Shocker (1989)

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Shocker was a staple of my VHS collection in the good old days and, as a Craven nut, it’s a strange movie I’ve always been very fond of. This was Craven’s hard swing for some franchise cash after New Line took the Nightmare on Elm Streetmovies in their own direction, and while it’s easy to imagine Horace Pinker headlining his own horror series, it’s equally easy to see why that never came into fruition.

Watching Shocker with older, wiser eyes has lessened its impact somewhat. It’s not as conceptually sound as I remember, in fact it’s just kind of dumb. Craven has always been fond of high concepts and the electricity-fuelled body-hopping that takes up much of the film’s second act doesn’t really make sense (Jason Goes to Hell would try something similar more effectively a few years later). There’s also a random subplot involving Peter Berg’s character being able to experience premonitions of Pinker’s murders in his dreams that is never really explained or elaborated on. Still, all these things allow Craven to flex some of his strongest muscles (dream/nightmare imagery, surreal violence) so it can be forgiven. There’s still the sense though that this film comes from a place of chasing commercial success rather than exorcising some personal or creative demons, which is where all of Craven’s best films seem to originate.

Pinker himself is little more than a Freddy knock-off with his TV repair workshop, orange jumpsuit and electricity-induced death standing in for Krueger’s boiler room, striped sweater and firey demise. Mitch Pileggi has great fun chewing into the role though and he’s a big reason why the film is so re-watchable. The conceit of him being able to swap bodies and travel through electrical appliances isn’t the worst gimmick for a horror villain and Craven mines it for some cheeky satire and visual potential as well as a bonkers final act involving Pileggi and Berg battling it out through endless TV backdrops and stock footage. I also really appreciate that this flick has some real bloody violence going on. Craven was always good at painting the town red and there are crime scenes here involving bathtubs filled with blood and people soaked in dark crimson. Hallelujah!

I still dig Shocker even after years of distance. It’s definitely not prime Craven but is creative and vicious enough to be an enjoyable watch. For all its shortcomings, it remains a fun and entertaining genre flick. Maybe it doesn’t warrant the endless revisits I gave it when I was younger but as far as failed-franchse springboards go, it’s certainly worth your time.

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