31 Days of Horror Cinema

Shocker (1989): 31 Days of Horror

#1. Shocker (1989)

Nature of Shame:
Unopened Blu-ray that I ordered years ago for some really good reason I’m sure.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s

Kicking off Hooptober with some unseen Wes Craven from 1989 to combine multiple misguided moviewatching endeavors: #Watch1989 and the Cinema Shame Hooptober Watchpile Shame-a-thon. There will be many more as I’ve saved all 1989 horror movies for this wonderful time of the year.

Shocker Elevator Pitch

A local teen football star (Peter Berg) catches a serial killer / cable TV repairman, condemning him to the electric chair — only this bad guy has found the Satanic loophole to transform him into radio waves/electricity in order to continue his murderous ways after his execution.

But radio waves and electricity are not the same thing.

I’m not sure that matters. Nobody cares about science. They might as well be the same thing.

No. They’re really not. Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation. This is relevant. Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell predicted the existence of radio waves through his unified theory of electromagnetism in 1870. In 1886, Heinrich Hertz applied Maxwell’s findings to construct a method by which he could send and receive controlled radio waves by using household goods. The unit of frequency of an electromagnetic wave (1 cycle per second) is called a Hertz in his honor. So in a way Heinrich was also responsible for this website, Thirty Hertz Rumble.

You’re losing readers before you even start the review.

I don’t have readers. 

I can’t argue with you there.

The ‘Shocking’ Laws of Electricity

Wes Craven’s Shocker follows a predictable blueprint. Though the parameters have shifted somewhat, Shocker directly recalls A Nightmare on Elm Street in the ways teenagers take on a big bad who’s found an alternative reality through which he can perpetrate his grisly murders. A TV repairman with a limp comes up decidedly lacking against the hugely charismatic Freddy Krueger. It’s no stretch to reimagine this as a late-series Elm Street with Robert England’s Krueger using the television/movies to invade dreams. Mitch Pileggi’s an adequate presence and boosts Shocker‘s dark humor, but there’s a sizable fray in Shocker‘s wiring that he can’t possibly overcome.

Shocker should have been better — could have been better if not for the brazen disregard for the rules of the game. Once Pinker sidesteps his own execution by becoming some kind of electrical charge that can be transferred from person to person or through electrical wiring or via television waves. There seems to be no limitations and therefore no way for the viewer to feel any real stakes. When a villain seems capable of doing anything he pleases, it’s impossible to feel any tension. Shocker‘s status as a black comedy helps ameliorate these shortcomings, but without an ability to foster suspense it can’t rise above horror or comedy mediocrity.

In combating a villain of limitless power, Jonathan Parker’s (Berg) actions to finally corral the electromagnetic killer also feel arbitrary — meant to end a film rather than combat a foe with any narrative relevance. When you completely disregard setting boundaries for the villain, the hero must also follow suit. While the final battle showcase an elaborate special effects sequence and provide a playground for Craven’s finest self-referential humor, it also becomes escapist frivolity completely detached from Shocker‘s already scattered logic.

shocker 1989

Final ‘Shocker’ Thoughts

Minor, fleeting entertainment. Wes Craven’s horror has a definable quality in the polish and innovation; however, in Shocker the polish and apparently boundless creativity belies the horror beneath. The slasher construct requires rules and limits to build tension. We’re left with an average, bloody comedy — based on idea that was given a more definable and effective shape in the John Ritter comedy Stay Tuned (1992).




Shocker is available on a Scream Factory Blu-ray wherever fine Blu-rays are sold.  

2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress

  1. Shocker (1989) //