Master of horror Wes Craven will forever be known for his two masterpieces, 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” the film that established the infamous character of Freddy Krueger and caused more than a few sleepless nights for some viewers, and 1996’s “Scream” (with a brilliant screenplay by Kevin Williamson), the film that reinvigorated the slasher genre and became the defining horror film of the decade. However, even someone of Craven’s caliber had some “off years,” as we clearly saw in the late 80s where he not only delivered the dreadfully dull “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” but also what could be deemed the even-worse “Shocker,” a film that many consider to be at the very bottom of his filmography.
The film opens with a serial killer, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), on the loose, with police doing everything they can to try and track him down. They end up catching a lucky break after a high school football player, Jonathan (Peter Berg), accidentally hits his head and starts dreaming of where Horace is murdering his next victims. The detective assigned to the case, Don Parker (Michael Murphy), who also happens to be Jonathan’s father, finally catches the killer with his son’s help, which results in Horace being sentenced to death by the electric chair. However, something goes terribly wrong, eventually resulting in Horace having the ability to jump into the bodies of other people via electricity. With Horace once again on the loose, it’s up to Jonathan and his friends to finish him off for good.
“Shocker” is a film that comes off as someone’s desperate attempt to get themselves into the horror genre (or in this case, back into), for it contains very little, if anything at all, that’s original. It’s certainly not something that anyone would have expected Wes Craven to write at the time, especially after having had multiple critical successes like “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Last House on the Left,” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Its issues begin almost from the very start, with one silly idea after another, including Jonathan just happening to dream about where the killer will strike, Horace starting to jump around to different bodies, and culminating with a laughably-bad chase through multiple television channels. To be fair, it is said that the film is partly a comedy, but even there it is unsuccessful, for you’re never sure whether Craven is going for all-out comedy (very likely, given how ridiculous it gets) or some kind of amusing homage to cheesy horror flicks of the 80s. It certainly doesn’t help that, if the audience is laughing at all, it’s directly at the film instead of at what humor Craven tried to sprinkle in throughout.
On top of this, the film is just downright lazy, utilizing the old body-switching plot that we’ve seen before, but in much better films. In fact, Craven admits to John Carpenter’s “The Thing” being a big influence in that respect, but the different there is that Carpenter (the other major name in horror from this period) was able to create a massive amount of tension with such a device as a small group of researchers try to uncover which one of them is an alien. For “Shocker,” it adds nothing to the story, merely becoming a convenient way for the killer to get around (as if he needed another one after already being able to travel via electricity).
All of this culminates in a film that is stretched out to death at nearly two hours, seemingly sounding the death knell for Craven’s career. However, there were still many bright years ahead that would see him deliver more intriguing entries to the horror genre, including “New Nightmare,” a meta take on his 1984 classic, “Red Eye,” a tension-filled thriller, and, of course, “Scream.” That’s not to say he wouldn’t make a few more duds as well (“Scream 3,” “Scream 4,” “My Soul to Take,” to name a few), but, all things taken into account, we should consider ourselves lucky that “Shocker” didn’t bring things to an end far too soon.
“Shocker” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of the same excellent quality that we have come to expect from Scream Factory. It may be a rather dark and somewhat obscure horror flick, but the picture quality here makes it look as good as new. Similarly, the DTS-HD Master Audio presents a fantastic track that compliments the film’s rock soundtrack. Overall, Scream Factory has once again worked their magic and given new life to this lesser work of a horror master.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Wes Craven: An intriguing track featuring Craven discussing the background of the film and how it came to be.
Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Jacques Haitkin, Producer Robert Engelman, and Composer William Goldstein: This track features three different interviews played in order. They spend a lot of time talking about their backgrounds, as in how they got into the business, and their work on other films, but they do eventually get around to discussing their work on “Shocker.” Overall it’s a rather so-so track that would’ve been better with a little more focus.
Interviews with Actor Mitch Pileggi (17 Minutes), Actress Cami Cooper (17 Minutes), and
Executive Producer Shep Gordon (12 Minutes): A series of excellent interviews that has Pileggi, Cooper, and Gordon discussing how they came to be involved in the business, in addition to the first two reminiscing about their work on “Shocker.” Gordon’s interview more so focuses on how he set up a film distribution company and how it was different than what had been done before. All three are definitely worth watching.
Vintage “Making of” Featurette (8 Minutes): A featurette from around the time the film was made, featuring old interviews and lots of behind the scenes footage. It’s also worth taking a look at.
No More Mr. Nice Guy – The Music of Shocker (26 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the film’s soundtrack. If this is an area that interests you, then you’ll probably find it worth the time.
Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, and Radio Spots
Still and Storyboard Galleries
“Shocker” represents a low point (perhaps the lowest point) in the career of horror master Wes Craven. With lazy and uninspired writing, in addition to a mishmash of ridiculous plot points, this is a film that is best (and easily) forgotten. It just goes to show that even someone like Wes Craven, who has delivered several notable works, was not immune to churning out half-baked ideas that were ultimately left behind as a mere footnote in his extensive filmography.
Available on Special Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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