Shocker was made in 1989 by Wes Craven in hopes of launching a new franchise. Due to him feeling he wasn’t fairly compensated for his Nightmare on Elm Street series under New Line Cinema. After watching Shocker, I can understand the reason that no sequel was ever made, Shocker is a good Craven style horror film. But feels… unoriginal, as if feels like it borrows a bit too heavily from Child’s Play which was released the year prior. If the similarities were on purpose or purely accidental I don’t know, but they’re there. Also, I feel like Shocker was trying to be a Slasher, but just couldn’t cohere into one. Shocker comes up to the line, but stops short and settles on being a possession/ghost story instead.
Shocker follows Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg) a college football star, whose father Lt. Don Parker (Michael Murphy) a police detective on the trail of serial killer Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), who’s holding the town hostage in a constant state of fear. When Lt. Parker starts getting too close, Pinker kills his wife and two foster kids, an event that Jonathan witnesses in a dream. During the dream he see’s not only Pinker’s face, but also his vehicle, which is a big deal since till then no one had any idea who he might be. After informing his father, Jonathan and Lt. Parker go to Pinker’s business. But Pinker escapes, killing a number of officers in the process. Jonathan is featured on the news about his involvement in finding out Pinker is the killer. Which results in Pinker killing Jonathan’s girlfriend Allison Clemens (Camille Cooper). Soon after, another dream leads Jonathan to Pinker, and along with his father and other police officers catch Pinker in the act. After nearly escaping again Pinker is captured by Jonathan, and sent to jail where he’s sentenced to die by the electric chair. Before being executed Pinker communes with the Devil and is granted his wish to not die… kind of. Before being killed in the electric chair Pinker reveals that he’s Jonathan’s father and after being executed Pinker becomes pure energy and is able to jump from host to host, a skill he uses to escape and come after Jonathan. Jonathan realizes something is wrong and is able to identify Pinker based on his tell tale limp, from a wound he suffer in life from Jonathan as a child. Jonathan is visited by Allison’s ghost who gives him her necklace to help Jonathan fight Pinker as he grows weaker in its presence. After Pinker kills Jonathan’s Coach Cooper (Sam Scarber) and teammate Pac-Man (Ted Raimi), Jonathan devises a plan that with the aid of Allison and his remaining teammates to stop Pinker forever.
The main reasons Shocker doesn’t meet the requirements to be a Slasher and therefore ripe for endless sequels is its lack of a large victim pool. Sure Pinker kills a bunch of people, but all of them are Red Shirts. Nobody characters with very few lines and next to no screen time. The victim pools in a slasher tend to be stereotypes to make it easier for audience members to relate to at least one of them, and feature at least a small measure of screen time so we can grow to like a character before they’re killed off. Here, with the notable exception of Pac-Man, Cooper and Allison, Pinker’s victims aren’t even cardboard cut outs. They’re just props to increase his body count.
The next is that the focus of the film is squarely on Jonathan. Much of the time a Slasher will focus on the final girl, but more often it focus on the victim pool. Slowly eliminating them until the Final Girl has revealed herself by being the last one standing. Here we lack that, Jonathan is set up to be the hero from the get go and his safety is never really ever called into question. I never once worried that he wouldn’t survive to see the end credits.
Something else that hampered this, if only slightly was the uninspired set up for Pinker’s… escape? The deal with devil/black magic to cheat death was already done by this point and better by the way by Child’s Play. Just Charles Lee Ray aka Chucky, ends up possessing a doll rather being able to body hop. A gimmick that’s basically abandons for the last part of the film.
All these flaws in mind, I still like it as Shocker has some great visual moments. Mostly involving Allison post murder when she’s communicating with Jonathan via his dreams. With the first sequence where she’s dripping in blood in a white dress being stunning and memorable. Another is when Jonathan see’s all of Pinker’s victims in another dream state, they have a strange zombie’esc vibe that screams trapped in purgatory till they see justice served vibe. Had Craven included more moments like this, I think Shocker would have stood a better chance of becoming a franchise.
Final thoughts, I would love to see this film in an unedited format as large chunks had to be either toned down or cut entirely just to secure an R rating and these pulled punches really do show. Also Pinker’s revelation that Jonathan’s his son is something that’s never really addressed after that. Jonathan never feels all that conflicted and never checks to make sure if it’s true. He asks his father, Lt. Parker once, who gives him a dodgy answer at best. Were also left hanging on why Jonathan suddenly shares some kind of psychic link to see Pinker’s murders. But even with all these unanswered question the acting, atmosphere, amazing soundtrack and consistent tone keep Shocker entertaining. While not one of Wes Craven’s masterpieces, it has earned itself a small cult status and for good reason. 7.5/10