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Case Number 01065

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Universal // 1989 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 25th, 2001

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All Rise...

Just when you were afraid the proceedings were going to get serious, Judge Patrick swoops in with a review of this Wes Craven stinker. Read his review, which we guarantee to satisfy your palate.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Shocker (1989) (Blu-ray) Collector's Edition (published October 28th, 2015) and The Wes Craven Horror Collection (published September 25th, 2009) are also available.

The Charge

No more Mr. Nice Guy!

Opening Statement

By the late 1980s, Wes Craven had carved out a niche for himself as guru favorite in the horror and splatter genre. With such movies as The Serpent and the Rainbow and the original A Nightmare On Elm Street under his belt (and the Scream series in front of him), Craven turned his horrific attentions to the TV-obsessed consumer in his serial killer extravaganza Shocker. Starring a young Peter Berg (of "Chicago Hope" fame), Michael Murphy (Batman Returns), and Mitch Pileggi as "Horace Pinker," Shocker is on DVD with electrifying results.

Facts of the Case

Shocker is the story of a boy and a serial killer and the strange love between them. Jonathan Parker (winner of the "Most Generic Name Of The Century" award) is having a very bad week. Everything starts out okay at first; he's a football player, got a cute lil' blonde as a girlfriend, and seems to live in one of those small towns that only exist in Norman Rockwell paintings. But soon Jonathan's week turns sour as he starts seeing things that he thinks might be premonitions. Before he can explore these options further, everyone in his family, save for his father, is killed by mass murderer Horace Pinker (Pileggi). Jonathan (apparently unaware that he's in a horror movie) saw his family get killed in a dream and only he knows what Pinker looks like. He and his father hunt him down to his TV repair shop where Pinker lives. After some cat and mouse games, Pinker is finally caught and sentenced to death by the electric chair, resulting in the fastest death sentence ever carried out (it seems to take about two days from when Pinker is caught to when he is electrocuted).

But wait, there's more! What, you thought that was it?! No, no, NO…this is not the end of our story, only the beginning! You also get Horace Pinker fried like Popeye's chicken and back to life with the power to harness electricity, jump into people's bodies, and actually channel surf TV stations by jumping into the screen!

Soon Jonathan is chasing down the Pinker as he hops from body to body (his soul looks like a fuzzy TV image) and shocks the nation with his homicidal tendencies. Can Jonathan catch Pinker before he kills again? And what is Jonathan's strange link to Pinker's past?

The Evidence

Mr. Craven, you've certainly done better. You've done worse, but you've done better. Shocker has all the elements of a typical '80s horror film. Even Alice Cooper shows up on the soundtrack, as he did in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Actually, Shocker is filled with all kinds of heavy metal bands playing soaring guitar behind scenes of death and dismemberment (including Megadeth, Iggy Pop, Dangerous Toys, and everyone's favorite, The Dudes of Wrath). It was in this decade that we were given some of the greatest rock and roll driven horror films ever: Trick Or Treat, Slumber Party Massacre II, and this little ditty.

And of course we get Craven directing scenes of bloodshed and mayhem that makes even the hardened moviegoer go "ewwwww."

Shocker is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks excellent for a medium sized '80s horror flick. Though there were spots of dirt and grain present, the picture looks overall crisp and clear. Colors were bright and blacks solid with only the slightest bit of fading present. Though digital artifacting was non-present, slight edge enhancement was spotted. Universal is given credit for a good transfer to a sub-par film.

Audio includes Dolby Surround in both English and French. Sound mix was clear of any hiss or distortion with bass being loud and clear. It would have been nice to have gotten a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix for Shocker (especially for the end sequence), but this will do for now. Music or effects never drowned out dialogue, and rear speakers were used very sparingly.

Extras on Shocker included the obligatory theatrical trailer (yawn), some cast and crew bios, some web links and film highlights (double yawn), and some production notes that do give some insight into the making/history of the film, as well as Craven's thoughts on the project.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Shocker is, unfortunately, a big disappointment. Let's be honest; this is like a big budget rip off of his earlier and better A Nightmare On Elm Street. Take the two villains, Freddy Krueger and Horace Pinker; both are able to jump into people's dreams, cackle wise guy remarks before dispensing their victims, and both are charred crisp like Col. Sanders chicken (Freddy having a bit more trouble in the complexion department than Pinker). Each film includes surrealistic locations and bent reality. Even the way the killer is hunted through dreams is the same. At this point in his career it was time for Craven to chuck the dreamscape and move on to something different (which he eventually did with much more interesting films as The People Under The Stairs and the Scream trilogy).

The plot for Shocker is disjointed and borders on uninteresting. Scenes seem to shift from one area of the script to another, jumping what seem to be time zones. You can't tell if it was just yesterday or three months ago that the last scene took place. Whoever edited this thing should have been tied up and had live electrical cords shoved up their ying-yang. Character motivation is usually unclear. Pinker is a one-note villain with no real desire to do anything but kill. At least with Freddy there was depth (if only minimal). It seems that if you want a well-rounded villain, you have to give him some kind of background, however small it may be (and Wes, being a TV repairman doesn't count).

The cast is less than adequate, with Peter Berg doing an especially ugly job as the hero. I've seen Berg's performance on "Chicago Hope" as well as his directorial debut Very Bad Things and thought both were exceptional. Here Berg plays his character over the top and sporadic. The character of Horace Pinker is even worse. We'd already seen Freddy as a cackling maniac in the Nightmare On Elm Street series, so by the time Shocker was released there wasn't anything original or interesting about the character of Horace Pinker. Sure, Mitch Pileggi plays him with surefire menace and spite, but it's boring. If you think that Pinker biting off someone's fingers then saying "finger lickin' good" is funny, you need to get out more often.

Closing Statement

For a film by horror master Wes Craven, this is coming close to the bottom of the barrel in his cannon. As usual you could do much worse than Shocker, though you can definitely do much better (for Craven's look into dreams and reality, check out 1984's A Nightmare On Elm Street or the 1994 sequel Wes Craven's New Nightmare). At best this is a mediocre rental for fans of the genre.

The Verdict

Found guilty of being a rehash of most other horror flicks of its time. But we'll avoid the electric chair for this one for obvious reasons…

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Scales of Justice

Video: 88
Audio: 83
Extras: 40
Acting: 73
Story: 68
Judgment: 63

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Biographies and Filmographies of Cast and Filmmakers
• Theatrical Trailer
• Production Notes
• Web Links
• Film Highlights


• IMDb

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