By the late 1980s, the slasher subgenre was long past its expiry date. At this point, most slasher movies were campy straight-to-video efforts that barely qualified as B-movies. Occasionally, a high concept slasher, like Child’s Play, still broke out and found success. But not even Wes Craven could really revive the slasher in 1989. He’d have to wait several more years to do it with Scream. As the 80s were coming to a close, Craven did take a shot with his heavy metal slasher Shocker, which hit theaters before Halloween. Audiences shrugged their shoulder; critics hated it. But maybe Shocker was just misunderstood? Or perhaps it’s ‘so bad, it’s good’.
In a Los Angeles suburb, serial killer Horace Pinker terrorizes families as they sleep. But a high school football star ends Pinker’s reign of terror when an accident inadvertently creates a psychic link between them. Before his execution, however, Pinker makes a deal with the Devil. As a result, his execution only destroys his physical body – his spirit transforms into pure electricity. Now Pinker can possess anyone and use their bodies to continue his killing spree.
Shocker Finds Craven Throwing Anything and Everything Onto the Screen
If that synopsis doesn’t make sense, there’s a reason. Shocker doesn’t make sense. What starts as a standard serial killer slasher quickly turns into A Nightmare on Elm Street rehash before settling into a kitchen sink approach to storytelling. Wes Craven clearly cribs on his own creation by linking serial killer Horace Pinker and protagonist Jonathan Parker through dreams. Even if the reasons for a psychic connection are weak, Craven throughs the audience a few crumbs with a mid-act reveal. When Pinker performs an occult ritual in his cell kneeling in front of the TV, Craven abruptly shifts course. Why is Satan working through a television? Don’t dwell on that point for too long. Shocker takes one turn toward the ridiculous after another. Soon Pinker is pure electricity allowing him to … possess anyone? When Jonathan’s dead girlfriend shows up as some sort of guiding spirit you just shrug your shoulders.
…Craven’s story is absolutely bonkers.
Herein lies Shocker’s weakness and what also makes it dumb fun. Specifically, Craven’s story is absolutely bonkers. It follows no set of concrete rules. Oftentimes it looks like Craven just threw ideas at the screen with little care as to whether they stuck or not. Much of Shocker feels unintentionally hilarious. Or maybe it’s all intentional. After all, Craven couldn’t possibly have thought a little girl trying to run over Jonathan with a front-end loader tractor was scary. The ease with which supporting characters just accept Jonathan’s theory that Pinker is possessing people inspires similar chuckles. By the time Pinker chases Jonathan inside the television – and across different shows – you’re either loving it or you turned off the movie a long time ago.
Horace Pinker Can’t Re-Invent Freddy Krueger
Aside from its nonsensical story, Shocker struggles to connect with the horror genre. Things start out with promise, particularly an early warehouse scene with a skulking Pinker picking off police officers. Apparently, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had a field day with Craven’s slasher. For a movie about a brutal serial killer, there’s little in the way of blood or gore. Fortunately, Mitch Pileggi’s performance as Horace Pinker fits with the movie’s overall tone. Pileggi’s clearly having fun with the role. Even if many the one-liners are clunky Pileggi sells them. Horace Pinker is no Freddy Krueger, but he’s the best part of this slasher.
Fortunately, Mitch Pileggi’s performance as Horace Pinker fits with the movie’s overall tone.
As high school football star Jonathan Parker, Peter Berg (Fire in the Sky) is likeable but comes off as a bit of a meathead. If Shocker were a more serious movie, Berg likely would have fallen short of the role’s demands. Veteran character actor Michael Murphy (Phase IV, X-Men: The Last Stand) plays your typical 80s cop. The rest of the cast is filled out by familiar faces like Richard Brooks (The Crow: City of Angels) and Ted Raimi (Intruder, Wishmaster) as well as celebrity cameos. And yes, that’s John Tesh as the recurring news anchor.
Shocker a Fun Albeit Terminally Stupid Movie
Maybe Elm Street’s success jaded Wes Craven because Shocker sure looks like a movie intended to blow up someone’s own image. This is a terminally stupid movie that follows no set of rules or mythology. Stuff just inexplicably happens with no rhyme or reason. In many ways, Shocker looks like what would happen if middle school kids wrote a screenplay using action figures in a sandbox. If Craven intended to say something about media violence he’s leaving you to do the heavy lifting figuring it out. Yet Shocker proves to be mindless fun in part due to its nonsensical story. It’s rarely dull and doesn’t overstay its welcome. In particular, 80s horror fans will love it for the cheesiness and accompanying hair metal soundtrack.