Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
Starring: Michael Murphy, Mitch Pileggi, John Tesh, Heather Langenkamp, Peter Berg, Jessica Craven, Camille Cooper, Richard Brooks, Sam Scarber, Ted Raimi, Virginia Morris, Emily Samuel
18 | 1hr 49min | Horror, Comedy
Budget: $5,000,000 (estimated)
By 1989 horror movies had become rather tepid.
Thanks to the chastening whip of the MPAA and BBFC during the mid-1980s, the genre would descend into cartoonery as a way to reach a broader audience. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn would lead the way in that respect, and some movies were able to pass explicit gore based on absurdity, while others, such as Clive Barker‘s Hellraiser, added depth as a way to counterbalance the meaningless nihilism that would outrage a generation. By the time Shocker was released at the turn of the 1990’s, blood and guts horror had all but vanished.
As a series of movies, Wes Craven‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street series is perhaps the clearest example of horror’s changing face during that period. The original was a bleak and bloody horror with a sadistic wit, giving birth to the kind of iconic monster who would leave impressionable young fans sweating beneath their bed sheets. But with each instalment he became a little less terrifying, until eventually he was starring in kids video games and making pop records for sequels that had become a running gag.
Craven was only involved in one more instalment from the original series, and although 1994‘s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare briefly rekindled his passion for the darkly sadistic, he always had something of a penchant for the downright ridiculous, a fact made clear by movie’s such as 1991‘s The People Under the Stairs, which although tinged with moments of macabre was very much laced with silliness.
Craven was also highly creative, a director with a somewhat hit-and-miss record who was never afraid to take risks. Some of his features were more than a little hokey, but they were also fun and distinctly Craven, and he will ultimately be remembered for game-changing concepts such as self-reflexive meta-horror Scream.
Shocker has all the hallmarks of a Craven outing, both good and bad. Granted, it becomes something of a hodgepodge during the final act, but it is never less than interesting, and perhaps even suffers from an overabundance of ideas.
It is the story of deranged serial killer Horace Pinker, a brute psychotic with a severe limp who lives for slicing families on a daily basis, and who is pretty much untouchable until local high school football star Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg) has a scene-for-scene premonition of the monster hacking his foster mother and sisters to death, an event he is sadly unable to prevent.
After seeing the perpetrator in his nightmares, Johnathon is able to identify him to his detective father, and though Horace manages to slip away and go on another murder spree, he is eventually sent to ‘the chair’ without trial and seemingly banished from existence. Unluckily for the town’s residents, Horace is able to partake in some kind of cell-bound witchcraft which enables his soul to take the form of electrical currents, giving him the ability to not only slip in and out of plug sockets, but also inhabit the body of any person he comes into contact with, which means he can take the form of anyone and everyone. Confused yet? Give it time, you will be.
It is here that the movie seems to lose its bearings, descending into the sort of finale which baffles and engrosses in equal measures. A lot of emphasis is placed on the kind of special effects that were destined to date within a year, but the movie’s sense of wit makes much of the nonsense palatable, while Mitch Pileggi is a towering presence as the maniacal Pinker, giving the kind of sadistic performance that results in yet another memorable Craven monster.
Although relatively bloody, the movie is marred by the kind of melodrama that makes frivolous fare for horror fans, while a sub-narrative with Johnathon’s poltergeist girlfriend, Alison, (Camille Cooper) seems unnecessary and tacked on. For a filmmaker who produced the bleak foreboding and mind-bending dream delineations of the original ‘Elm Street’ movie, this is largely uninspired, and much of the direction is without care or attention, resulting in the kind of cavalier pacing that strips the movie of any real tension.
Before long, a body-snatching Horace is playing all kinds of sadistic tricks, eventually realising that the town’s satellite can beam him into homes across the entire region. And so begins the kind of bewildering finale you won’t be able to look away from, and one that, if you’re like me, will leave you scratching your head and asking all kinds of questions, particularly when Johnathon’s television remote comes into play and he too is able to leap through television screens and take part in archive footage from World War II.
If you want my advice, ignore those niggling urges, switch off your mind and enjoy the ride for all it’s worth, because after much deliberation, I am almost certain that the answers to those questions simply do not exist.
Although the movie pangs of the tepid ’90s fare that would for so long plague the genre, Shocker is fairly brutal, and though you don’t see much of the actual kill, Alison’s death is probably the most memorable due to the blood-based Jackson Pollack Horace leaves in the bathroom after dumping her corpse in the tub.
Most Absurd Moment
Horace’s soul inhabits the body of a infant girl, who then dumps her tricycle and heads for a construction digger as our ethereal psychopath continues his almost ceaseless rampage. The sight of a cute little tot dragging her leg around having inherited Horace’s trademark limp is a moment of comic inspiration.
Most Absurd Dialogue
After somehow turning into Johnathon’s BarcaLounger, complete with cushioned arms and cute little puppet eyes (don’t ask!), Pinker finally sheds his ghostly electric form and gets physical.
Horace Pinker: [grabbing a seated Johnathan as the BarcaLounger] This BarcaLounger’s gonna kick your ass, boy!
Shocker is classic Craven, warts and all, and although the movie struggles with an overabundance of sub-narratives and vaguely drawn ideas, the movie is never dull, while Pileggi is a hoot as the psychotic Pinker.
VHS Revival is a non-profit venture. Any donation, no matter how small, will help towards the site’s running costs and ultimately enable us to grow. Thank you.