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SHOCKER (1989)

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While it has it’s fans, this is definitely one of the weakest in Wes Craven’s filmography and a real mess that appears quite overindulgent for a director who usually had good command over when to be subtle and when to turn things up to eleven. The story has an L.A. community being stalked by a vicious and brutal serial killer whom is skillfully eluding police. It’s not until he attacks the family of the detective investigating his case, Det. Don Parker (Micahel Murphy) that it falls apart. Parker’s adopted son Jonathan (Peter Berg, who is currently a prolific director) dreamed the whole thing while it happened (there is a vague explanation on why this occurs) and claims he can locate and identify the killer. He does…though, at the cost of his girlfriend Alison’s (Cami Cooper) life…and soon murderer and black magic practitioner, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) is sitting in the electric chair. Despite getting thoroughly juiced, Pinker’s dark magic allows him to leap to another body and soon Pinker is going from body to body trying to get his revenge on Jonathan and anyone close to him.

Also written by Craven, the tone and story are all over the place in this borderline mess. The usually, very skilled director can’t decide whether this is a straightforward slasher with some brutally violent sequences, or, an outright comedy with Pinker and Jonathan battling it out inside TV signals and thus their fight getting inserted in various TV shows and broadcasts. It’s absurd. It’s bad enough Pinker is a sub-par Freddy Krueger, who’ll even possesses a little girl in his effort to kill his adversary, but, he can invade TV signals and travel through electrical outlets? The film gets more ridiculous as it goes on and at 109 minutes, is at least 15-20 minutes too long. Craven seemed intent to create a new franchise with a new boogeyman and simply went overboard. It’s not like the director can’t mix horror and humor, The Hills Have Eyes has some darkly comic moments, as does Elm St. Here, it’s very intrusive with the darker elements and just creates a very schizophrenic tone. There is also little of the director’s trademarked suspense and tension and as a villain, Pinker seems too bloodthirsty to have successfully evaded police when corporeal and makes some bad choices in body hosts when he’s a vengeful spirit. His one-liners are also forced and without the disturbing wit of Mr. Krueger. Craven still has a good visual eye, as in all his films, there are some nice shots and the dream sequences all look appropriately surreal…such as Allison’s spirit gliding through a fog shrouded lake. The gore effects are also gruesomely effective and there is a lot of it. The visual effects are quite cheesy at this point, though, and the various metal tunes peppered throughout the soundtrack are obtrusive and obviously only there to create a marketable soundtrack CD…which actually does have some cool stuff on it.

Cast-wise, Mitch Pileggi, who went on to play Skinner on The X-Files, has a fun time here with what he’s got but, the script let’s him down from being truly memorable. Future director Peter (Lone Survivor) Berg is an OK hero. He’s not quite bland but, never really makes Jonathan endearing or memorable like Langenkamp’s Nancy. Michael Murphy is fine as his father and the case detective but, he and the rest of the characters, for that matter, go along with a lot of unproven nonsense when it comes to Jonathan’s claims about Pinker’s powers. Cami Cooper basically just needs to be pretty and angelic as Allison and then her ghost and for that, she’s fine but, also not very memorable. Cast also features Ted Raimi and Richard (Shakedown) Brooks as Jonathan’s football teammates.

So, what happened here? The director of the viciously brutal Last House On The Left and nightmarish A Nightmare On Elm Street, delivers what might be one of the biggest fails of his storybook career. Craven may have had his share of misfires but, this one is such a mess in both story and tone, you wonder what he was thinking. It’s tedious, ridiculous, over-indulgent and fails to create the new franchise it was so obviously made to do. There are still some nice visual scenes from Craven and the gore is abundant and very effective, but, overall, those things are sunk by the weight of a silly and convoluted story and some uneven direction from a highly competent filmmaker. Craven would bounce back, somewhat, two years later with the oddball and amusing People Under The Stairs and then fully rebound with the classic Scream in 1996…which would redefine the slasher and horror genre for years after.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 fried Pinkers.

shocker rating


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