a look at the numbers for Jaws and dollar signs flashed in their eyes. The biggest hit of the summer of 1975 gave birth to the idea of the Summer blockbuster, and more independent filmmakers were once again given an opportunity for ocean-based horror, which leads to the film of today, Shock Waves (1977).

    Blending elements of Jaws, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Night of the Living Dead, Shock Waves is often regarded as one of the better B-Movies in the horror genre. B-Horror Movies have had a nasty reputation of being cheap, sleazy, and failing to scare. Shock Waves may be lacking in jumpscares or full frontal mutilation to scare its audience, but its strengths make up for today’s expectations.

    The film begins as a desolate dinghy is caught floating on the water. The opening shot itself shows an example of cinematography that I’m rather fond of. It’s the shot that foreshadows what type of movie you’re watching, or what will happen in the later story. It is the beckoning hand, the first sight that catches your attention.

    The story begins with the lone survivor of the doomed cruise, named Rose, the typical horror movie female that either lives or dies. Quite frankly, this is a cliche that I don’t really like in horror movies, even older ones. If the story is told via flashback with one survivor, chances are that the suspense is weakened when you know who will die. HOW they die, on the other hand, is a corpse arm of a different rot (lol, Halloween metaphors). After being picked up by a trawler, Rose recounts her tale of woe to the boat’s passengers, and presumably the audience. Of course, one wonders how a horror movie victim tells their story to their rescuers via voiceover. Rose is one of the passengers aboard a rusty old sea bucket headed for an island somewhere off the Caribbean Coast (The movie never says where they are, but,eh.). Being a Horror Movie of the B-Movie type, a big flaw is that the characters are interchangeable. Half the cast I can’t remember, but two stand out, chief among them being the Captain, played by Horror Movie Veteran John Carradine. Carradine, hands down, is the best character with his short, but glorious role. While on screen, he barks orders at Kief, his first mate, who looks like a mix of every bad 70’s fashion (half mop-top, half perm hairstyle, Bee-Gees style ripped open shirt exposing his chest hair, trucker mustache, etc.), sneers at galley cook Dobbs for telling ghost stories, and verbally berates whiny insurance salesman Norman, played by Jack Davidson (I actually had to look his name up, he’s that much of a non-entity) for saying that they should turn around at the slightest sign of danger, despite being in the middle of the ocean.

    Carradine’s role is that of the old curmudgeon that everyone loves to hate. No one would enjoy being in this man’s company in real life, but Carradine gives off such a ruthless charm that you like his tough nature immediately. And he’s in the film for about ten to fifteen minutes, with his death kicking the scare factor of the plot into action.

    After discovering the ruins of an old battleship, and as said before, Carradine’s character bites it, the rest of the crew make it to the nearest island, where an abandoned hotel lies on the shore. The place seems empty at first, but the group find that it’s inhabited by a lone hermit, played by another Horror movie veteran, Peter Cushing. Cushing, like Carradine is the only one that is high profile in the film, and also bites it after a short time on screen.

    Cushing was one of the most recognizable actors in horror films, even to this day,his name appears alongside other greats, like Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price to name a few. Famous for playing everything from Monsters & their Creators, to the men who kill the monsters and slay their personal demons in the process, Cushing radiates an aura of heroism and creepiness. He is a face that plays both the hero and the villain. In this case, he plays an ex-Nazi, a member of a team whose primary mission was to take dead soldiers, and re-animate them into a state of living death. But the project was shut down after Germany lost the war, and after the zombies became unstable. (A horror story where scientists try to play god via reanimation of dead tissue? Pffft, that’s just ridiculous.)

    The scenes between Cushing and the rest of the cast radiate unpleasantness, but that’s part of the intention, as they visually address an issue that most late 60’s to even today’s films convey: the generation gap. Cushing’s character, named the Commander, is a broken soldier of the bygone era of World War 2, and the others are relics from the days of Vietnam and the 60’s counterculture. They both have different ideals, but both have gone through the horror of a world caught in conflict. The young cast’s horror is temporary. They either escaped enlistment, or did their time in Vietnam shortly. The Commander’s horror is eternal. He created the monsters that roam the island. It defines his character.

    As one would expect, once the monsters enter the picture, the cast’s doom is sealed and the audience gets what they paid for. B-Movies are more often entertainment rather than movies that want to make you think. It it their greatest strength and weakness. People who watch B-Movies don’t come for the cast, they come for the monsters, be they cleverly thought up, or lazily designed due to low budgets and constrained time schedules.

    The zombies emerge from the water, and go offing the cast one by one. I’ll be honest, when I first heard the concept and the title, Shock Waves, I thought that the Zombies would kill via electric shocks that were a side effect of having being brought back to life, probably via electricity. But drowning their victims is deadly too; make do with what you got. One of the film’s sharpest deaths is one where they drown a cast member in a fish tank. Now to be fair, that’s a creative way to go. From there, it’s one death after another as the doomed survivors try to escape the island. Spoiler alert: Only Rose is left, floating in the escape dinghy that kicks off the beginning of the film.

    Despite being alive, however, Rose appears to have gone insane from the experience as the final shot shows her scribbling nonsense in a hospital bed. This shows another storytelling technique being explored in horror movies made after Vietnam, where even though the monsters are out of the closet, the horror is still there. It’s never gone, and in some cases, is worse than before.

    Shock Waves is an interesting mistress of a film. It’s not perfect, but it maintains a sense of dread and trauma that will never seem to go away. Its characters may be interchangeable, but all share a sense of dread encountering ghosts of war from the past that are no different from the ghosts of war from the present. History has been kind to B-Movies like Shock Waves. While it takes elements from other well-known horror movies and creature features, I suspect that it will be remembered by its cult status alone, while other contemporary fright films will fade from existence, and sink beneath the hungry sea.

Shock Waves
Story: A-
Writing: B
Characters: C+
Message: A
Overall: B-