Thursday, October 1, 2015

Shocker (1989)

Obligatory preface: we are all sad about Wes Craven's passing.  But his fame is pretty much assured by Nightmare on Elm Street, plus many good things could be said about New Nightmare, The Hills Have Eyes, and Last House on the Left.  I've found much of the rest of his work to be uneven.  Let's see if that holds true of Shocker, which I can't remember ever seeing (although I definitely owned the horrid soundtrack).

Jonathan is a football star in a town called Maryville.  As the film begins, we see him in football action, in a series of scenes that throw jokes at you like sad, insistent Hail Marys.  Distracted Jonathan hits a goal post in a scene that seems designed to be more comedy, yet this leads to him developing precognitive powers that can be accessed when he's asleep.  So, anyway, then he sees murders and such, including the murder of his own relatives by a TV repairman named Horace Pinker.

As usual, the comedy really doesn't do much for me.  The first real laugh in Shocker is probably unintentional: a dick reporter rushes up Jonathan's detective dad and asks how the murder investigation will change now that his family has been murdered (you know, those bodies you found ten minutes ago??).  The jokey stuff in this is pretty rancid and it's paired with dialogue that does not impress.  I'm assuming that this was a rushed script, perhaps a first draft, maybe written by a first-timer.  All that aside, the cops eventually catch Horace Pinker and Jonathan & Detective Dad attend his execution.  Note how everyone is manspreading to accommodate their inevitable death boners.

But, unfortunately for everybody including us, Horace uses some kind of unexplained TV ritual to survive his electrocution.  This also somehow gives him the ability to jump from body to body and try to take out that meddling Jonathan.  Unfortunately for Horace, he is dumb as fuck and chooses to jump into the worst possible bodies: a cop whose car exploded, a guy who just got shot in the back, and, yes, A LITTLE GIRL (see below).  If you think it couldn't get worse, you should know that the little girl is a pivotal player in a scene which involves A BULLDOZER SNEAKING UP ON SOMEONE.

Craven went on to mock horror's follies in Scream, but some of the plotting here is worse than anything I've ever seen elsewhere.  The bulldozer thing, the whole conclusion with Pinker and Jonathan fighting through random TV footage, and the ultimate forever final battle that is centered around a remote control's pause button.  Shocker looks good and professional, so thanks to Craven for that, but watching it didn't make me appreciate him as a stylist any more.  It actually made me feel sad for him that, five years after Nightmare, he was pretty much doing a copycat of the later Elm Street sequels.  Horace Pinker wisecracks like merchandising-blitz Freddy, but lacks the mean streak of the villain of the original film.  Plus the whole latter half of Shocker is remarkably girl-less, except for Jonathan's dead girlfriend, who he tries to escape whenever she appears.  This aspect of Shocker is, bafflingly, similar to Nightmare 2.  Probably not an intentional choice, but it's weird that the structure here is comparable.

Wes Craven's fame is assured: most directors don't make even one great film and Craven's good stuff is worthy enough to balance out stuff like Shocker.  Follow history's lead and forget about this one.


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