Release Date(s)1989 (September 8, 2015)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
Wes Craven’s Shocker was the second in a three-picture deal with Universal (the other two being The Serpent and the Rainbow and The People Under the Stairs). During that time, Craven was given the opportunity to pursue his projects with a lot more creative control and relatively bigger budgets than he ever had previously. Although Shocker managed to do about double its budget at the box office, it wasn’t very well received by the critics. Horror fans, however, ate it up, and it became a cult classic due to repeat cable airings and rapid VHS rentals.
To be honest, I hadn’t seen Shocker in a number of years and watching it today, it’s more clear than ever just how much it plays out like the original Nightmare on Elm Street. The characters and the plot are not the same, obviously, but many of the elements are. The plot of this film is that a serial killer, who is linked to a young man through his dreams, is sent to the electric chair. After his execution, he comes back as an electrical entity, jumping in and out of people to carry on his reign of terror before jumping in and out of TVs to murder anyone he pleases. Because of his connection to him, it’s up to the young man to stop him, but also to solve why they are linked.
As I’ve said elsewhere, Wes Craven’s films weren’t always the cream of the crop, but they usually had interesting ideas and enough intelligence behind them that made them worth watching. Shocker is just such a film, and it’s a good thing that it is because much of it doesn’t hold up. Many of the special effects are extremely dated, including some early CGI effects, and the film’s disjointed structure makes it feel sloppier than it really is. The performances from the actors are good, especially from Mitch Pileggi as Pinker, but the story itself doesn’t have a real strong narrative flow.
It was also one of a number of horror films from that time that had a hit soundtrack, led by a cover of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Megadeth. That success likely led more people to seeing the film when it hit home video than probably would have otherwise. Despite Craven’s status as a horror maestro, not enough people saw it theatrically. If it had been a huge success, Universal was set to turn the story into a franchise, which never happened. The film went on to be more culty than successful. It’s a shame too because even the worst Wes Craven film has a little something of value. None of them were ever just straight up garbage. Shocker is a messy movie, to be sure, but it’s definitely worth a look.
Scream Factory’s new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of the film is the best place to start if you haven’t seen it previously. The transfer appears to be a ported over one instead of a brand new one from scratch, but that being said, it’s still a good-looking presentation. Grain levels aren’t entirely consistent, mainly due to the optical effects, but for the most part, it’s all very well resolved. Detail is also quite good, but does tend to get a bit soft at times. Colors are decent, and skin tones aren’t totally consistent, but this is due to some of the lighting choices. Blacks are pretty deep, and there are some decent shadow details on display, while contrast and brightness levels are very acceptable. There are no apparent signs of obvious digital augmentation to be found, but there are some instances of black speckling left behind. Overall, it’s a very clean presentation. For the audio selection, you get two tracks: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD. The 5.1 track is surprisingly immersive, giving some real depth to the sound effects and atmospherics. Dialogue is very well prioritized, and the music really gives the lower end some work to do. The stereo track is also good and may be more appropriate as most people are accustomed to watching this movie on home video for many years, but the surround track really has some life to it. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
You’ll also find an excellent set of extras as well. There are two audio commentaries, one with writer/director Wes Craven, and the other with director of photography Jacques Haitkin, co-producer Robert Engelman, and composer William Goldstein; Cable Guy, an interview with actor Mitch Pileggi; Alison’s Adventures, an interview with actress Cami Cooper; It’s Alive, an interview with executive producer Shep Gordon; No More Mr. Nice Guy: The Music of Shocker, which includes interviews with music supervisor Desmond Child, as well as soundtrack artists Bruce Kulick (Kiss), Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys), Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper), and Dave Ellefson (Megadeth); the movie’s original theatrical trailer and TV spots; a set of radio spots; a vintage making of featurette; a storyboard gallery; and an additional still gallery. Unfortunately, all of the footage cut my the MPAA has yet to be found, nor have any music videos been included.
All in all, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition of Shocker is a welcome one. It’s not a perfect movie, but it has some dedicated fans. And with this release, those fans can finally have a nice state-side release of the film they can be happy with. Very much recommended.
- Tim Salmons