The F*ckin Black Sheep: Shocker (1989)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Shocker (1989)
Directed by Wes Craven

"That could be up there as one of the most painful effects ever put to film."

Like any director with a lengthy career, Wes Craven has had lots of hits and lots of bombs. For every SCREAM and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET that redefined the genre, a CURSED or MY SOUL TO TAKE tried to destroy it. But what about all those in-between films, the ones that never connected with the masses, the ones that didn't spawn an insulting amount of sequels? 

Take SHOCKER for example, which probably is best known for having that bald guy from the X-FILES as a killer and a heavy metal soundtrack (including Megadeth covering “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and quite a bit of Paul Stanley). But that really isn't fair. SHOCKER is better than that. In fact, it’s a quality entry into the horror genre. Ok, so it isn't the most creative thing Craven released for public consumption with a few too many ELM STREET overtones with that whole is-it-a dream-or-reality plot line. Oh and another waterbed. But that’s fine. Some things are worth overlooking.

In case you've missed the tale of SHOCKER, it revolves around Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), the worst TV repairman ever who not only won’t give free cable but will kill you and your family. He crosses paths with a cop (Michael Murphy, the mayor from BATMAN RETURNS) and his son Jonathan (Peter Berg who I actually thought was Kevin Dillon). After Pinker kills some of Jonathan’s family, he ends up caught and meets the electric chair, where he somehow defies death (momentarily) and becomes the stuff of bad dreams. Just when Jonathan thinks he can rest easy, Pinker not only haunts his nightmares, but he can now body hop from one poor sap to the next. Then things get weird from there with some major electric issues. 

I dig a lot about SHOCKER with its great visuals and a true sense of darkness, dread and despair. The emotional shit that Jonathan puts up with from Pinker (who even kills his girlfriend) drains the viewer…hard not to feel for the guy. While the story recycles many ELM STREET ideas, the look of the movie is what really works. I give credit to long time horror cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, a name horror fans should know. The guy has shot a lot of genre flicks, from B quality (GALAXY OF TERROR) to A quality (like ELM STREET and SILENCE OF THE HAMS…just kidding…mostly B stuff). 

Haitkin’s style fits perfectly with Craven’s dark world, who once again gives quality, brutal gore. My sick favorite? When Pinker bites off the bottom lip of a prison guard. Damn. Ouch. That could be up there as one of the most painful effects ever put to film. Not even Hannibal Lecter got that horrific, but it's a hell of a special effect.   

Now since a movie like this is only as good as its villain, SHOCKER delivers. Pinker isn’t Freddy. He isn’t Mike Myers. Hell, he isn’t the Leprechaun. But Pileggi (who I dig) does what he can and damn if he doesn’t try. He ends up a bit too over the top here like a murderous, demented cartoon villain; he tries too hard to be absolute evil, like a bad combination of the Joker and Freddy. Plus, Pileggi gets stuck delivering shitty lines like, “Eat your heart out, sucker.” ¬†However, it's not all bad for Mr. Pinker. The TV repairman angle works great as a visual as does the orange jumpsuit. He just needs to tone it down here and there as he makes for a frightening boogie man. 

SHOCKER has plenty of questionably dumb ideas. The best of the worst is when our young hero Jonathan goes to his football coach for advice on what to do when an evil spirit tries to kill you. That conversation goes way too smoothly. Or how about that goofy finale where Pinker and Jonathan leap from channel to channel? It's ridiculously out of place.

Regardless, SHOCKER is one of those movies worth overlooking the stupid or overdone. This might not be Wes Craven’s best work, but damn it if the thing doesn't end up being quality horror entertainment. 




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