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Shocker Retrospective – Evil in the Airwaves

Poster for Wes Craven's Shocker.
Shocker Poster.

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Jonathan is a college football player who was adopted by a police Lieutenant and his family at a young age. When a psychotic killer begins a murder spree in Jonathan’s hometown, he begins to see each killing in his dreams. Jonathan learns that he is psychically connected to the killer. But he doesn’t know why. Jonathan helps the department successfully capture the killer. But after being arrested, the killer transfers himself into the television airwaves and continues his murder spree.

Wes Craven wrote and directed this 1989 horror/science fiction hybrid. The script represents a mostly inventive premise. The dream angle of Craven’s screenplay is somewhat derivative of A Nightmare on Elm Street. But it is reasonable for Craven to riff on one of his past creations in the process of telling a new story. In terms of directorial process, this is not Craven’s best showing. His entire cast is constantly  overacting. And Craven never really reins them back in. However, the melodramatic nature of the performances gives the film a ‘so bad it’s good’ appeal.

Upon its release, critics universally panned Shocker. It was a modest box office success but didn’t set any records. Due to bad reviews and a slightly preposterous premise, Shocker remains an under appreciated film. It’s not Craven’s best work but it’s not his worst either.

Peter Berg (Smokin’ Aces) stars as Jonathan. And Camille Cooper (Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace) plays Jonathan’s girlfriend, Alison. Berg is a bit of a buffoon. His performance is always melodramatic but somehow I can’t help but like him. His character is emotionally vulnerable and that is rare to see from a male lead in a horror film. Camille Cooper isn’t a whole lot better as Alison. But her performance is also bearable. Mitch Pileggi (Vampire in Brooklyn) stars as Horace Pinker. Horace Pinker is perhaps the most unfortunately named slasher film killer ever. Pileggi’s performance is extremely excessive. It is over the top and then some. But in spite of his tendency to overact, Pinker makes an interesting and frequently overlooked horror film killer. Fans of A Nightmare on Elm Street will be pleased to see that Heather Langenkamp in a brief cameo.  She plays one of Horace Pinker’s victims.

Even though neither Peter Berg nor Camille Cooper delivers particularly memorable performances, Jonathan and Alison’s relationship is surprisingly authentic.

One of the things that work well about Shocker is its soundtrack. It combines heavy metal music with ultra violence. The result is reminiscent of Argento’s tendency to pair rock music with extreme carnage. The soundtrack features songs from Megadeth with Tommy Lee, Iggy Pop, and Paul Stanley also contributing.

Shocker is not representative of Craven at the top of his game. The film is below average but it’s not to be discounted entirely. In spite of not being a great movie, it still manages to be enjoyable. The film’s collective parts are not good on their own but when the elements are put together, there is a certain charm to the flawed nature of the film. It’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me. I know that I shouldn’t like it and as a film critic, I know that it’s not a great movie but I can’t keep myself from appreciating it in spite of all that.

If you haven’t seen Shocker because of its terrible reputation, consider giving it a chance. Don’t expect anything from it and you may come away pleasantly surprised. It features a good soundtrack and an interesting killer. The characters are mostly likable and there is  plenty of overacting. Shocker is currently available on DVD from Universal.

WICKED RATING: 3.5/10  [usr 3.5]

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Written by Tyler Doupé
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dogs, and cat hat(s).
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