Wes Craven is considered one of the “Masters of Horror”, and his pedigree certainly lives up to that title. With films like Last House on the Left, and the A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream (he didn’t write Scream, only directed) series under his belt, you can almost expect any film bearing his name will surely be good, and at the very least entertaining. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at his 1989 film Shocker
A serial killer has been terrorizing a small town, killing families at night while they sleep. That killer is Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), and he’s been dabbling in witchcraft and animal sacrifice – and that seems like it might pay off a little down the road. Jonathan (Peter Berg) is a star college football player and son of the town sheriff. He suddenly starts to develop visions of Horace and who and where his next victims will be murdered. When he dreams that his family is murdered and finds consistencies between his dreams and the actual crime scene, he helps give the police a description and leads them to Horace’s hideout, where Horace escapes, but not before taking out 4 police officers.
Jonathan sets himself up to dream the next victims, and when he leaves to go catch Horace, his dad and the rest of the police force follow him. After a rooftop fight, Horace is apprehended and is quickly sentenced to die by electric chair – but not before conducting a ritual that sends a pair of electrified lips out of a television in his cell that somehow gives him the power to leap between bodies. He demonstrates this when the switch is thrown and he lives through it, only to take over the body of the prison doctor. Jonathan witnesses this first hand during a chase through the park after a recently hospitalized cop shows up at his door and jumps between bodies in Horace’s attempt to kill him. Now, only Jonathan’s murdered girlfriend can help take Horace out for good, but it’s not going to be easy – and now he has to figure out a way to kill someone who can go between bodies, and through electrical circuits.
While horror movies are usually pretty unbelievable, Shocker has one of the most absurd story lines ever. It seems to take some elements Craven used in his previous series Nightmare on Elm Street, but puts it in a more realistic setting, and it just doesn’t work very well. Just as an example of how Absurd it gets, there’s a sequence where Jonathan and Horace are actually running through different archival footage of wars, nuclear explosions and civil unrest fighting each other. Unfortunately, the level of absurdity pushes it over the edge and makes it too hard to suspend your disbelief. I have to say though, that in the park scene where Horace jumps between about 6 different bodies, I thought it was pretty funny when he jumped into the body of a little girl riding a bike with training wheels – who eventually ends up driving a bulldozer at Jonathan.
Jonathan’s girlfriend Alison, who he barely remembers at the beginning of the film is only alive for about 30 minutes of the movie before she’s killed, but yet she keeps reappearing in ghost form to help protect Jonathan. At one point she seems so strong that she could take Horace out herself, but again just redelivers a cheesy necklace that Jonathan gave her on her birthday that’s the shape of a heart. If the symbolism in those reoccurring scenes were any more ham-fisted, I would have been knocked out halfway through the movie.
I didn’t expect Shocker to be great, but I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was. I was looking forward to seeing this seemingly forgotten volume in Wes Craven’s catalog, but now I can see why it’s so rarely talked about and not so highly revered. I’d rather have Jonathan’s dad yell more lines through a movie of his own than watch this one again. Shocker shocks 2 headers through the television out of 5.