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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 228: Shocker

It's electric, boogie-woogie-woogie!

Do horror and comedy ever truly mix well? I'm hard-pressed to find a movie that fits both genres well. The closest I can think of are spoofs of well-known horror movies such as Repossessed and the Scary Movie series. Those movies are really just comedies with some horror tropes and references, so I suppose they don't really count. The character of Freddy Kruger is funny throughout the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but they are certainly not comedic in nature. Scream had it's funny moments, but they were more self-aware clever remarks than straight comedy. Comedy is a science, needing the right amount of wit, timing, and delivery. Horror is broad with lots of variables that can make a movie disturbing or scary. For whatever reason, the two genres are like water and oil, but that doesn't stop people from trying to mash them together.

Shocker is a 1989 horror comedy written and directed by Wes Craven (Scream, The Last House On The Left). The movie stars Peter Berg (Cop Land, Fire In The Sky) as Jonathan Parker and Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files, Sons of Anarchy) as Horace Pinker. A series of brutal murders has gripped a small California suburb with no clues as to who is committing the crimes. Jon Parker is a college football player who has a strange dream-like vision of a bald man murdering his mother, brother, and sister. He see's the man's van outside the house, revealing he is a TV repair man named Horace Pinker. Jon tries to stop the killer by when he lunges at him, he awakens in bed with his girlfriend, Allison (Camille Cooper). When he returns home, Jon discovers that his family has in fact been murdered. His father, Lt. Don Parker (Michael Murphy, X:Men:The Last Stand, Batman Returns) had been working on the serial killer cases, and the killer murdered his family when he got too close. The police go to arrest him, but he escapes, and kills Allison. Jon uses his strange connection to Pinker to help his father and the police force find him again. Pinker kills a few police officers before being arrested and given the electric chair. Before dying, Pinker reveals that he is Jonathan's biological father and that, as a child, Jonathan shot him in the leg to stop him from murdering his mother. Pinker also reveals that he sold his soul to the devil and when the switch is flipped, Pinker becomes pure energy. His new powers allow him to travel through electricity as well and possess people. Pinker, through other people, tries to kill Jonathan through various means, murdering his friends along the way. How will Jonathan be able to stop this supernatural serial killer who can become anyone at any time?

Being executed by the state is a laugh riot. Well, at least in Texas

I really wasn't sure if Shocker was supposed to be a comedy or not because it is simply not funny. It tries some slapstick with Jonathan running into the goalpost during football practice and tries to have funny one-liners ala Freddy Krueger. Both fail miserably. If the movie wanted to be a comedy, it should have focused on that because the horror is not much better. The basic premise of the story is fine with Jonathan having a supernatural connection to a supernatural killer. Unfortunately, the execution of the events in the movie is so clunky that nothing really makes sense. Nothing is ever really explained with things getting progressively weirder. Why are the police so inept? Why does Jonathan continue to run head-long into danger? How is Jonathan able to have the weird visions of both Pinker and his dead girlfriend? Pinker can now jump from person to person, even though he's supposed to be made of energy? And he can now jump out of televisions? What? How? Why? When? It's amazing that this was written by Wes Craven who has a long track record of great horror movies. It's like he took 10 ideas for different movies, threw them in a blender, and then spit it out onto the screen while giving everyone the finger.

While the movie lacks in humor and logic, it does have a good amount of violence. It has lots of gun play, stabbings, and a few explosions. There is nothing particularly gory about the violence, which is surprising considering it's a movie about a supernatural serial killer. The acting throughout is very questionable. Both Peter Berg and Mitch Pileggi have had long careers in show business, so it's not like they didn't know how to act. I chalk up their bad performances to terribly written dialogue and poor direction. Pinker's lines mostly revolve around horrendous one-liners and and curse words. Jonathan spends most of the movie running and looking shocked, but in the last 10 minutes or so, he is all sorts of confident in knowing how to fight Pinker. The special effects used in the movie are decent for the time, but many scenes are obviously in front of a blue screen. The movie is entrenched in the 80's, complete with it's own theme song performed by Paul Stanley from Kiss with members of Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Van Halen, and Motley Crue. It also had an unintentionally funny cover of Alice Cooper's “No More Mr. Nice Guy” performed by Megadeth.


Shocker has very little in the way of comedy and the horror portion of the movie is poorly done. There is nothing particularly funny in the movie, and if there was, I completely missed it. The story is all over the place, leaving logic and reason by the wayside in favor of 80's special effects and chase scenes. It's amazing that Wes Craven was at the helm of this movie and downright shocking (sorry, couldn't help it) that he actually believed this movie would be the start of a series. The dialogue is horrendous and the acting is pretty bad. If you're looking for something to laugh at instead of laugh with, Shocker is your movie.


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