After the passing of Wes Craven it is only fitting that one of his films makes its special edition Blu-Ray debut this week. As fans mourn the loss of a true ICON in the world of horror we are left with no further movies from the master himself, but will forever have the legacy he left behind to remember him by.
In 1989 he would bring us back to similar grounds and issues he dealt with in A Nightmare on Elm Street: dreams, a serial killer, the loss of family and friends, relationships between parents and children, and hidden secrets.
That movie was Shocker.
If one were to look at both Shocker and A Nightmare on Elm Street side-by-side you would see the similarities in the two films. They have a lot in common with one another. Yet, as much as they have in common, they are so far separated that both are enjoyable on their own for vastly different reasons.
The first act of Shocker finds Jonathan Parker (played by Peter Berg who would go on to direct some very big Hollywood movies: Lone Survivor, The Rundown) in college, playing football, and dating a beautiful girl (Cami Cooper). Suddenly Jonathan begins having dreams about serial killer Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi; X-Files) in which Pinker murders his entire family. When he awakens from the nightmare, he receives a phone call from his father, a detective on the Pinker case (Michael Murphy) that his nightmare has become a reality and his family was slaughtered by Pinker.
Jonathan, now realizing he has some strange connection to Pinker, convinces his father that he knows who is responsible for the murders and where Pinker is because he saw it in his dream. When the police raid Pinker’s residents, it ends in a bloodbath with four police officers brutally slain.
In traditional Wes Craven fashion, the movie is one of his bloodiest films. In fact, the movie was sent back to the MPAA ratings board thirteen times to get an R-rating from its original X-rating. The scene in which Pinker escapes has several slit throats and one off screen kill that is more shocking in the aftermath than if you had actually witnessed the murder on screen – the image is terrifying and gets deep into your psyche, imprinting and everlasting image of how violent Pinker really is.
After Pinker escapes the authorities and realizes who Jonathan Parker is, and that he can find him, he tracks Jonathan back to his home and brutally slays his girlfriend in the bathroom, leaving Jonathan a message on the mirror in her blood: Happy Birthday Jonathan, Horace Pinker.
After her murder, Jonathan devises a plan to get Pinker himself by slipping into the dream world yet again to locate Pinker’s next victim before it happens. After finding out where Pinker is going to be, Jonathan and his friend unknowingly lead the police right to Pinker. Pinker, nearly escapes again, but after a fight with Jonathan on a rooftop, the police arrest him. He’s sent to prison and gets the death sentence for his crimes.
Unlike A Nightmare on Elm Street, Pinker is put to death by the justice system and not a lynch mob, but not before making a pact with the devil to come back to life through the very thing that is going to take his life – electricity.
When the guards come to take Pinker to the sentencing, they find him hooked up to the TV, electrocuting himself. After they free him and pull him from the cell, they start to preform CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation. Pinker, still alive and sinister as ever, ends up biting off a guard’s lip and another’s finger where his reply is: “Finger-lickin’ good.”
Craven’s dark sense of humor is all over this movie, maybe more so than any of the other films in his cannon. Sometimes the humor is so black it’s bleak, other times it comes off really funny or just silly – like the little girl swearing after she is possessed by Pinker is a riot.
While strapped into the electric chair Pinker tells Jonathan that he’s his father and the reason for Jonathan’s sudden connection to Pinker is revealed. The switch is flipped and Pinker is fried. But after a short circuit in the system and the lights go out it is believed that Pinker isn’t dead and the doctor is sent in to check him. When she touches him an electrical spark shoots into her, passing Pinker’s soul into her body.
Craven has stated that the idea of a soul jumping from body to body intrigued him deeply and that he was heavily influenced by the short story ‘Who Goes There’ by John W. Campbell; also the short story was the basis for the movies: The Thing From Another World, Horror Express, John Carpenter’s The Thing and The Thing (2011.) He said that he liked the idea of not knowing who was on Jonathan’s side and the fact that the people he thinks he can trust, he really cannot.
As with most of Craven’s movies, there is always a deeper social commentary, (The People Under The Stairs, New Nightmare, the Scream series) Shocker is no exception to this. Throughout the film the viewer is bombarded with electrical devices, not just as a tool for Pinker to use, but also as a reminder of the times where (even in 1989) we were living in a society driven by electrical devises. Almost twenty years since the film’s release, we are driven even more by our electrical devices – cell phones, iPads, laptops, MP3 players control our daily lives. All the images we see on the TV screens in the movie have some sort of violence on them whether it be the Hindenburg crash, the test footage of the A-bombs, or the madness on the streets during a riot, and as Craven states, ‘I like to show the viewer that the evil isn’t just in the person or character, but affects everything around them.’ He would use this idea brilliantly in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
The second act of the movie picks up when Pinker’s soul starts to jump from body to body, killing people along the way, and trying to get Jonathan in the process by possessing people he knows, and some that he doesn’t. Each person who is possessed ends up getting Pinker’s signature limp (why, I have no idea?) and as Pinker uses the bodies, almost like a parasite, he sucks their life force from them, making them only useful for a limited time to him. Jonathan tries to warn his father that Pinker is still alive but no one will believe him - this drawls into another theme that runs through most of Craven’s films: parents not listening to the kids that something is wrong. While being chased by Pinker, and after he jumped into a few different bodies along the way, Jonathan realizes that a necklace that he gave to his late girlfriend, just before her murder, is Pinker’s only weakness – a sign of pure good against evil that can vanquish Pinker from the possessed bodies. When Pinker jumps into a body of a construction worker (look for a cameo here by a rock legend) Pinker throws the necklace into the lake, making it useless for Jonathan. To find the neckless, Jonathan must go back into the dream world with the help of his girlfriend’s spirit to find it.
The third act of the film starts when Pinker takes possession of Jonathan’s father, and this is where the film really falls into total silliness. After a long chase between Jonathan and his possessed father, one that ends up on a satellite tower, Pinker more or less downloads himself into the television airwaves, making him able to go from house to house through the TV’s and continue killing. Jonathan devises a plan to go after Pinker and a fight ensues throughout different programing where they do battle across the television airwaves only to end up back where Pinker murdered Johnathan’s family. Here, Jonathan realizes he can control pinker by a TV remote, pausing him, fast forwarding him, or rewinding him, making him do whatever he needs to. And after destroying Pinker’s portal back into the TV airwaves, banishes him for good.
Craven as stated that this was an experimental film for him and it really shows. Shocker works in a strange way, but at the same time is very silly, especially the end of the movie where Jonathan and Pinker are fighting across TV channels and jumping in and out of peoples TVs and right into their living rooms. The movie is never really frightening in the way that A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on The Left or The Hills Have Eyes is frightening, but still Shocker is a campy fun 80s horror none the less. The digital effects (still in their infancy in 1989) are bad, and Craven said they were not done properly because the system did not work, and that they had to rush the digital effects to get them done in two weeks to meet the release date of the film.
The idea was to make a new franchise with Horace Pinker replacing Freddy Krueger for Craven. That never happened as the movie wasn’t well received and Shocker was not a huge box-office smash when it came out in 1989. But it found a huge following on home video and has since become a cult classic to fans around the world, and one in Craven’s filmography that is considered a lesser known but a beloved entry at the same time.
The soundtrack is worth mentioning too, featuring rock and heavy metal from Megadeath, Alice Cooper, Dudes of Wrath and Dangerous Toys among many others and is a highly sought after collector’s item if you can get your hands on a copy.
The transfer onto Blu-Ray in 1080p HD looks great with a crisp picture and vibrant colors. The sound in DTS-HD is superb. Like with most Shout! Scream Factory releases, the Blu-Ray is filled with a ton of special features:
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Wes Craven – this is an older commentary by the late director.
- Audio Commentary with director of photography Jacques Haitkin, Producer Robert Engelman and composer William Goldstein.
- All-New interviews with actor Mitch Pileggi, actress Cami Cooper, and producer Shep Gordon.
- No More Mr. Nice Guy – The Music of “Shocker”
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV and Radio Spots
- Vintage Interviews
- Still Gallery
- Storyboard Gallery
7 out of 10 stars.
Pick up a copy here at The Crimson Screen for 24.95