Shock Waves [1977]


Fans of zombies are living in a golden age of entertainment–the decaying objects of their enthusiasm are featured on hit teevee shows, appear in literary mash-ups, and grace countless toys, video games, items of clothing, and objets d’art. Countless gigs of internet data have been expended on the ongoing debate between slow and fast zombies, and the murmur of “braaaaaaiiiiinssss” is on the lips of just about every person in the land. There’s a campy, post-modern appreciation going on here, and I am super-happy for these fans.

That having been said, a zombie movie has to make a pretty convincing case to catch my attention these days. Either that, or it has to be grandfathered into my To Watch Pile from before the Zombie Renaissance. The 1977 film “Shock Waves” passed both of these checkpoints, and was given additional credibility due to Peter Cushing’s appearance as well as a creepy Nazi backstory to its ghoulish goings-on.
Our story finds a hapless quartet of travelers stranded in the ocean on a leaky boat helmed by a half-mad captain (John Carradine), his hunky-if-dimwitted second in command and a drunk cook. As darkness falls, a huge ship sideswipes the craft and upon daybreak, no evidence remains aside from a rusting hulk on the reefs of a seemingly-deserted island. The exhausted vacationers wander onto shore where they find shelter in an abandoned hotel, only to encounter a mysterious old man (Peter Cushing) who warns them of terrible events that are fated to unfold. It turns out that the old man is an SS commander who has been hiding on the island, attempting to keep his corps of murderous zombie soldiers out of view of the world.
Shock Waves
The appeal of “Shock Waves” rests almost solely on the film’s evocative atmosphere. It feels pretty weird to type this, but this is an understated movie–yes, an understated movie about Nazi zombies overrunning a group of vacationers on a deserted tropical island. The modest budget–listed on IMDb at $200,000–goes a long way, with clever use of location filming and creepy creature design playing key roles. Vibrating electronic tones make up the majority of the soundtrack, creating an air of lurking horror. There is some wonderful underwater camerawork that adds an unusual texture to the movie. These underwater scenes give a sense that there’s a different world lurking beneath the surface of the one that the lead characters inhabit. It’s a simple but enormously effective technique.
Shock Waves
In its tone, the movie shares a lot of characteristics with “Tombs of the Blind Dead.” So much so, in fact, that I was honestly surprised to learn that this film was not a Spanish production. Directed by Ken Wiederhorn, a director whose modest body of work includes the pretty underwhelming “Return of the Living Dead II,” “Shock Waves” combines a minimalist synth soundtrack, some great underwater camerawork, and an authentic abandoned location to frame its uniformed zombies in much the same way that “Tombs of the Blind Dead” creates a life-support system for scenes featuring the Templars. Just as the viewer’s interest is starting to wane while watching the protagonists flail about trying to understand their circumstances, there’s a chilling shot of a goggled, wrinkled zombie slooooowly breaking the surface of the water. In much the same way that I could watch the Templars riding horses through abandoned gothic structures for ninety minutes, I could watch these undead, amphibian Nazis for the whole run time of the movie.
Shock Waves
“Shock Waves” shares more with the classic voodoo zombie film than with movies of the post-Romero zombie landscape. There’s virtually no blood, and there are no explosive moments of action. This is a film that traffics in creeping dread rather than gruesome visuals and political symbolism. The zombies are occult creatures from an unspeakable past that have to be dealt with by the living.
Shock Waves
Skillfully marrying a spooky, found location with unusual, evil creatures, “Shock Waves” creates a unique monster movie experience. Its slow pace and sometimes strange (some might even argue “non-existent”) character motivations will undoubtedly leave many viewers cold. There are long spans of screen time during which very little happens, but I found this to be an effective tension-building technique. The scenes in which characters slowly approach or submerge themselves in bodies of water were particularly eerie, knowing that the zombies could be waiting inches away.
For those seeking a change of pace from explosive, grisly zombie films, “Shock Waves” provides an excellent palate cleanser. Its dream-like atmosphere and creative use of a limited budget make this film well worth a watch.

The Wizard of Gore [1970] meets The Wizard of Gore [2007]

The Wizard of Gore 1970 The Wizard of Gore 2007

I struggle with my relationship with the films of H. G. Lewis. The Godfather of Gore churned out some pretty incredible and definitely outrageous films during his initial decade-or-so long filmmaking career*. While I adore the Egyptianate cannibal excess of “Blood Feast” and have watched that movie numerous times, I doubt I’ll be revisiting “The Gore Gore Girls,” with its madcap anti-woman viciousness. There’s a real misanthropy in Lewis’ films, and he seems to delight in introducing his unlikeable and/or stupid characters to their gruesome ends.

*He’s since returned to the director’s chair, though I haven’t really had an interest in these latest films.
Similarly, I grapple with my response to the profusion of remakes that populate the current genre film landscape. I’d love to see some ideas at least re-branded into being something with a new name, and I’m annoyed by having to specify “the original one” when speaking about favorite movies. That having been said, I’m overall pretty neutral to the concept of remakes. Some ideas are worth revisiting.
The Wizard of Gore 1970
I’m not sure H. G. Lewis’ meta-as-fuck-yet-somehow-still-very-dumb “The Wizard of Gore” had ideas that were really worth revisiting, but I am sure that it was inevitable that I’d watch the 2007 remake of “The Wizard of Gore,” given that it features performances by Crispin Glover, Brad Dourif, and Jeffrey Combs–with bonus points for the added promise of Suicide Girls nekkidity**.
**I am only human. I have my needs. This same humanity is why I somehow wound up with two copies of “Neu Wave Hookers” in my possession.
The Wizard of Gore 1970
HGL’s “Wizard” is an oddly-structured movie that begins with Montag the Magnificent, an old-timey magician complete with tophat and cape, speaking (at length) to his audience about the nature of reality before sawing a lady in half with a chainsaw. This isn’t any ordinary gal-in-a-box stunt here, either–there’s a whole bunch of grue that billows from the poor unfortunate’s belly while she screams her way through the stunt. Through the magic of editing, she is restored to her intact state, much to the delight of the audience. Shortly thereafter, she sleepwalks her way to a restaurant, where she is mysteriously found in the same mutilated state that the show presaged. A local daytime teevee hostess, Sherry Carson, is fascinated with Montag’s performance, and begs him to appear on her show. She attends each night’s performance at Montag’s behest, and after every performance, the woman who took part in the stage act turns up dead in the same hideous state predicted by Montag’s show. Sherry’s boyfriend, sports writer Jack, is suspicious of the magician right from the first death, but Sherry is hell-bent on getting Montag onto her show. It becomes increasingly clear that Montag has nothing good in mind for his teevee appearance, and it’s a race against time, logic, sanity, and good taste to stop him from completing his fiendish plan.
The Wizard of Gore 1970
I’ll be honest–this movie is kind of a hott mess. It’s as charmingly awkward in staging and performance as one might expect from an HG Lewis movie, but this just makes the gruesome-yet-fake-looking violence all the more startling when it occurs. There’s the typical playful (actually rather hateful) banter between Sherry and Jack, but their bickering passes unfunny and comes right around to being unintentionally hilarious,. Montag is almost as awesomely unconvincing a villain as “Blood Feast’s” Fuad Ramses. His overstated gestures of thoughtfulness, cunning, and eeeeevil are a riot to watch. Actor Ray Sager was allegedly a last-minute substitution into the role, and while this isn’t entirely surprising, I am glad he wound up appearing on screen.
The Wizard of Gore 1970
We come from an alternate dimension of tea, gender imbalance, and simmering hostility.
The art direction is equally camp. Naturally, everyone is decked out in the finest poly-blend fabrics and there are frames of film that positively buzz with competing patterns and color schemes. My favorite moments are in Sherry and Jack’s living room, a blue-walled space that makes it appear as if our fearless leads are conversing in limbo.
This kind of silly atmosphere makes the scenes in which Montag mutilates living women with swords, spikes, and industrial machinery really squirm-inducing. The effects work isn’t realistic by any stretch of the imagination, but just thinking about someone *doing* what is shown on screen is pretty damn nauseating. The scene in which Montag drives a spike through the head of his victim is punctuated by an extended close-up shot of the magician trying to pull the eyeballs out of her face. It’s touches like these that make this an example of gore entertainment that the minds behind the Grand Guignol would appreciate. Even this is rendered bizarrely understated by the incredibly hyperbolic descriptions of the victims’ bodies that the cops give at various points in the film. Heads are described as lying FIVE FEET AWAY from bodies, when the scene-actual shows a lady covered in raw meat and tempera paint.
The Wizard of Gore 1970
“I can’t hear you over his tie!”
There’s the not-so-small matter of nothing in the movie making a lick of sense, though. It was doubtless intentional that the audience be thrown off between what’s happening as part of the act and what’s happening in the reality of the film, but nothing was executed with enough artistry to elevate the goings on past “just plain confusing.” I understood what was supposed to be happening, but it simply didn’t work within the narrative.
The Wizard of Gore 2007
The 2007 remake of this weird little flick selects several elements to keep, while discarding others. Unfortunately, “The Wizard of Gore” 2007 stays true to the “not making a damn bit of sense” element that the original insisted upon while somehow managing to make things yet more brainfuckling. There’s a lot more eyecandy here, both in terms of cast and art direction, so I can forgive a certain number of narrative shortcomings.
The Wizard of Gore 2007
The setup is similar to that of its predecessor: Montag the Magnificent is an elusive figure (played here by Crispin Glover in creepily glorious Crispin Glover style) performing his extreme, gross-out illusions at an underground rave/carnival party in LA. After delivering some moralizing speechification about the nature of reality and how we all wear masks to disguise our true natures, Montag selects a woman from the audience and proceeds to saw her open from behind a foggy pane of glass. When the glass suddenly becomes clear and Montag is still elbow-deep in her innards, the house lights go out–only to be lit again to reveal Montag in a pristine white suit with a very much un-mauled Suicide Girl by his side. As is the case in the HGL original, the young lady winds up dead and mutilated in a manner identical to the one she found herself in during the stage show, and subsequent nights of Montag’s performance lead to subsequent victims.
The Wizard of Gore 2007
In the 2007 remake, teevee hostess Sherry is replaced by zine editor and nightlife personage Edmund Bigelow (Kip Pardue) who is drawn to the mystery of Montag’s show and finds himself rather closer to the action than he’d like. Edmund has a dark secret that shadows his relationship with girlfriend Maggie (celebutante Bijou Phillips), but he’s suffering from amnesiac episodes that leave him unable to remember the truth. With the assistance of his morgue attendant pal Jinky and Eastern herbalist Dr. Chong (Brad Dourif, thankfully not in yellow-face), Edmund tries to unravel these puzzles. This is all the lead-up to a plot twist, which has another twist, and ultimately leaves one scratching one’s head and wondering if the script writer shouldn’t have sacrificed some complexity in favor of overall cohesion.
The Wizard of Gore 2007
This complexity of the story is matched by a sometimes-over-art-directed aesthetic. While I appreciated the dutch angles, dynamic camerawork, and saturated colors, I wasn’t nearly so keen on the sound in this film. “The Wizard of Gore” is one of the most over-foleyed movies I have ever seen. Everything that happens on-screen seems to have a corresponding sound effect, and I found this to be incredibly distracting. There’s an energetic editing style that works more frequently than it doesn’t, though at least a quarter of the post-edit effects work feels superfluous and needlessly complicated. Really, if there was a single defining quality to this movie, it would be that of being “needlessly complicated.” In look and feel, it’s like a more cracked-out version of the first “Saw” movie.
The Wizard of Gore 2007
Dude, I’ve BEEN to this party, and it always ends in tears. Or at least being cruised by an adult baby.
That last statement shouldn’t be interpreted as a negative–in fact, I felt the first “Saw” movie could’ve done with being significantly more cracked-out! I quite enjoyed the carnival and performance scenes in “Wizard of Gore,” and would definitely attend that Boschian hell-party if I had the opportunity. Much like a dear friend of mine who will meet her end when a man in an unmarked van lures her in with promises of kittens and hedgehogs that need to be sorted, my last words will probably be something along the lines of “I know he’s crazy, but that’s a great suit–besides, there’s open bar at this party. Call the cops if I’m not home by 4pm tomorrow.”
The Wizard of Gore 2007
Speaking of great suits, the costume design in this movie is pretty damn sweet. Edmund’s 1940s noir affectations add a weird-but-cool texture to the tale, and of course the Suicide Girls are dressed (and undressed) to impress. The makeup artist exhibited a zeal for his work, particularly on Jeffrey Combs, who plays a maggot-eating sideshow geek that could easily pass for Rob Zombie’s nuttier brother. I had to check the credits to see which character he’d played–I’m a fan and didn’t recognize him at all! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Montag appears to be wearing the same Groinal Enhancement favored by Jared the Goblin King in “Labyrinth.” Whose decision this was, I do not know, but once noticed, it cannot be un-noticed.
The Wizard of Gore 2007
Both versions of “The Wizard of Gore” are terrible and un-terrible in their own ways, and exhibit the characteristic strengths and downfalls of the eras in which they were made. HGL’s “Wizard” is a creaky, pulpy mess while director Jeremy Kasten’s remake is overly slick and sometimes verges on cynical. Perhaps best enjoyed as companion pieces, these movies rank as solid–if not exemplary–horror flicks that genre fans should enjoy.

American Cyborg: Steel Warrior [1993]


I absolutely do not want to survive the kind of global apocalypse that’s going to lead to the wasteland worlds portrayed in popular cinema. While it would be super-fun to drive a motorcycle around and hit people with big metal sticks, I’m really quite fond of clean water and bountiful food supplies–to make no mention of such niceties as dry cleaning, bottomless mimosas at brunch, and climate controlled indoor spaces. I pray that whatever space junk/zombie plague/Red Army nuke sets off the world-changing cataclysm hits me so hard that I’m just like “oh gee, what a pretty handbag” one minute and then–BAM: sweet motherfuckin’ oblivion.

With this in mind, it’s peculiar that I enjoy post-apocalyptic movies as much as I do. Maybe it’s the same smug urge that draws me to reality television–knowing that I’m way saner and better off than the folks portrayed on screen probably provides me with some selfish satisfaction. Or perhaps it’s just that I like ridiculous bullshit, and post-apocalyptic adventures are crammed full of ridiculous bullshit.
I caught about fifteen minutes of “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior” on one of the Spanish-language cable stations a number of years ago and quickly discerned a few things: the filmmakers had seen “The Terminator,” the filmmakers had a decent sense of the absurd, and this flick had the Golan and/or Globus odor all over it. In short, it looked well worth the ninety minute time investment. Having watched the movie a few times since then, I can tell you that my initial assessment was spot on–this is another one of those “so bad it’s good” movies that has enough weird junk happening to satisfy the appetites of fellow cheese hounds.
American Cyborg
“Oh crap–did that say Golan-Globus?!”
Released under the banner of “Global Pictures” instead of the more iconic Cannon Films or Golan-Globus Productions tags, “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior” was produced in part by the B-film dream team of Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan. This marks a crossroads for many genre film fans–some will groan in anticipation of painfully poor cash-in junk movies, while others will execute a quick fistpump and scoot a little closer to their seat-edge waiting for the absurdity to start. I’m firmly in the latter group, believing as I do that more ninjas/cyborgs/vigilantes = more better.
American Cyborg
A helpful voice-over informs the viewer that it’s 17 years after a nuclear war that has left the earth devastated. A totalitarian computer system runs the world and big leather-clad cyborgs enforce the law, waiting for the remaining humans to die off (this makes exactly as much sense as anything else in the movie, so if you’re already unable to suspend disbelief, it’s best for you to check out). As is so often the case in these circumstances, a solitary human female is left fertile and she and her fetus (which she keeps in a jar in her backpack–f’reals) are attempting to make it across cyborg-controlled territory to some sort of not-cyborg-controlled territory across the sea. How this works, I’m not entirely sure–the helpful voice-over seemed to indicate that THE WORLD was controlled by an evil artificial intelligence, and to the best of my knowledge, boats are really sort of bound to THE WORLD so this plan would seem to be entirely futile. Along her way, she teams up with pretty-boy adventurer Austin, whose hunky good looks make him appear as if he was ripped from the cover of a slightly dusty romance novel. All of the theme-gangs, mutants, and abandoned factory sets one has come to expect from 1980s post-nukers are present, as are the characteristic Golan-Globus production values.
American Cyborg

“American Cyborg: Steel Warrior” is about as subtle as a punch to the junk. Its idea of symbolism is naming its fertile female “Mary” and having her travel to Europe via boat like some sort of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” knockoff with lasers. There is a lot of dialogue delivered in front of American flags, and crowds of mutants look on as characters are tied to crosses. The movie is so earnest in its message that it forgets simple science like “guns don’t float” and “‘test tube babies’ isn’t a literal term.”
American Cyborg
I love “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior” because of its shameless knock-off-ery, unwieldy title, ham-fisted symbolism, and rubber baby in a jar. Sure, it’s clunky and silly, but therein lies its charm. Its kitchen-sink approach to post-nuke sci-fi is perfectly complemented by a giant bowl of sugar cereal and an appreciation for ludicrous adventure stories.

Crawlspace [1986]

I didn’t watch any films featuring Teutonic madman Klaus Kinski until I was nineteen years old because he earned a hell of a bad rap under my parents’ roof. Mr. Kinski was a bit of a bogeyman, and I remember my mother explaining that she wouldn’t watch any more films featuring his performances because she loathed a movie she saw him in, during which he was a mad Nazi murderer who crawled through the heating ducts of an apartment building, terrorizing the inhabitants. Having watched a number of Questionable Horror Titles with my folks, I assumed that this movie would be ENTIRELY too intense for my brain to parse, and as a result I avoided Kinski movies as well. During my tenure in art sk00l, I had the opportunity to see Werner Herzog’s adaptation of “Nosferatu” featuring Klaus Kinski in the title role, and his powerful screen presence was enough to lift this self-imposed ban.

I hadn’t thought about that movie with Kinski living in the walls of an apartment building until I was perusing my movie-watching options over the weekend and stumbled across “Crawlspace.” Yes, this was the notorious title that had resulted in my parents’ intense dislike of the actor. How could I possibly pass up the chance to slap eyes on this infamous-to-me nugget of bizarreness?

Crawlspace

So how was the movie? Did it bear the fruit promised in that incredible Thai poster shown above? Well–yes: it does exactly what it says on that tin. “Crawlspace” is a film that’s virtually impossible to “spoil” since its modus operandi and outcome are telegraphed from Scene One. And Scene One goes a little like this: young lady sneaks into cobwebbed attic littered with Nazi memorabilia, encounters a mute woman in a cage, Klaus Kinski pops out, informs the young lady that his captive has had her tongue removed, and then triggers a booby trap that impales the young lady on a spear. The movie goes on in pretty much this vein for the entire eighty minute run time, and it’s unsurprising that this kind of content would be off-putting to a lot of audiences. Hell, I’m not even certain *I* liked this flick! It’s an especially nasty slasher film with an especially creepy performance from its lead–that will be a hearty recommendation for some, and a strong warning for other viewers. The film tracks Karl Gunther (Kinski), former physician/current demented landlord/son of a Nazi death camp commandant, as he murders his way through a series of tenants and visitors in his apartment building. He is addicted to the act of killing, and develops ever-more-baroque traps to snuff out the lives of his unsuspecting prey. He also spends a lot of time crawling around in the ducting of his building, which has been arranged with his covert navigation in mind, all the better to spy on the ladies who rent from him.

Crawlspace
The idea of a malevolent person living behind the walls of one’s home is a concept that I find extremely disturbing, and Gunther’s battle with sanity (granted, it’s not a very hard-fought battle, but still) makes his deeds yet more chilling. It’s a little hard to understand why Gunther has any tenants at all, given that what they do know is that the building is infested with rats and that Gunther likes to make inappropriate passes at them. I mean, I’ve been hard up for decent accommodations before, but I’d like to think that I’d have the good sense to sniff out a Nazi-idolizing homicidal maniac prior to signing a lease.
Crawlspace
Director David Schmoeller, who studied under masters of the surreal Alejandro Jodorowsky and Luis Bunuel, is best known for directing perennial fan faves “Tourist Trap” and “Puppetmaster.” Incidentally, “Puppetmaster” is another film that received the banhammer from my folks–Schmoeller has a talent for pinging the nerves, and for that I’ve got to give him credit, even if I share in my parents’ dislike of the “Puppetmaster” franchise.* In “Crawlspace,” Schmoeller creates a tonally bizarre film that has moments of black comedy and some mid-80s camp but has a real cruelty at its core that propels the story. There are detours into kooky pop culture satire in characters like the spacey soap opera actress and the Barbara-Streisand-idolizing singer/songwriter with a penchant for rough sex. The color palate varies between dusty sepia in Gunther’s attic lair to cartoonishly bright colors in the apartments of the lady tenants. I even spied at least two Patrick-Nagel-esque paintings decorating apartment walls! These zany moments do nothing to diminish the impact of the themes of torture and madness, and the echoes of Kinski’s ratlike expressions and ghastly obsessions linger in every scene.
*Don’t judge me.
Crawlspace
“Crawlspace” is an exceptionally odd movie that could have been a bad-taste classic. As it stands, it’s a truly creepy flick, but I couldn’t help but feel that its elements never gelled into a cohesive ‘sploitationer. It’s a better-than-average slasher film, but it’s not as outstandingly bizarre as it could have been. I rarely say this, but I feel like the movie would’ve benefitted from an additional 10 minutes of footage to develop the characters of the tenants. It would both give more opportunity for comic relief and heighten the tension inherent in watching them get dispatched. Wholeheartedly recommended for slasher fans and Klaus Kinski enthusiasts, “Crawlspace” is a nasty and fairly unique shocker.

Impaler [2007]


We’ve all been there. You’re drunk, you’re out dancing, you meet a guy that seems nice, if a wee bit eccentric. A couple of days later, you meet up for a coffee to get to know each other in a less-oontzy atmosphere and it comes out that he thinks he’s a 400-year-old vampire who can control the weather. You’re left with a difficult decision: Stay and get a GREAT story and maybe-just-maybe wind up a torso in an abandoned lot somewhere in the Bronx, or leave and become less anecdotally enriched.

The 2007 documentary “Impaler” seems to have put its filmmakers, W. Tray White and Brian Dickson, in a similar situation. Setting out to chronicle the political campaign of Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, founder of the Vampyres, Witches and Pagans Party, White and Dickson wind up weaving a much more complex story. What could have been the tale of an eccentric underdog is transformed into an exploration of one man’s delusions and the damage he leaves in his wake.

Sharkey is an unusual figure and it’s easy to see why the filmmakers decided to follow his story. A self-identified sanguinary vampire who claims to be a descendant of medieval ruler Vlad Tsepes, Sharkey spouts Satanic philosophies (everything from the “I’m’a get mines” egocentric LaVeyan stuff to more mystical Luciferian musings) and builds a political platform consisting of equal parts “tenuous grasp on the American judicial system” and “firm grasp on the American love of violence.” There are scenes of Sharkey and his partner drinking one another’s blood that look like a sideshow gaffe–his repeated insistence that the cameraman “look at the holes” he’s made with his teeth have a far more carnival air than the sacredness he insists is implicit in the act.

Initially sketched as a strange but harmless outcast given to boastfulness (PhD, professional wrestler, NASCAR-certified…), it becomes apparent that Sharkey is probably a compulsive liar. We’re not just talking about delusions of grandeur here–the stuff he’s lying about includes such doozies as “may have attempted to fake his own death.” Things aren’t as harmless as they appeared at first, and the sense is that the filmmakers are as surprised by the revelations as are the viewers.

Among all of the mental-social gymnastics the human brain is asked to execute on a daily basis, determining what is “normal” versus “not normal” is among the most controversial (if not THE most controversial). I struggle with dubbing a person as “abnormal,” considering there are a lot of things about me that another individual might (rightly) judge as being “other than normal.” That having been said, many of the revelations about Sharkey that occur over the course of this film are pretty disturbing, and while the evidence of his potential mental illness is sad, he’s still not a very sympathetic individual.

I appreciated the efforts of the filmmakers to be relatively un-judgey, given the source material, and would recommend “Impaler” to other viewers seeking a glimpse at the oddball corners of the American experience. Good news for Netflix members–this off-beat documentary is available on Netflix Instant!