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  Shocker TV Hell
Year: 1989
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Michael Murphy, Peter Berg, Mitch Pileggi, Sam Scarber, Cami Cooper, Richard Brooks, Ted Raimi, Virginia Morris, Emily Samuel, Vincent Guastaferro, Bruce Wagner, Janne Peters, Ernie Lively, Ricardo Guíterrez, Lindsay Parker, John Tesh, Timothy Leary
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: There is a serial killer on the loose who is killing families, but he has been wily enough not to leave any clues to his identity behind and the police are stumped. For high school football player Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg), this is irrelevant as all he cares about is his next game and being with his girlfriend Alison (Camille Cooper), as he is today, but distracted enough to run straight into the goalpost when showing off, knocking the wind out of him and leaving him in a daze. Alison takes him home and puts him to bed, but while he sleeps Jonathan has a dream about his foster mother and sister being murdered by the killer - he even sees his name written on the side of his van: Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi)...

After the Freddy Krueger franchise moved on without its creator, Wes Craven, he wrote and directed Shocker, an attempt to come up with a new franchise with a new, supernatural, wisecracking serial killer who could be seen in dreams and bend reality and... well, you get the idea, this was very much in the shadow of his past glories and as it turned out, audiences would simply rather have seen Freddy. Horace Pinker didn't catch on and there were few mourning his demise, but it wasn't that the character itself was derivative, there was a lax, undernourished nature to the film that didn't help either.

Although Craven having to resubmit the film to the ratings board to get an R rating a fair few times can't have helped, what good is an eighties horror movie without that visceral thrill? Shocker does feel like half strength Craven, and the lack of gore and, indeed, shocking moments doesn't contribute much but an air of missed opportunities, never mind that it rambles on for about fifteen minutes past the point where it should have been neatly wrapping things up. The gimmick here is electricity and halfway through the story Pinker is sent to the electric chair for his crimes - wouldn't it have been better to begin with such a scene?

Yet that's not what happens here, as there's a lengthy preamble to let us know that Jonathan's foster family have really been murdered (his dream came true), all except his foster father (Michael Murphy) who happens to be a police detective and is also trying to catch Pinker. Thanks to that dream, Jonathan gives him a tip and after no small measure of mayhem the killer is caught. But he's been making with that old black magic and once the switch is thrown the electricity lends him unexpected powers and Pinker is now able to inhabit the bodies of innocent people, which he uses to... chase after Jonathan.

We know when a Pinker-possessed stooge is in the area because they walk with his foot-dragging limp, and here a hitherto unexpected strain of humour erupts: specifically the ridiculous park sequence where Jonathan is chased by the villain in the bodies of a cop, a workman and most absurdly, a little girl who tries to run him over with a digger. So, this is a comedy now? Nope, because after that things revert to their former seriousness - or at least they do until the grand finale which presents the special effects bonanza of Berg and Pileggi leaping through the land of television, jumping out of T.V. sets and sort of but not really interacting with vintage clips. Oh, and Pileggi punches out a televangelist played by Timothy Leary of all people. This inabilty to settle on a satisfying tone is the least of Shocker's worries, it's really a bit of an underachiever, perfectly watchable but largely uninspiring. Music by William Goldstein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Wes Craven  (1939 - )

Intelligent American director, producer and writer, at his most effective when, perhaps paradoxically, he was at his most thoughtful. Controversial shocker Last House on the Left set him on a path of horror movies, the best of which are The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs, New Nightmare and Scream (which revitalised the slasher genre).

Less impressive are Deadly Blessing, Swamp Thing, the ridiculous Hills Have Eyes Part II, Deadly Friend, Shocker, Vampire in Brooklyn, Cursed and the successful Scream sequels (the last of which was his final movie). Music of the Heart was a change of pace for Craven, but not a hit, though aeroplane thriller Red Eye was a successful attempt at something different; My Soul To Take, an attempt at more of the same, flopped. One of the pioneers of the American new wave of horror of the 1970s and 80s, he brought a true edge, wit and imagination to the genre.

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