It’s impossible to talk about Shocker without mentioning the recent passing of writer/director Wes Craven. For those of you who saw my top 30 movies that took about a year and a half to actually complete, you know that the original Nightmare on Elm Street was amongst those elite picks and if I were to do a top 50, you may find Nightmare 3 in there as well, with Scream maybe even getting a shot too. So obviously I’m a fan. Even when his movies aren’t particularly great (such is the case with the one I’m about to write about), they are always at least unique with a handful of memorable sequences. Wes Craven was often a unique voice and it’s really too bad we won’t get to see what else he may have done.
Shocker is a strange one that I think I may have seen a long time ago but don’t remember so I’m still counting this as a new review! The police are in search of a serial killer who has been breaking into homes and murdering families, racking up dozens of kills without them getting any closer to catching him. It turns out the man they are looking for is Horace Pinker, played by Mitch Pileggi in a gloriously over the top performance. He’s found by high school student who looks 28, Jonathan, who can see what Horace is up to while he is dreaming. Though the dream is actually taking place in real life and he travels to where Horace is and can see what he’s doing and Horace can actually see him even though technically he isn’t actually there because he’s somewhere else sleeping. Yeah.
This first part of the movie carries on for a surprisingly long time. Outside of the weird dream stuff, this first 45 minute chunk plays it pretty straight as a serial killer thriller. Once Pinker is caught and sent to the electric chair, it’s then the movie reveals it’s actually completely out of its mind. The execution doesn’t go as planned, in that they planned for Pinker to die, but instead he becomes an electricity man and starts hopping around from body to body so that he can keep on murdering people but also he can travel through TV’s and stuff because he’s made of electricity. And he says a ton of Freddy Krueger-esque one liners. The second half of this movie is definitely a lot weirder, and as a result more entertaining, than the first half.
Shocker is a goofy ass movie. That’s both to its benefit and its detriment. This is overall a pretty grim story as Pinker murders nearly everyone close to John right in the opening. It could make for a very intense horror movie, but we all know there’s an electric guy around the corner so it’s hard to take it too seriously. It doesn’t help that Pinker is spouting more one liners than a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. It makes for a not so scary horror movie by any stretch.
At the same time, Pileggi is easily the best part of this movie as he just goes for it and chews the hell out of all the scenery he can get a hold of. He’s clearly having a blast and as a result, the movie suffers whenever he’s not on screen. Pileggi dominates the role so intensely that when we’re dealing with the body jumping it’s just not the same. Sure the actors who portray being possessed by Pinker do a solid job (a little girl probably being the most effective) but they simply ain’t no Pileggi.
Without spoiling it, the last 15 minutes of this movie is….well, it’s pretty astounding. Here’s a movie that begins with a serial killer murdering children, and by the end has become a live action cartoon. It contributes largely to what makes Shocker so watchable – you are never ever going to be able to guess what’s going to happen next.
Shocker ranks somewhere in the middle for me in Craven’s filmography. It is so tonally all over the map that it almost feels like two different movies stitched together. The initial half is a decent serial killer story, while the second is a bananas piece of nonsense that is pretty fun to watch, with the whole thing held together by a very game Pileggi. It may not be a great movie, but it’s certainly not a boring one.