Shocker Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
About to be electrocuted for a catalog of heinous crimes, the unrepentant Horace Pinker transforms into a terrifying energy source. Only young athlete Jonathan Parker, with an uncanny connection to Pinker through bizarre dreams, can fight the powerful demon. The two dive in and out of television programs, chasing each other from channel to channel through stunning scenes of disaster, game shows, and old reruns. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Writer/director Wes Craven was a master at reinventing himself, but every career reinvigoration seemed to stall within a movie or two. After he had made two of the most influential horror movies of the 1970s – Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – he quietly disappeared into a series of underwhelming, interchangeable B-movies, like Deadly Blessing (1981) and Swamp Thing (1982). Then, shortly after making one of the most influential horror films of the 1980s – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – he fell into another, albeit much less dreadful rut. By most accounts, he was sick of being pigeonholed as a horror filmmaker, but held the course, because it was the easiest way to score financing. Later, Scream (1996) became his vital contribution to the 1990s, but he began the process of redefining the look and tone of his work sometime around The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). His next two studio projects, Shocker (1989) and The People Under the Stairs (made for Shep Gordon’s Alive Films and distributed by Universal Pictures) applied an early version of this slicker Scream and New Nightmare (1994) imagery to themes he’d already explored throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Shocker was very obviously Craven attempting to create a new Freddy Krueger-type franchise, following a lack of personal profit from the notoriously cheap New Line Cinema. He even rips off his own opening titles. Unfortunately, in spite of Mitch Pileggi’s respectfully hammy performance, the awkwardly named Horace Pinker is more of a giggling Terminator than a supernatural menace. Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger was an enigmatic threat that enjoyed scaring his victims as much as killing them. Fans and critics might have grown weary of Krueger’s constant quipping (not all of us, for the record), but the character struck a nerve, because he could enter dreams to prey on subconscious fears and every teenager was a potential victim (“Every town has an Elm Street…”). Pinker’s electronic powers, on the other hand, are more in line with those of a comic book supervillain, limiting his scare quotient along with his very specific revenge plot. Perhaps more important is the fact that when we meet Freddy, he’s already a boogie man/dream phantasm, while Pinker spends the first act of Shocker as a mortal man.
In trying to recapture the Nightmare on Elm Street voodoo, Craven wrote a by-the-numbers script to fulfill specific beats, rather than tell a compelling story, and, similar to those post-Hills Have Eyes flops, he stumbles into several accidental laughs as he attempts to cram poignancy into an inherently silly concept. Worse yet, a slasher-fatigued MPAA, desperate to preempt angry parent groups, reportedly forced Craven to trim oodles of gory content, clamping a tourniquet on the promised blood flow. Still, Shocker looks really sharp. It lacks the immediacy of The Hills Have Eyes and the driving creepiness of Nightmare on Elm Street, but its spit-shined production design, special effects, and technical direction surpass the majority of Craven’s previous output, even the similarly-tuned Serpent and the Rainbow. In some ways, its music video-inspired surrealism and haunting dream logic ended up being a sort of practice run for the similarly boring, but infinitely more thoughtful New Nightmare. It’s worth noting that Robert Kirk’s Destroyer and D3’s shot-on-video Death Row Diner, both released in 1988, beat Craven to the idea of villains gaining supernatural powers from failed electric chair executions and they’re both more entertaining. The body-jumping serial killer concept would crop up again in Brett Leonard’s Virtuosity (1995) and Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen (1998) – both of which curiously star Denzel Washington – but it’s likely that those filmmakers, not to mention Craven himself, were inspired by Jack Shoulder’s The Hidden (1987).
Shocker had previously not been released on Blu-ray, but had made HD appearances on television, as well as digital HD formats, like iTunes and Vudu. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is a sizable upgrade over DVD releases and more or less identical to the Vudu stream (based on a small sampling). The details are tightly structured, elements are sharply separated, and the palette is quite vivid. However, this Universal-supplied transfer also glimmers with the hallmarks of the studio’s worst output. Its chief issue is the overuse of digital noise reduction, which smoothes out the finest textures, eliminates some natural grain, and creates a waxy build-up. Some shots are caked in a sheen of digital noise and, because they’re darker scenes, often shot in the elements, I suspect that they were originally quite grainy. Though contrast levels are well-balanced, the gradations tend to have issues with posterization effects. Still, it’s much better than the gritty DVD releases
Scream Factory has included two uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio options – the original stereo and the DVD releases 5.1 remix. In this case, the 5.1 remix is probably the preferred track. It’s a tasteful expansion of the stereo track that moves dialogue to the center channel and gives the ridiculous hair metal soundtrack a solid LFE boost. Occasionally, rear channel echoes and awkward attempts at directional movement fall flat, but the overall effect is slightly preferable to the 2.0 track, where dialogue/incidental effects are stretched between the stereo channels. Volume levels are consistent on both tracks, but Michael Bruce’s unique and busy synthesizer/piano score gets the bigger boost when spread for 5.1.
Commentary with Wes Craven – This archive track has made the rounds on UK, German, and Scandinavian DVD releases, but makes its US debut here. The soft-spoken director runs out of steam pretty early, but does his best to find new things to talk about as the film drones to its conclusion, including behind-the-scenes anecdotes, locations, the soundtrack, and experimenting with special effects.
Commentary with Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, co-producer Robert Engelman, and composer William Goldstein – This brand new track is a lively and fun collection of interviews conducted by Red Shirt Picture’s Michael Felsher (who did the same for several Scream Factory releases). Obviously, the content isn’t screen-specific, but it is a consistent collection of information.
Cable Guy (17:40, HD) – A new interview with main villain Mitch Pileggi, who recalls his over-the-top role very fondly.
Alison's Adventures (17:10, HD) – Lead actress Cami Cooper discusses her influences and her work as a ghost for most of the.
It's Alive (12:00, HD) – Another new interview, this time with executive producer Shep Gordon – the legendary talent agent and subject of Mike Myers’ documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. Gordon’s brief film distribution career is barely touched upon in Myers’ film, so this featurette makes a nice companion piece. For the record, Gordon’s Alive Films produced Craven’s Shocker and The People Under the Stairs, as well as John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and They Live.
No More Mr. Nice Guy (26:10, HD) – A series of interviews with the people responsible for Shocker’s[/I] soundtrack, including music supervisor Desmond Child, Bruce Kulik (of KISS), Jason McMaster (of Dangerous Toys), Kane Roberts (of Alice Cooper), and Dave Ellefson (of Megadeth). It includes footage from the music videos.
Vintage EPK featurettes that include interviews with Wes Craven (8:50, SD)
Trailer and TV Spot
Storyboard and still galleries
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