I don’t often buy soundtracks for films I’ve never seen – actually, that’s a lie, I do it all the time – but what I don’t seem to do is buy soundtracks for films I’ve never heard of. I saw this LP listed on Waxworks Records’ website when I was purchasing the newly re-released Evil Dead 2 soundtrack and was just blown away by the cover. It’s such a great image – I love it.
I tracked down the film and watched the film on Friday night. It manages to be both the best film I’ve ever seen about underwater Nazi zombies, and also one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.
We open on a spot of narration over a sepia shot of SS Officers:
“Shortly before the start of World War II, the German High Command began the secret investigation into the powers of the supernatural.
Ancient legend told of a race of warriors who used neither weapons nor shields and whose superhuman power came from within the earth itself.
As Germany prepared for war, the SS secretly enlisted a group of scientists to create an invincible soldier.
It is known that the bodies of soldiers killed in battle were returned to a secret laboratory near Koblenz where they were used in a variety of scientific experiments.
It was rumoured that toward the end of the war, Allied forces met German squads that fought without weapons, killing only with their bare hands.
No-one knows who they were or what became of them, but one thing is certain: of all the SS units, there was only one that the Allies never captured a single member of.”
(Of course, Nigel Tufnel’s stage-introduction to Stonehenge almost ruins that last sentence – “No-one knows who they were… or…what they were doing…”).
After some brief opening credits, introducing Richard Einhorn’s ominous synth score, we then open on a fisherman and his young son bringing in their nets. The son spots a small rowboat drifting on the horizon. They motor over to it and find a young woman, visibly distressed and cowering under the seat (shades of another future film here, of a similar scene in Jaws 2).
Her story is then told in flashback. A group of tourists have charted a boat around the Bahamas. The boat and its crew are not entirely in the best condition. A strange astrological phenomenon occurs – the sun turns everything a peculiar shade of orange – but is never explained; the first hint at a truly terrible screenplay.
Both the crew and the tourists are concerned at this occurrence and the strange noises they keep hearing. At night, one of the crew members piloting the boat crashes alongside a huge ship he claims appeared out of nowhere and without any lights. They send up a flare, and see an old shipwreck in the distance.
Waking the next morning to realise that the boat is taking on water, the group decamp to a nearby island. They find a deserted hotel, and meet the island’s only inhabitant – Peter Cushing.
Cushing appears alarmed at the news of the shipwreck and runs out to see for himself. After spying the approaching zombies for himself, he returns to the group to give them the exposition we’ve all been waiting for.
Towards the end of the war, Cushing, an SS Commander in charge of the death squad prefaced in the film’s opening, escaped Europe by sea, eventually ending up in the Carribean. He sank the ship, with the zombie soldiers still aboard, and took up residence on the island. The boat hitting the wreck has woken up the soldiers, who are now emerging from the water and making their way to the island.
It’s great to see a New Hope-era Peter Cushing in a small, but pivotal role. He looks so wiry and inhuman that he makes the Rogue One CGI version of himself look positively believable; I couldn’t get over the ‘uncanny valley’-ness of that in the cinema.
Terrible dialogue and acting aside, the one aspect where the film really works is in the shots of the zombies rising up from the sea. These sections look fantastic, and the rest of the film is hung around these moments like cheap wrapping paper around an expensive gift.
Characters are killed off one by one, and those who remain seem strangely unaffected by the deaths. In one scene, one of the tourists discovers the dead body of her husband, and doesn’t seem to be too upset. Yeah, don’t bother with naturalistic dialogue, just stick another scene of a Nazi emerging from the sea in his jackboots.
As with all horror films, the cast is whittled down to the Final Girl, who escapes the island in the rowboat in which we find her at the start of the film. Strangely the zombies are not defeated and are left roaming the island, awaiting the next 18 to 30 cruise liner to get beached there.
In the final shocking twist, we find the girl sitting up in a hospital bed writing up her account of the film’s events. Again foreshadowing a future film – Kubrick’s The Shining – we hear that she is repeating the same sentence over and over, and as the camera pans around we see that she isn’t writing at all, just scribbling indeterminately. SHE HAS LOST HER FREAKING MIND!
The film’s score is easily the best thing about the whole affair. I’m a sucker for a good synth score – and it’s great to see the soundtrack to Stranger Things welcoming this back into the zeitgeist – so I could have easily appreciated it without ever seeing the film. Give me that music, and Marc Schoenbach’s truly awesome artwork on the front cover, and I’m a very happy man.
Hit: Shock Waves (Opening Titles)
Hidden Gem: Zombie Chase