Fear the Surfing Dead!

Wave of zombie apocalypse stories reaches a very literal—and absurd—destination.


Zombie Tidal Wave. Syfy. Saturday, August 17, 9 p.m.

I don't know when, exactly, I realized I was watching something very special. Maybe it was when the emergency-room doc companionably patted the shoulder of a young woman whose head was practically chewed off her neck and blithely reassured her, "You're gonna be okay, honey."

Or when a cop, confronted with a fishing boat full of slobbering, grunting, brain-chewing zombies, alertly noticed the vessel had an invalid registration number. "Something doesn't add up," he nods knowingly.

Oh, hell, I'll admit it, it was when I saw the title. How could a show named Zombie Tidal Wave be anything less than awesome? Not since the man-eating tree of 1953's From Hell It Came has nature's implacable misanthropy been displayed more magnificently.

(And a pox on you Debbie Downers who prefer the word "stupidly.")

If the serendipitous mixing of zombies and tidal waves seems suggestively familiar, it could be you're thinking of Syfy's summertime Shark Tornado films, of which there were six between 2013 and 2018. (The last final one, with admirable self-awareness, was called The Last Sharknado: It's About Time.)

The resemblance is not coincidental. A bunch of Sharknado writers worked on Zombie Tidal Wave; I'm withholding their names to protect their careers, but there's not much I can do for producer-star Ian Ziering, whose face was plainly visible in all the Sharknados as well as 10 seasons of Fox's Beverly Hills 90210. His place in Hell has long been secure.

But let's be fair: There are significant differences in Sharknado and Zombie Tidal WaveSharknado and its epic successors were about tornadoes that suck up herds of sharks and dump them over land. Zombie Tidal Wave is about tidal waves that suck up herds of underwater zombies and dump them on land. So, totally unrelated. Also noteworthy is that Donald Trump doesn't get blamed for any of this. Big Pharma, not so lucky.

Ziering plays a former New York City fireman who, traumatized by 9/11, has been loafing around around the South Pacific in a boat ever since. Unlike the Sharknado movies, he doesn't work opposite any classically trained actresses, but he does get to hack up zombies with a boat propeller, an impressive technological enhancement—in Sharknado, he mostly worked with a chainsaw.

There are some cutting-edge sociological notes, too, including a withering attack on ableism—that one-legged, wheelchair-bound zombie can eat brains as well as anybody. And as the zombies clamber on to a dockside bar, one customer yells, "So I guess we're not getting tacos!" Cultural appropriation canceled due to zombies!

Other important stuff from Zombie Tidal Wave that you never learned in a George Romero movie:

  • Kick-in-the-groin humor crosses all genre and metabolic boundaries. Also, though zombies are undeterred by being disemboweled, blown to pieces and set on fire, they fold like up like cheap card tables when kicked in the testicles.
  • The strongest human compulsion is not sex, but gun control. "You're not getting a gun!" a cop warns his teenage daughter as scores of rotting, ravenous zombies shuffle toward them.
  • Zombies, like the rest of us, want to rip out the intestines of anybody who pulls out a ukulele at a party. Just guessing on this one, but I'll bet they don't care much for beatnik folksingers, either.
  • Insults to zombies can easily be misconstrued. One character angrily screams "Bite me!" at a zombie, with infelicitous results.