Horror master Wes Craven has written and directed dozens of genre films and TV shows throughout his long career. On more than one occasion, he has arguably redefined the genre and reestablished himself as relevant every generation. He understands story and structure in such an instinctual way that he’s able to elevate even the most inane plot devices and you, noble viewer, just accept it.
With a career so vast and consistent (for a good amount of time, Mr. Craven was averaging 1.5 movies every two years), it’s easy for some of his work to slip through the cracks of mainstream and find themselves late night cable favorites. One of these little gems goes by the name of Shocker.
Written and directed by Craven and starring a young Peter Berg (who has become a solid director in his own right) and Mitch Pileggi (Deputy Director Skinner of X-Files lore), Shocker tells the story serial killing cable repairman who wreaks havoc post mortem.
Lt. Don Parker (Michael Murphy) gets so close to catching said serial killer, the deranged Horace Pinker (Pileggi), that his family is targeted. His wife and biological son are brutally murdered in retaliation. Vengeance is sworn. Parker’s older adopted son, Jonathan (Berg) is emotionally distraught over the deaths and starts experiencing vivid dreams about Pinker. Through said dreams, Jonathan tracks Pinker down. Pinker gets wind and kills Jonathan’s girlfriend. Tortured Jonathan continues having dreams, this time leading to Pinker.
Bad guy caught, all ancillary characters killed off for emotional resonance and a quick trial/death sentence given - Horace Pinker is going to die via electric chair. Good guys win (even though all their loved ones have been brutally murdered), whoo hoo! Not so fast… Pinker made a deal with the devil in the form of giant television lips (yeah) and is now pure electricity! What? He’s Jonathan’s biological father, too! Holy plot twist!
Not only can the newly disembodied Pinker travel through currents, but he can possess any person he comes in contact with, except Jonathan, or course, because he has a magic necklace that his dead lady friend gave him in a dream. The similarities to Craven’s earlier Nightmare films are abundant, tweeked ever so slightly for this lighter affair.
The 80s metal infused soundtrack and “practical” digital effects make this a movie that’s obviously dated, but visually holds up surprisingly well. I wish I could say the same for some of the plot developments, but that’s half the charm. Every cop in this movie is either an idiot or a chain smoking rogue. They also have no concept of procedure or securing a crime scene. If I had a dollar for every time our main character just walks into a crime scene to have some sort of emotional response in front of the deceased’s body… then I’d have three dollars. That’s an energy drink’s worth of poor police work. Also providing (un)intentional laughs are Jonathan's football friends and their collective eagerness to believe and help Jonathan. Not one of them questions his sanity. Perhaps that would bog down the plot too much?
The movie ramps up in its final act when Pinker transmits himself via television. If you’ve ever wanted to see two men fight it out on every channel, this is your movie. All kidding aside, it’s hard not to appreciate the ingenuity that surfaces in the last 20 minutes. The film effectively changes genres from horror/thriller to a strange mix of trippy sci-fi while still maintaining mass consumption appeal.
Put 80s horror clichés in a blender with the era’s metal music, a dash of gore and vulgarity, mix in a little science fiction, place tongue firmly in cheek and you have Shocker. Easily, one of my favorite bad Craven movies.
Spoilers... Ted Raimi is in this movie (YAHHHH), but dies off screen (BOOOO).