Posted March 30, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives

Wes Craven’s Shocker

I loved Shocker when it first hit home video. I was too young for it, but it was entertaining, funny and chilling in places. And it  unleashed villain who would spout vile one-liners (example:  having just bitten off a guard’s digits he enthusiastically spits “finger licking good!”). It featured up and coming actor Peter Berg (who went onto become an even better director) and featured in its main villain role  a guy who would go onto portray the calm and collected boss of one Mulder and Scully. Quite a shock indeed to see him so OTT and off the rails in this one.

The film is seriously dated now, and half the performances are either woefully bad or just misplaced. This film is best viewed as a satire because it won’t frighten you,  despite the odd moment of spookiness that Craven musters up (mainly from the murdered dead coming back to visit our hero). A serial killer is sent to the chair, yet somehow his soul lives on and he can transfer his consciousness from person to person via touch.  it’s hilarious to see each person that’s touched pause and adopt the world’s worst evil sneer. Although it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense.  If you could travel from body to body you wouldn’t pause to sneer and laugh maniacally with each person you get into, right? (It’s like the transference of a soul to their body gave them the world’s best orgasm and that suddenly it feels good to be evil!)  But it’s kind of like a visual reference for the dumb audience members out there than need it spelled out that the bad guy is now inside someone else (a later film with a similar idea, Fallen with Denzel Washington, did this by showing the killer’s point of view, and having every other person singing and whistling The Rolling Stones). Kevin Smith made a good point in the commentary for his film Dogma; when a character turns on the air conditioning in a house and we see ribbons tied to the air vent start to flutter – therefore showing us that it’s on and air is blowing – but who honestly ties ribbons to air vents? Treat your audience like a bunch of idiots is apparently what film students are taught (so Smith tells us of his experience at film school).

The film does try to strike serious tones, but it just doesn’t gel. The commentary on violence and the frantic ending within the television is much more fun – although not very subtle. And that not very subtle commentary is on violence on screen and how we as an audience have become glued to it. Mind you, not many other people were making such observations back then, so we should give it some credit. But thanks to its slapstick nature at times Shocker prevents itself from becoming a cult classic like some of Craven’s early pictures. It may get a few giggles from a beer-in evening with groups of students, but then again they may be too busy watching something better.

If there is one stand out memory it is the fact that they have a little girl becoming one of the possessed and coming at the hero in a construction vehicle swearing at the top of her lungs. You just can’t make this shit up! But Craven did, and probably giggled all the while. But then the bank laughed at him when he went to pick up the proceeds.

Steven Hurst