By conventional cinematic standards, Wes Craven's Shocker is undeniably terrible. Most would likely dump it in the Craven file marked "Sweet Jesus, let's never mention this again!". The sensible would let it moulder beside the likes of Cursed, Vampire In Brooklyn and The Hills Have Eyes Part 2.
|Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Michael Murphy, Peter Berg, Mitch Pileggi, Cami Cooper
Screenplay: Wes Craven
For starters, the direction never quite rises above the level of "lacklustre". An uninspired Craven appears bored, or possibly embarrassed, by the ludicrous high-concept material.
The script can only be described as a flaming trainwreck of cheeseball 80s horror clichés. In a nonsensical nutshell: An all-American highschool football hero (Peter Berg) is menaced by a wisecracking undead serial killer/TV repairman (Mitch Pileggi). This hulking, bald fiend is on a mission of vengeance after "getting' the chair" for slaughtering whole families in their homes. Understandably, he cheats death to taunt and destroy the blank-eyed, blow-waved teen that discovered his identity in a supernatural dream-state. Only now he's become a TV-hopping, body-swapping electro-phantom in a bright orange Death-Row onesie. His name: Hoarce Pinker.
Accordingly, the performances range from cardboard-bland (Berg) to scenery-singeing manic (Pileggi). The tone also continually lurches to different extremes. Grim moments of crime scenes and funerals give way to sudden bursts of jarring comedic violence and reality-denying ridiculousness. At its most cartoonish, it makes Freddy's Dead look like a restrained Hitchcockian masterclass in psychological terror. Unfortunately, the only honest way to describe Shocker is that it resembles a loud, garish collision of Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and The Lawnmower Man.
But that's my rational adult-side talking. Shocker wasn't made for the mature, sensible part of your brain. It's cinematic crack-cocaine for your inner horror kid. It's for that BWX-ridin', Fangoria-lovin' 12 year old that first saw this on VHS.
Every generation needs it own Dracula and Wolfman. Iconic bogeymen to act as archetypal release-valves for the collective teenage subconscious. Purging pubescent sexual and social anxieties. Easing the ageless, elemental dread of facing a finite existence. As a splatter-crazed kid, I had Freddy, Jason, Pinhead and Leatherface. I even had that weird old coot from Phantasm with all those creepy inter-dimensional Jawa-midgets.
Horace pinker, on the other hand, was devoid of hidden substance and deeper meaning. He was a purely absurd, face-gurning, grotesque spectacle. He's more on the level of the Critters from Critters. Or maybe the Ghoulies from Ghoulies. And just as fun.
It's obvious that Craven was attempting to reverse-engineer a successful new horror franchise. He tried to construct the biggest and baddest villain possible, then mash together story ideas to fit around his antics and quirks. To hell with allowing a coherent character to emerge organically from a thrilling story and genuinely earn the audience's love and fear. Horace Pinker is a silly Frankenstein-creation of whatever random superpowers the special-effects budget would allow. He was clumsily designed to ride Freddy Krueger's cashed-up coat-tails to Sequel-Town. Horace, however, ends up looking like the bastard-son-of-a-thousand-maniacs' uncool step-brother. Unsurprisingly, he quickly slipped to the bottom of the pop-culture scrapheap.
On the great Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again Craven is very vocal in his dismay at the increasingly whacky direction ol' Pizza Face took over multiple sequels. But Shocker remains "Exhibit A" of proving that, at the time, he actually felt left out of his own party. It's true that Freddy may be guilty of "jumping the shark" at the hands of other directors, but Craven made sure that Horace followed him over that fish with the same cackling, over-the-top persona and nutty demonic powers.
At one point, Horace mauls a prison guard's hand with his teeth before snarling into the camera: "Arrrgghh, finger-lickin' good!". He also grips the hero in an electric-charged bear-hug and screeches: "Come take a ride in my VOLTZ WAGON!". For laughs, he swaps bodies with a ten-year old girl and a steroid-freak bodybuilder. In the climax, he teleports into bad TV programs and shape-shifts into a vibrating couch (we know it's him due to its evil puppet eyes). And on more than one occasion he bellows: "No more Mr. Nice Guy!". Which also happens to be the tagline of the movie.
And I'm not embarrassed to say that I grinned like an idiot from start to finish. Sure, Shocker may be a relic of its time, but it happens to be a time I truly love. It was when big-haired, fist-pumping metal owned the airwaves and mainstream horror films were still made to be enjoyed by actual horror fans. They'd throw every crazy idea at the screen, no matter how bizarre or tasteless, and hoped something stuck.
It also pre-dates the cold, impersonal era of digital-downloads. It's a time when I lived for that trip to the video store every Friday night. It's walls would be smothered with posters for coming attractions. My eyes would immediately scan around for something awesome. Something HORROR. I can still remember staring in silent excitement at the Shocker poster. It showed a glowing, grimacing bald man getting fried in an electric chair. The tagline: "On Oct 2nd mass murderer Horace Pinker was put to death… Now he's really mad… NO MR. NICE GUY!"
Yep, definitely awesome.