FANGO Flashback: “SHOCKER”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
One of the things this writer loves so very much about Wes Craven’s filmography is that, when left to his own devices, Craven was not afraid to go absolutely crazy with his work. In that sense, several of Craven’s films throw caution to the wind as irreverent humor, dream logic and bloody horror run wild in an orgy of cinematic madness, such as THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, NEW NIGHTMARE and SHOCKER. And in terms of the latter, Wes Craven uses his unique and twisted sensibilities to try to create a new horror icon, notedly as a response to the franchise from which he was exiled from, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
In the best way possible, SHOCKER is definitely a vision of how Craven would have handled “Jokey Freddy”, the version of Krueger that took the horror world by storm ever since screaming, “Welcome to Primetime, Bitch!” In many ways, Horace Pinker reflects Krueger’s personality and means, possessing people at will and swearing like a sailor at every available opportunity. That said, however, Pinker is such a uniquely Craven creation that it’s hard not to savor every minute he’s on-screen, especially with Mitch Pilleggi’s natural charisma and 100% committed performance bringing the villain to colorful, crazy life.
Of course, SHOCKER is also an interesting horror time capsule in and of itself: a slasher film with a fantastical element, the movie’s soundtrack is loaded with era-appropriate heavy metal (anchored by a cover of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” from Megadeth) and a set piece located in the channel-surfing world of television. At the same time, SHOCKER also definitely plays to Craven’s reputation in the horror genre: the violence of SHOCKER certainly gets bloody, and there are dream-bound scenes that match the blue-hue visual style of the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. And while SHOCKER is, at times, infinitely sillier than one might expect, Craven is clearly having a lot of fun with the property, which is incredibly infectious in its own right.
In retrospect, it seems somewhat weird that SHOCKER was so underrated by Craven die-hards, as the film at its most cartoonish is definitely on a similar level to his beloved PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS and is far more impressive than the later ELM STREET sequels that horror hounds seem to worship. While Craven was a master of horror for many reasons, and could be truly scary when he wanted to be, SHOCKER is Craven at his least restrained, and when the burden of terrifying the audience is lifted, Craven aimed at foul-mouthed fright fare with enthusiasm. And honestly, if a swearing little girl driving a construction vehicle in a broad daylight murder attempt doesn’t put a smile on your face, you need to seriously reconsider your relationship to the horror genre and Wes Craven in general.
SHOCKER also has the benefit of a cast that 100% sells the film for the demented insanity that it clearly is, with Pileggi’s Horace Pinker being a solid addition to Craven’s gallery of memorable antagonists. Peter Berg is also great as the psychically-linked “teenager” who finds himself at the heart of Pinker’s reign of terror, and Michael Murphy is fantastic as Berg’s cop father, who gets a chance to embrace his dark side later on in the fright flick. Furthermore, Richard Brooks and Camille Cooper both offer fantastic turns in supporting roles which help give SHOCKER moments of fleeting gravitas.
At the end of the day, however, SHOCKER is definitely going to be a title in Wes Craven’s oeuvre that will age like fine wine, with its unique blend of horror and humor being incredibly indicative of Craven’s cinematic voice. While the film doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel or even get back to Craven’s scarier, visceral roots, SHOCKER offers Craven at his most fun. And in an age of practical FX and Hollywood excess, the film is oh-so-satisfying when compared to some of the more lifeless studio outings in this day and age, from which a film like SHOCKER could never get made.