Writer: Wes Craven
Director: Wes Craven
Lt. Don Parker - Michael Murphy
Jonathan Parker - Peter Berg
Alison - Cami Cooper
Horace Pinker - Mitch Pileggi
Synopsis: When a college student stumbles upon a crime scene in a dream, he helps stop a serial killer in a Midwestern US town. But when the killings continue after his execution, only Jonathan can stop Horace Pinker's killing spree before it starts again.
This time out, I grabbed the little known Wes Craven classic, Shocker. This was another attempt to start a horror franchise a la Freddy. However, this movie never quite took off, outside of a small cult following, and these days it is forgotten by most people, I suspect. Being Wes Craven, it's more well known than some other movies we'll get to, but compared to other movies he has done, this is the forgotten stepchild. Which is a shame, since even though it's pretty bad, it has some merit, and the ideas it presents are pretty fun, at least.
This movie opens up with tight shots of a man puttering around a workshop, digging through electronics, and trying to get a television working. These are our first glimpses of the antagonist of the movie, Horace Pinker. All of this happens over the movie's soundtrack, which is one of the best soundtracks ever. Whenever I watch this movie, I can't help but pause and rock out to the metal tunes they used for it. Great use of late 80s music. I have adoration for this movie based on the soundtrack alone. There's a few stinkers on it, but most of the songs rock.
While the music plays on, and the tv gets working, we're given some news footage exposition of recent murders in the town of Maryville, and that the murderer is still at large, unknown, and plows through his victims. Sounds a lot like Jason, if you ask me.
Some notable names in the credits include a cameo by famous drug advocate Timothy Leary, and one Theodore Raimi. Not Ted, mind you. He must have been going through a serious phase. Which makes me wonder what he's doing in a Wes Craven film, but ok.
It doesn't take long for the movie to introduce our hero, Jonathan Parker, local college football player, and horrible actor. I had forgotten how bad some of his performance is in this. I'm very forgiving about acting. As long as they can deliver their lines in a non-stilted way, don't chew some scenery, and put some emotion behind their lines, then we're good. But man, Peter Berg... His opening lines in this are a rush where he barely pauses for breath. He's the anti-Shatner.
He does have one good line that I wish more people would remember, "If you don't like the news, change the channel." And remember, this was back in the 80s, when we only had a few channels, even on cable! Today, it should be even easier, but nooo.
While the acting is painful, I have to give credit to Wes Craven to the next few scenes. Jonathan's at practice, and he gets easily distracted by his girlfriend Alison. As expected, he gets tackled. He's so easily distracted that the coach tells him there's a naked girl in the stands, and he takes a look. And is properly smacked upside the head for it by the coach. Practice resumes, and he runs straight into a goal post. Next he's walking away and topples over the refreshment table for the players. This guy is our hero, and he is now firmly established as a bumbling klutz. Harkens back to Mark from the Popcorn review, but Jonathan has far better success. His klutziness fades pretty quick, and is pretty much all chalked up to his head injury, but it's always nice to see a writer completely having his star take the piss.
Captain Brain Damage heads home with Alison, and on the way they stumble into Jonathan's old neighbourhood, which is apparently on Coincidence Boulevard. Not only is it his old neighbourhood, they're right across from the house he grew up in as a foster child. Not only is it his old home, but there's a suspcious van out front, and the front door is open. Not only is it incredibly suspicious, but once inside, Jonathan discovers the serial killer that's been terrorising the town, about to kill his foster mother and foster siblings.
Wow. That's an awful lot to buy into. Just as you're about to check out of the movie with a loud, "Oh, c'mon!" at how much is just happening to occur, Jonathan is attacked by Pinker and wakes up in his bed. Craven just about gets us to buy all these coincidences by having them all be a dream.
OR ARE THEY?
Jonathan finds out the killings actually happened, and his family is mostly dead, again. His real parents died when he was young, and that's how he ended up with the new family. He meets with his foster father, who just happens to be the lead cop on the serial killer case. Jonathan tries to explain that he dreamed he was there, he saw who did it, and gives details that no one could know, unless they were there. He remembers the side of Pinker's TV repair van, and can lead the cops there.
Lt. Parker takes his son at his word, and figures it is at least worth checking out the sketchy lead. Not like they have much else to go on.
Horace is one of my favourite horror movie villains. A lot of that goes to the awesome Mitch Pileggi. Most people first encountered him as A.D. Skinner on the X-Files, and that's a big role for him in my head, but he will always be associated with Horace first. He seems to absolutely love this part, and went to some really dark places. His performance is crazy. A lot of it is in his eyes. The anger and crazy is just totally sold by Mitch. If I'd only ever saw this movie, and met him, I would be absolutely terrified of the guy. Too many villains of this genre are silent lumberers, Freddy gets a bit too wisecracky for me at times, or they're just plain bad. Horace is a wild animal, and that's what you see in Pileggi's eyes.
He's constantly being described, before they know who he is, as this unstoppable force, being cruel, crushing his victims if they resist. There's no rhyme or reason ever given to his behaviour, he's just a psychotic sociopath. This is made all the more frightening when you know Pinker has a limp. You should be able to get away from this guy, but like the best villains, he absolutely will not stop until you're dead. It's that persistence that wins out.
Horace's lair/repair shop is a well done piece of set design. It's cluttered, filled with tvs always on, junk everywhere, bits and bobs of electronics from circuit boards, to tubes, to things I can't identify. It's a testament to the chaotic mind of Pinker, and while he's a killer, he also has a real job. Even has some secret doors and compartments where he can hide, which he does while the cops search for him, urged on by Jonathan's feeling his presence.
Pinker makes short work of the cops and kills four of them before anyone even notices. Jonathan and his father only discover the first body because a giant pool of blood is seeping out from the hidden doorway he was dragged into. I love Papa Parker checking the guy's gashed open throat to see if he's alive. The guy's been bleeding long enough for the pool to reach from where his body was, across the floor, and under the door. He ain't getting up. Pinker's gotten away, but the cops know who he is now, and have a description to work with. For a dream, that's a major break in the case.
Something I always liked about Craven's movies was that his worlds always seem to be very rooted in reality. Maryville, Springwood, the characters. They all seem like very real places. Something about a college student with an old car that looks decent, but isn't in the best of shape, just feels incredibly real. Too often we see kids with the latest, greatest cars in the movies. These places may eventually delve into the weird and supernatural, but they start out very true to life, and while the stories might be absurd, or crap, there's a style to them that is definitely Wes's strength as a filmmaker.
Anyways, there's murdering afoot!
Horace, not one to hold a grudge, pays Jonathan a visit to thank him for ruining his life of annonymity by killing Alison. He bathes the bathroom in her blood. That's one of the reddest, bloodstained rooms I've ever seen. This is the fourth person close to Johnathan that Pinker has killed. I'm trying really hard to not make jokes about wearing out his funeral suit, or saying to the cemetary groundskeeper that he'll see him next week.
Naturally, Jonathan decides to continue the cycle of revenge, and heads out to his car, which is parked on the football field. Er?
He induces another dream, finds Horace once again, and goes racing off after him. I would think he could've done this from home. Ok, the bloodstained bathroom might have been a deterent there, but there's plenty of places he could've gone that would have been more suitable than parking on the football field. Any old parking lot, for example.
As they drive off, the weirdness continues and several cop cars give chase, where they were hiding in the shrubbery next to the football field. Again, I must say, er?
I can't get into the level of weird logic of this scene. Everything just feels so off, and almost destroys everything I said about Craven's believable worlds. The only thing that makes sense is that they had the football field and wanted to make sure they got their money's worth, or filming was ruined elsewhere for whatever reason, so they moved to the only available location to film a scene and not waste a night. I also don't get why the cops were hiding. How did they just happen to think to follow Parker, lurk outside the football field, and wait for him to have a dream? Sure, his dreams happened to pay off before, but that's a lot to go on faith, even at this point.
Can you imagine the conversation at the station? "Look guys, Horace is on the loose still, but my foster kid had this one dream about him, so I think he's gonna dream again. I need you to lay in wait outside the football field just in case he decides to park there and have his dream."
Since the movie would be stalled otherwise, Jonathan actually finds Parker again, and the cops lead the charge. Nice that everything worked out on that giant series of hunches, guys! Pinker gets away, heading to the roof, and Parker gives chase. I'll give him credit, he may be a brain damaged klutz, but he can do the hero thing on occasion. He leaps across a chasm between buildings, and even drop kicks Horace in the back. That takes balls, no question. Even if you're in revenge mode, that takes a huge pair.
Horace barely flinching from the kick though, which just makes him all the more bad ass. He then proceeds to toss Parker around like a rag doll.
Fortunately, the cops arrive and actually arrest the guy, while Jonathan babbles incoherently trying to deliver lines.
The movie is about a third done, and this is when we're finally getting into the meat of the story. This is another strength of Craven's. He knows how to build story, create the characters, and lay all the groundwork for things to come. The movie is 35 minutes in, and we know the players, we know the relationships, and now the fun can start.
Many movies would have made everything up to this point their entire movie, the hunt for a serial killer, being guided by a guy having dreams. Heck, that's the plot of Medium every week. But not Shocker! No, this is all just setup folks! I'm ok with that.
Pinker is so gloriously deranged. He's in his cell, with the television he requested, waiting to be taken to the electric chair. His cell is adorned with candles, and he's disassembld the tv and hooked himself up to it with jumper cables. I guess he wants to get an early start on the execution?
He nearly kills himself, but not before a mysterious entity grants him a boon he requests. This was nicely built up earlier by his secret rooms having paraphernalia for black magic rituals, and the dead cats. It's not a random magical insertion. The guards are leery, but know they'll be in trouble if he dies, so they try to resuscitate him. Poor bastards. He nearly bites off the lip of one guard, and chews off two fingers from the other when he tries to get Horace to stop. All the while, he's laughing and cracking jokes.
At the execution, Horace reveals to Parker in the audience that he's his real father, he killed his mother, and Jonathan was the one who shot Pinker in the kneecap, causing the limp. This was a great moment for me as a kid. It was perfectly setup, and while it may seem obvious, when you're about 15, it's a huge revelation. You never forget your first surprise twist.
Anyways, the execution doesn't go as planned, and while Pinker is filled with juice, it doesn't kill him. The doctor goes in to check on him, and she's shocked by the latent electricity, which blows out the lights for a moment. When they go up, the doctor is on the ground, and Horace is gone. She's rushed off to the hospital, and Horace's body is found behind a door, and it promptly falls to the ground, and bursts into flames, leaving nothing more than his orange prison jumpsuit behind, a la Obi Wan Kenobi.
The doctor wakes up, assaults the cops taking her to the hospital, and crashes the car. Parker, his dad, and friends see the explosion, and they go to investigate. Everyone's a crispy critter except for one of the cops. Jonathan somehow makes the massive leap of logic that Horace ain't really dead. That's a bit of a massive leap, even if you're not having any of your special 'feelings' about Pinker, pal.
Alison returns in a dream, covered in blood, to give Parker the necklace he gave her, as a form of protection against Horace. Ok, I'm willing to buy this object of a loving relationship being imbued by forces of good as a weapon against evil. Heck, I'm buying into a guy who can hop from body to body via electricity. Still, I always felt it was a weird MacGuffin.
As Parker wakes up, the possessed cop has shown up outside, just as a call from dad tells him that cop has gone missing. Let the gunshots commence. Parker runs, Pinker gives chase... I love that every possessed person still has that limp. It makes it easy to spot the guy once you know what you're looking for, but isn't so out of the ordinary either. It also maintains that air of zombielike menace that Pinker has. He's slow, but he's still coming to get you. It's a way better tell than whistling, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow".
It's also not entirely clear if Pinker's various states of power is just draining the bodies, or the various states of health they're in. I like the latter, frankly. The cop is out of shape, and doesn't give great chase, so he jumps into a jogger in the park they end up at. A shot jogger, but it was a nice idea.
After the jogger, he possesses a little girl, and she's one of the best Pinkers in the movie. Kids being evil is a staple of the genre, and they can't all pull it off. Heck, most of the adults don't pull off a very good Horace. She managed to capture Pinker's menace very well, and his cold determination when she was stealing the bulldozer was chilling. I bet her parents were just thrilled at the new words she learned from the script, though. She also was very good at limping, although once she started running, it did become more of a bunny hop.
Horace continues jumping, from the kid, to her mother, to a construction worker. Parker discovers the necklace can drive Pinker out of a body before he uses it up, but the construction worker Horace hooks it on his pickaxe and hurls it into a nearby pond.
Parker enlists the aid of his best friend, Rhino, and the coach. I absolutely love that they are completely on board with Parker's story. They barely even question it, and are all set and raring to go. No "That's crazy!" bull, they just buy into Pinker bodyjumping from body to body. That's a true friend. Or you could say the coach is backing his play.
So, while Parker goes to wait, he sends the coach and Ted Raimi to get his diving mask, because he can't go back to his house, and he wants to get the pendant back. No one could've loaned him one? The sports department doesn't have some goggles he could use?
Anyways, silliness aside, things don't go well for 'Theodore' and the coach. Ted gets dead, and the coach gets possessed. After waiting for a long time, Jonathan gives up and goes to find them, and fights Coach Pinker. His performance was frequently dubbed over with Pileggi's voice, giving you an idea of how good his version was, I guess.
Allison the ghost stops Pinker's attack, and he eventually tries, and succeeds to jump into the electrical system. Once there, he finds his way into Lt. Parker, and he gives another great Pinker performance. Really captured the sick and twistedness of him, as well as the menace.
Horace in Papa Parker's body chases their son to a tv broadcast tower. Jonathan leads his dads up the tower, which is a weird way to go. Sure, he was in a dead end, and his only option was up, but that's an even worse dead end! Jonathan keeps falling for Pinker giving a fake out unpossession, and this time he almost pays for it. Fool me once, and all that, right?
Pinker continues to be fiendishly clever, and uses the dish to escape into the airwaves, hiding out in the television broadcasts. This leads to a few funny scenes of him wandering through some shows. And John Tesh. How could I have forgotten to mention John Tesh cameoing as a newsanchor?
There's a few comments about people dying while watching tv, and there's something I like about that. It's similar to the social commentary/fear that the red scare caused movies to have all the radioactive mutants in the 50s. It's totally inaccurate and wrong, but it's an interesting way to verbalise fears that people had about tv in the early days, and make it literal.
So, while Horace goes channel surfing, Parker formulates a new plan, and drags the rest of his football team in with him. They're ready to go, don't really question what he's saying yet again, and I really like that camraderie. Too often we get the jocks as jerks stereotype, and it's nice to see them being friends, helping each other, and being intelligent. They feel like real people, and show loyalty. I wish more of them had been developed earlier.
While the team heads to the power station to blow it at midnight, Parker goes in search of the pendant again. His mask was broken by Pinker, so he just blindly dives in. Alison turns up and scares the living crap out of him, and she keeps doing it. Ghosts, they have no people skills, do they?
Again, this seems to be a dream. I don't know why he's searching for the pendant in a dream. You would think he'd have better luck at the real pond. I also don't know why the football team is so eager to play with electricity in the rain, but whatever.
And I'm not even going to try and analyse making out with your dead girlfriend in the dreamscape while people could be dying.
All the victims of Horace Pinker show up to interupt his attempt to get some supernatural lovin', led by Ted, and they urge him to wake up before it's too late. Nice touch to bring back all those faces, and show even more in the mists, to show just how much of a monster Pinker is, and the need to stop him.
Parker wakes up, with the pendant around his neck, and flops into his special vibrating electric chair, which has been possessed by Horace. It attacks him, transforms, but thanks to the necklace, Pinker is driven off.
He dives into the tv to escape, and Jonathan gives chase. I have no idea why he can pull this off. Logic, away! Horace can only do it because he made a dark pact. Sure, he's his son, but he's not made any deals with the devil. The pendant maybe, but that's just protection against the bad guy, no real reason why it should enable channel surfing.
But it leads to a very well done fight across stock footage of wars, explosions, and destruction, and a few other shows. They pay John Tesh a visit, and Timothy Leary as a televangelist.
Which leads me to the effects of this movie. They're actually really good. This is a low budget film, made in 1989. The green screen got a bit dodgy at times, but the scanning artifacts on Pinker, that make him look like a tv ghost (Oooh, that's a good turn of phrase, and so appropriate), are really well done. They're supposed to look a bit crap, like bad tv reception, which probably helps them, since if they look bad, that's ok. It works, it really does. They may look dated today, but for the time, they were really well done, very creepy, and perfect for the tone.
The duo escape briefly to the real world through another tv, Parker grabs their remote, and dives right back in, and his real father follows. Parker changes the channel to a local news channel where he's had them set up in his little sister's room, saying he'd deliver the real killer, and so he does.
Pinker scares off the crew, and Parker's getting a pretty savage beating, but gets the upper hand when he uses the remote to pause Horace. Hooray for TiVo! Parker makes him his bitch for a few minutes, using the remote to toss him around the room like a rag doll and give him a taste of being a helpless victim.
The lesson falls on deaf ears, and Horace laughs off the attempts to make him give a crap. He continues to be a remorseless bastard, and rant about how much he loves what he does. Again, Mitch Pileggi is awesome.
But Jonathan has more of a plan than that. If I'm following this right, since the tv camera was pointed at the tv screen, Parker basically made a loop, creating a virtual tv version of the room, much like the WW2 footage they moved through, and once the power goes out, anyone left inside will be gone, since there's nothing keeping the signal active. All Jonathan has to do is escape through the videocamera back into the real world.
Pinker escapes, delays Jonathan, but he drapes the chain of the pendant around the camera lens, and dives through it at the last second. With the neckalce in place, Pinker can't follow, and is trapped, forever. Or at least until the sequel.
Which sadly never came. This could have been a really fun, inventive new horror franchise, but it never quite took off. Sure, it's pretty bad, illogical at times, and cheesy, but there's worse movie series out there, by far. I would love to see more adventures of Horace Pinker, the Shocker. The movie could have done much more with it's themes. It talks about Horace living by the rules of tv, which he never really does until the last few moments of the movie, and the criticism of society and it's love of television would have been a fun thing to explore in this series.
I do like the final note of the movie; power is out, tvs are down across the city, and everyone stumbles outside, and takes in the beauty of the stars, a little surprised at how bright they are, how beautiful life is. It's corny as hell, but it's a nice touch to the end of this movie, and fits in with the message it haphazardly tried to share.
Video: Not bad. Pretty sharp, clear. Very good transfer for a movie from 1989. No complaints.
Audio: A stereo mix, that's pretty solid. All the voices are clear, good mix and movement. I would love to hear this in 5.1, but can't complain about what there is.
Special features: Sorely lacking. A few production notes, a trailer, and bios. For a DVD from 1999, that's almost normal, and not the exception. I would have loved some features on the effects.
First kill: Well, we get our first dead body at 7:30 when Jonathan discovers his foster brother, and we hear about the rest of his foster family dying shortly after. We don't actually have the first in the middle of what's going on and not a (prophetic though it may be) dream death about ten minutes later, when Horace kills his first cop off screen. The first on screen, full on kill is at about 18:15, when the second cop is stabbed in the gut, quickly followed by another with his throat slashed.
Best kill: I'm going with the 'death' by electric chair of Horace Pinker. He's electrocuted, fried quite a bit, survives, cackles insanely, escapes the chair, and eventually his husked body falls to the ground and bursts into flames. Now that's going out with style.
Best line: "Do we have any cheese spread, or what??"
This is said by the man of the house in the home that Pinker and Parker burst into on their television jaunt. I always remembered it as Horace, while smacking the family around in his sadistic way, taunting them and asking if they "had any fucking cheese spread?!" But the memory of kids can be iffy. Still, it's a pretty damned random thing for a guy to be worried about when two guys burst out of his tv and start wrestling through his living room.
Blood factor: High. There's buckets of blood all over this film. No real gore per se, and just slashed throats, but Pinker paints the town red.
Nudity/Sex appeal: None. Kissing, girlfriendy stuff. That's about it. Hilarious fake out where the camera starts to pan across the bed, and we hear grunting and groaning like Jonathan and Alison are going at it, but then we see her in the bathtub in the background, and it becomes clear that Parker is just working out.
Rating: This is probably the best this site will get. It's corny, and bad, and silly, but there's some merit to it, a little cleverness to the premise, and some good themes to explore, but it's potential was cut short. Still, for this site, it gets four out of five jars of cheese spread.