Shocker is a 1989 slasher by everyone’s favourite Baptist turned pornographer: the late, great Wes Craven.
Mitch Pileggi plays TV repairman and serial killer Horace Pinker, who’s executed by electric chair – and then comes back for revenge. This is Craven’s attempt to create a new Freddy Krueger, which invites unflattering comparisons to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pinker is essentially a pale imitation of Freddy, thanks to Craven’s slash-and-paste approach. The film was actually made 5 years after Elm Street, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the wildly inconsistent special effects. Usually at the cutting-edge of SFX, Craven had hired a specialist who literally failed to deliver. Combined with the studio-imposed rock soundtrack and his usual battles with the censors, the film smacks of compromise and impairment by forces beyond Craven’s control.
Nevertheless, there’s always thought behind Craven’s horror. Well, most of the time. Here he plays with fears surrounding TV and video; fears which plagued ’80s horror just as social media haunts the genre today. Shocker is also clearly an anti-death penalty movie: not only does public execution fail, it makes matters much, much worse. An extension of Craven’s anti-violence ideas behind The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and even A Nightmare on Elm Street, the message is that violence – whether committed by ourselves, the state or our forefathers – makes monsters of us all.
However, these themes are quickly lost to the film’s goofiness. It’s less Shocker, more Schlocker; less A Nightmare on Elm Street, more A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead. That said, there are laughs to be had from Pinker’s ability to occupy other people’s bodies; a power he uses to inhabit the body of a little girl, swear profusely and steal a JCB. Imagine a fun version of It Follows. There are watchable performances from Mitch “X-Files” Pileggi, Peter “Friday Night Lights” Berg – who coincidentally plays a football star – and Ted “brother of Sam” Raimi as a character nicknamed Pac-Man, resulting in lines like: “I wish Pac-Man were here for this.”
A significant step-down from the previous year’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, this is a creatively questionable attempt by Craven to spawn a new horror series and recreate the success of Elm Street. No franchise ever emerged. Shocker.