The Film: SHOCKER (1989)
The Principles: Written and Directed by Wes Craven
Acted by Mitch Pileggi, Peter Berg, Michael Murphy, Cami Cooper, Ted Raimi
The Premise: Wes Craven presents the story of a serial killer that becomes a being of pure energy and destructive chaos. Why does this happen? Voodoo, occult practices and devil worship all play a part in the demented story of the murderer/TV repairman known as Horace Pinker. When a local detective’s adopted son starts having nocturnal visions of Pinker’s homicides, an epic battle begins that takes our main characters through hell and back again. Possession, teenage love and insane one-liners are all present in this hyper-kinetic, mind bending and at times ridiculously awful rollercoaster of a movie.
Is It Good?: Goddamn SHOCKER is a crazy firestorm of a movie. I almost don’t know what to make of it and if it weren’t for Wes Craven’s director power at the time, I don’t see how this film could have ever gotten made. Just the narrative alone is completely off-the-wall bonkers and it’s absurdly glorious. We go from a high school romance story to a gritty serial murderer’s killing spree to a tale of black magic life after death followed by a literal chase through TV Land. There’s a reason why Dr. Timothy Leary makes a cameo in the film, and that’s not even a joke!
Wes Craven was in full command of his ability to channel his influences and interests in this film. SHOCKER is absolutely a ‘kitchen sink’ production utilizing tropes that we see in films he made before and even after this. Horace Pinker has Freddy written all over him, just with a different spin on it. Freddy never went to prison, so instead of Horace being murdered by neighborhood vigilante justice, he is electrocuted and becomes an immortal killer that can invade your dreams and the real world while spouting quips that would make a nun run for the hills.
Mitch Pileggi owns the shit out of this movie and he earns every bit of credit due to his manic and berserk performance as Pinker. The energy he conveys on screen is frantic and intense and infectious as hell and he delivers such a crazed portrayal that you can’t help but laugh at the insanity of it. And then there’s Peter Berg being the young, dumb high school football star that get’s wrapped up in all this mayhem when he starts displaying supernatural abilities. I can’t even begin to describe how ridiculous the final battle is between these two when they fight their way through channel after channel of late-eighties television. Welcome to prime-time indeed.
I gotta say that as a film to watch with friends while having a few drinks, or even if you just so happen to be in the right frame of mind, SHOCKER is a great treat worth seeing and enjoying. The movie is entertaining despite its few moments of lull and the all over the place tone, and it definitely warrants attention for fans of Wes Craven’s filmography. The runtime can feel a bit long, but if you approach it almost as an anthology picture where the same characters travel through six different stories, it can definitely be a lot of fun.
Random Anecdotes: Dr. Timothy Leary, Heather Langenkamp, John Tesh and Wes Craven himself all have short cameos in the film. And of course Ted Raimi is a main supporting character that gets killed off in the third act.
Wes Craven’s love for heavy metal music is in full effect here and Alice Cooper not only gets screen time in a music video that plays during the film, but a cover of No More Mr. Nice Guy performed by Megadeth gets prominently featured early on in a key scene.
Scream Factory recently released a ‘Collector’s Edition’ of the film with a newly remastered transfer and interviews featuring Mitch Pileggi and actress Cami Cooper. The release also features 2 vintage making-of featurettes and an audio commentary with Wes Craven.
Cinematic Soulmates: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2-4, Ghost in the Machine, Maximum Overdrive, The Cable Guy, Stay Tuned