Shocker Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Wes Craven
1989, 109 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on September 8th, 2015
Peter Berg as Jonathan Parker
Michael Murphy as Lt. Don Parker
Mitch Pileggi as Horace Pinker
Cami Cooper as Alison
Sam Scarber as Coach Cooper
Ted Raimi as Pac Man
Richard Brooks as Rhino
Vincent Guastaferro as Pastori
Dr. Timothy Leary as Televangelist
Horace Pinker is a menace who kills entire families because he can, and because he likes to. The police have been unable to catch him and despite the efforts of their best detectives, the only reason they even know who is responsible for the crimes is that Lt. Parker’s son, Jonathan, had a dream the night his family was attacked. Jonathan leads police to Pinker and they eventually subdue him long enough to place him in custody. The electric chair awaits but is far from Pinker’s final destination, for the man is a student of the dark arts and has a few tricks up his sleeve. In the wake of his execution, Pinker’s corpse disappears and people that have recently come in direct contact with him begin acting strangely.
Pinker has somehow mastered the art of possession through body jumping and, even more impressively, can channel his energy into electrical current. Jonathan does his best to protect those in his immediate circle, but the killer begins targeting everyone he loves. Our reluctant hero calls on his high school football teammates to work with his dad in order to stop this monster. Jonathan also has some supernatural support in his corner with the power of love being a cue to force the villain from some of his hiding places. What follows is a crazy game of hide-and-seek as Pinker chases Jonathan from one wild environment to the next and yes...the final confrontation will be televised.
Shocker (1989) is a mixed bag that is not the director’s best effort, but remains a solid, grin-inducing ride that goes totally bonkers during the third act. Writer/ director Wes Craven (Deadly Blessing) has always laced his pictures with social commentary, and here takes on the power of the media and America’s obsession with television. The idea was ahead of its time, as the film was made two years before the 24-hour news cycle came into being during the 1991 Gulf War. Some of the darkest visuals in the film stem from broadcast television’s endless death parade. Vintage images of nuclear annihilation paired with napalm drops over Vietnam serve as the entertainment backdrop in Pinker’s hideout. Similar content would appear in Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1991) in a sequence in which captive children are forced to watch endless coverage of the war in Iraq.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was an unprecedented hit for New Line Cinema, and the studio turned the sinister Freddy Krueger into a wisecracking pop culture icon. Writer/ director Wes Craven was infamously denied a large chunk of the lucrative franchise profits and spent many years chasing the formula to no avail. A number of his subsequent projects including Deadly Friend and The Serpent and the Rainbow managed to shoehorn in familiar cues from his restless slumber with mixed results. Shocker emulates Elm Street not only thematically but also visually thanks to the return of veteran cinematographer Jacques Haitkin. Both films feature similar intros with the villain at work in his lair, quickly followed by our hero asking a friend to keep vigil while he searches for the killer in his sleep.
The underlying desire to introduce Horace Pinker as the new Freddy Krueger is both obvious and sloppy. The finale is a thrill ride of (dated) visual effects, with the world of television standing in for the dreamscape. The first two-thirds of the picture are pretty brutal and at times wickedly mean-spirited, but the final act switches gears and a lot of the suspense is deflated by the inclusion of clever one-liners and other comedic groaners that threaten to sink the whole experience. There is no shortage of creativity on display in Shocker, but the body hopping hook bears a strong similarity to Jack Sholder’s The Hidden (1987), a film that would also inspire New Line’s first foray into Friday the 13th territory, Jason Goes to Hell (1993). As a brief aside, Sholder stepped in to direct the first Elm Street sequel in 1985 when Craven declined.
Michael Murphy (Batman Returns) receives top billing as Lt. Parker, and does a fine job but is quickly eclipsed by the supporting cast. Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files) steals the show as Horace Pinker and is clearly having fun chewing scenery (and fingers!) as the over-the-top baddie. It is too bad that the character is confined to the immediate storyline, as it could have been interesting to see him terrorize a larger population once he taps into a satellite feed. Actor (Fire in the Sky), and later director (Lone Survivor), Peter Berg stars as sympathetic hero Jonathan Parker, the oldest high school quarterback in 1980s horror films. Cami Cooper (Lawnmower Man 2) gives a haunting performance as the doomed love interest, Alison and Richard Brooks (Law & Order) is instantly likeable as Jonathan’s best friend, Rhino. Genre fans will be pleased to see Ted Raimi (Intruder) and Vincent Guastaferro (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) in the roles of Pac Man and Pastori respectively.
Wes Craven has had an impressive career in the industry and managed to score unbelievable success over three consecutive decades making films that revitalized and changed the horror genre. In the 1970s, he made both The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, in the 1980s he brought us A Nightmare on Elm Street and in the mid ‘90s he unleashed Scream. It is an unparalleled accomplishment that makes his recent passing all the more difficult to accept. He did not always hit it out of the park, but for every game changer he gave us, he earned plenty of capital to crap out the occasional Vampire in Brooklyn. His fertile imagination will be sorely missed and fans should be grateful for all of the good times and bad dreams he gave us.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Shocker looks really good for its age, especially given the excessive amount of optical effects. I have no complaints about the picture itself, as colors and flesh tones appear solid and consistent throughout. The visual effects are a bit rough around the edges, but that has everything to do with the technology of 1989 and nothing to do with this transfer.
This movie sounds as good as it looks and I have no serious complaints in this department either. Both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 mix are provided for this release and while the latter is serviceable, I recommend the expanded 5.1 option. The soundtrack features heavily in this film and really shines during the frequent action set-pieces without stepping on dialogue levels.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition releases usually come loaded with special features, and Shocker is no exception, as the disc is loaded with extras both old and new.
Wes Craven’s audio commentary is unfortunately the same limp track that appeared on the UK DVD release many years ago. It features as much awkward silence as it does revealing information, since viewers at home are not the only ones quietly watching the movie.
Thankfully, a trio of interviews conducted by Michael Felsher (Red Shirt Pictures) is presented as a second commentary track. Felsher is joined by cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, producer Robert Engleman and composer William Goldstein. Each piece runs roughly half an hour and provides quite a bit of insight in the production of this film specifically and working with Craven in general.
In the all-new segment Cable Guy (18 minutes), Mitch Pileggi proves beyond doubt that he is one of the nicest, most appreciative actors in the business. He shares stories from how he got into acting and what it was like working as the villain in a Wes Craven film. Pileggi could not appear more pleasant.
Alison’s Adventures (17 minutes) catches up with actress Cami Cooper, who shares many great stories about her time making this film and working with Craven. She has nice things to say about everyone involved, especially Peter Berg.
The real coup here is the Shep Gordon interview It’s Alive (12 minutes), in which the reclusive producer discusses his work on the film. It is really nice to hear his insight and I encourage viewers to check out this piece.
Some would argue that Shocker features one of the best rock soundtracks of the late 1980s, and indeed it features an impressive lineup. No More Mr. Nice Guy (26 minutes) is an excellent addition for music lovers, as a surprising number of musicians appear in this featurette to discuss how they got involved with the movie.
There are two stills galleries included on this disc; the first offers a glimpse at the original storyboards while the latter displays promotional photographs.
The film’s marketing campaign kicks off with the original press kit (9 minutes) featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes clips, followed by the theatrical trailer, TV ads and radio spots.
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