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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Shocker  (1989)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2 Stars
(Release Date: September 8, 2015) – It came as a shock as well as a monumental loss for horror fans when filmmaker Wes Craven—one of the premiere contemporary masters of the genre—passed away from brain cancer on August 30, 2015, at the age of 76. A major force in revolutionizing the trending path of scary movies in the 1970s ("The Last House on the Left"), '80s ("A Nightmare on Elm Street") and '90s ("Scream"), Craven's career was long, storied and progressive, his thematically rich films always about far more than cheap exploitation and predictable body counts.

Just nine days after the writer-director's death, one of his less widely revered pictures has arrived on Blu-ray in a features-stacked Collector's Edition from Scream Factory. It is plain to see while watching 1989's "Shocker" that it was intended to be a variation on "Elm Street," toying with many of the same elements—dreams vs. reality, supernatural killers, a broken family, and the teenager who takes it upon himself/herself to save the day—while introducing a madman, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), who was meant to evoke Freddy Krueger. While the truths of adolescence, the horrors of the past, and the fantastical terrors of the present all blended beautifully together in 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "Shocker" is a more ramshackle enterprise, composed of a lot of disparate spare parts that never quite come together.

Peter Berg (a future filmmaker in his own right, who would go on to make 2004's "Friday Night Lights" and 2013's "Lone Survivor") is immensely charismatic as Jonathan Parker, an Ohio-based college football player who experiences a nightmare detailing the murders of his mom and three siblings, only to discover upon waking that it has come true. The visions he experiences in his dreams help him to finger their slayer, a local serial killer named Horace Pinker, but not before he claims his latest victim: Jonathan's sweet-natured girlfriend Alison (Cami Cooper). Horace is arrested and subsequently executed by electric chair (the justice system must work fast in Ohio!), but his malevolent energy lives on, transferred from person to person by an electricity current. Their minds and dreams frighteningly linked, Horace and Jonathan are not through with each other yet, and neither of them will stop until the other is dead for good.

"Shocker" is best in its opening act, with the introductions of Jonathan and Alison instantly likable and the serial-killer-on-the-loose plot building an underlying apprehension even before those people closest to Jonathan become Horace's latest victims. The film grows sillier as it goes, shoehorning groan-worthy one-liners for Horace and then jumping the shark altogether with the saccharine appearance of Alison's ghost and an overlong finale that finds Jonathan and Horace entering the television airwaves and battling each other as they pass from channel to channel. Moving beyond mere whimsy into preposterousness, "Shocker" gets points for the loopy audacity of its narrative and some particularly moody cinematography from Jacques Haitkin, but simply doesn't work consistently enough to be more than sporadically effective. If "Shocker" careens off its rails, however, Craven's puppet-master command behind the scenes remains in evidence; his direction is never in doubt, even when shreds of his script are.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Shocker" receives a readily satisfying 1080p transfer for its Blu-ray premiere. The print used is in surprisingly healthy shape. Colors are vibrant and accurate, capturing that small-town, middle-American flavor (despite the appearance of palm trees occasionally giving away its California shooting locations). Grain is evenly distributed, with no hints of mosquito noise. Black levels are deep and dark while luckily avoiding crush. There are hints of age-related specks here and there, but they are minor, even during the effects scenes where such issues typically pop up. Depth is also quite noticeable, gifting the picture with a freshness that belies its 26-year age. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is pretty great, too. Dialogue, music and sound effects share aural space with none of the above threatening to drown the others out. The soundtrack (including Alice Cooper's rocking "No More Mr. Nice Guy") gives the soundfield a breadth that helps to immerse the viewer, even when much of the audio is reserved for the front channels. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also included.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director Wes Craven
  • Audio Commentary with cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, producer Robert Engelman and composer William Goldstein
  • "Alison's Adventures" Featurette (17:12, HD) - an interview with actress Cami Cooper
  • "Cable Guy" Featurette (17:36, HD) - an interview with actor Mitch Pileggi
  • "It's Alive" Featurette (11:57, HD) - an interview with executive producer Shep Gordon
  • "No More Mr. Nice Guy: The Music of Shocker" Featurette (26:13, HD)
  • Trailers & TV Spots (2:32, HD)
  • Radio Spots (1:09, HD)
  • Vintage Making-of Featurette (8:48, HD)
  • Storyboard Gallery (8:55, HD)
  • Still Gallery
Bottom Line
The horror genre suffered an unfortunate loss with the passing of Wes Craven, but fortunately, with companies like Scream Factory, his work will continue to live on in its best possible form. "Shocker" is minor Craven in the grander scheme, but there is no disputing how much love and care has been put into this Collector's Edition Blu-ray package. For fans of the film and of Craven, this release comes highly recommended.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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