After a second fallout with New Line Cinema in 1987, Wes Craven set off to create a new Horror Icon that he promised would rival A Nightmare On Elm Street's Freddy Krueger. The result of this effort was 1989's Shocker, whose story centers on Horace Pinker; a serial killer who is given the electric chair but doesn't quite stay dead. Even Craven's fans will tell you that he is hit and miss. When he hits, it's very often a classic that endures the years. But, when he misses it's far from a pretty sight. Did he succeed here? Well, if you've seen the film then you know very well the answer to that question.
Right from the beginning this film begins to suffer from what will plague it throughout it's run time: corny dialog and comic relief that just falls flat to name a few. Soon, the film starts dishing out a cringe per minute and not in a good way. All of the problems continue to build, and at a certain point the film just becomes a laughing stock; including sequences that seemingly weren't meant to be funny. The third act explodes into a series of lame and convoluted ideas tossed at you one after another.
The film doesn't have much of a mood to it, nor does it look particularly impressive. I was surprised by this, since the film re-teams Wes with A Nightmare On Elm Street Director of Photography Jaques Haitkin. Haitkin did a great job on the Original Nightmare and even helped retain more than a degree of that film's feel in Nightmare 2. You would hope that some of that magic would help or rub off here, but it doesn't. Speaking of Elm Street, that brings us to another of this film's problems. It bares too many resemblances to that franchise. Several scenes in this film will remind you of Nightmare, and dreams play a key role in the plot. Nightmare was at the peak of its popularity when this film was being made, so it gives the overall impression that Wes was stealing heavily from his past and trying to get a rub off Freddy; which he was.
To try and point out the small amount of good things that I found here; I think the pacing of the first 30 minutes was brisk. I also give Wes credit for trying to be ambitious and make a little something out of the film in the form of twists. He provides the audience with basically three stages of Horace Pinker. But the compliments only seem to bring me right back to the shortcomings. Even though Wes seems to have tried, the evolution of Pinker throughout the story just doesn't fully work for me. The second stage is set up in the most bare bones of ways, and the third is just downright stupid; providing one of the worst moments of the film toward the end. And the brisk pace I spoke of earlier, drastically slows down before the hour mark. Once that happens, it really starts to drag. It's just too long; clocking in at over 1 hour and 45 minutes. They should have tried to cut this thing down by 15 minutes or so. I have no problem with a longer run time if the film warrants it, but that's not the case here.
The acting, or should I say over acting, in this film isn't good. Peter Berg is the biggest offender of this; and sadly he is our lead Jonathan Parker, College Football star and the prime target of Pinker. Berg just bugged the shit out of me in this. He whispers half of his lines under his breath, and when he does speak up, he speaks like he has a mouth full of something and is struggling to talk through it. He's also just not believable at all, and I dare say if Wes had cast someone else as the lead, the film could have been a little less painful. Yes, he's that bad. Cami Cooper, who plays Berg's love interest, is also less than striking. Everything she says comes off as either too sappy, or just plain absurd later in the film. I'm sure some of this has to do with the bad dialog also, but a really good actor can take a bad line and make it more acceptable if they really have the chops. So, the actors don't get a pass simply for bad dialog in my book.
The rest of the supporting cast all turn in mediocre performances in my view. Even though he's probably the best actor in this film, I wasn't even that impressed with Mitch Pillegi as Pinker. Nothing really stood out to me in how he portrayed the character. But, Horace Pinker in general, just isn't an interesting character to me. He's very one note; yelling at people and threatening them over and over again. Even cracking the occasional cheesy one liner in the vain of Freddy's later incarnations. But fear not, Vinnie Gustefaro reprises his role of Deputy Rick Cologne from Jason Lives! He survived a Jason film, but will he survive the wrath of Pinker? ...............
Nah, he doesn't reprise that role; just plays a generic Cop that is very similar. But had he played the same character, at least something about this would be amusing. Other faces to watch out for would be Heather Langenkamp who has a very brief scene as one of Pinker's victims in the opening credits. Don't blink or you'll miss her. John Tesh and Ted "Cameo" Raimi also pop up from time to time in bit parts.
People who are die hard Wes Craven fans might be prone to like this, or fans who just like to seek out shitty films for the comedic value. But, I just didn't find it to be entertaining. It's hard for me to believe they thought Pinker was going to spawn a franchise. You need to have a great concept to build off of to make that happen, and to me Shocker didn't have this. In the end, I think most of Shocker's failure comes from its origins. I feel to a certain degree that it was a film made out of spite on Wes' part, due to him losing control over the Elm Street series. That kind of attitude isn't going to create a good film.
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Mitch Pillegi, Peter Berg, Cami Cooper, Michael Murphy, Richard Brooks
Released by: Universal
- Theatrical Trailer