Shocker

Shocker 2When Wes Craven created “A Nightmare on Elm Street” he ended up launching one of the 80’s biggest franchises…not to mention one of the most iconic movie killers of all time, Freddy Krueger. Craven’s name meant big horror bucks and I’m sure there was some degree of pressure to create another big horror star. When 1989’s “Shocker” was released, it was billed as the next horror concept from the man who brought you Freddy Krueger, but there was no franchise to be made here.

Shocker 1The film takes place in a suburban town where a killer is on the loose. The detective on the case, Lt. Parker (Michael Murphy), has no big leads…that is, until his adopted son Jonathan (Peter Berg) has a strange dream. In the dream, he walks up to his house, where a van for a television repairman named Horace Pinker is parked out front. When he enters the house, Jonathan finds the limp-walking Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), holding his mother and little sister at knifepoint. When he awakes, he learns that his dream was true, and his mother and sister have indeed fallen victim to the killer.

Jonathan tells his father that Pinker is the man they need to look for, but the lieutenant is a bit unsure about following a lead based on a strange dream. Still, they track down Pinker and end up at his repair shop. It turns into a bloodbath, with several officers being murdered by Pinker. To exact his revenge, Pinker kills Jonathan’s girlfriend Allison (Camille Cooper) in grisly fashion. Now, Jonathan is determined to stop the Killer. When he sees Pinker setting out to kill again in one of his dreams, he quickly awakens and lead the police to the scene. Pinker ends up hauled off to prison.

Shocker 7Ah, but that’s not the end, folks. Pinker ends up sentenced to the electric chair. On the night of his execution, he is found in his cell seemingly praying to the devil and wired up to a TV set with jumper cables. How he scored those in the joint is never covered, but oh well. He’s dragged off to the chair and just before the switch is thrown he tells Jonathan, there as a witness, that he is his father. Pinker is then lit up with a couple thousand volts, but when the smoke clears he has vanished. As it turns out, he somehow was transformed into pure electricity and now he can possess other people’s bodies, which he does to escape.

Shocker 8Now, I’m not exactly sure what being able to possess people has to do with being an electricity creature…but ok. Lucky for Jonathan, it’s easy to spot a person possessed by Pinker, since they somehow inherit his limp. I guess his limp was a mental injury not a physical one. Anyhow, it goes without saying that Pinker intends to continue his murderous ways. It’s up to Jonathan, helped out by a ghostly version of Allison, to track down Pinker as he zaps in and out of bodies and through the electrical circuits of the town.

Shocker 9“Shocker” is a bit of a mixed bag. Some elements are quite unique and original. The idea of having the killer be made of electricity, and that he can just stick his finger in the electrical socket and travel through the wires to another victim’s house is very clever. This is played out in some wonderfully over-the-top ways, like when Pinker zaps into an electric massage chair which then attacks Jonathan. This leads to a battle between the two inside the television as they jump from program to program. It’s totally ridiculous and way fun!

However, for everything that works about this film, there are just as many things that just don’t. The idea that electric-Pinker can possess people is completely out of left field, and the fact that they inherit his limp makes zero sense. The whole ghost girlfriend bit seemed a bit of a stretch, as well.

Shocker 10I think a big part of what makes it all work is the perfectly crazy performance of Mitch Pileggi as Horace Pinker. I did wish that Craven’s script had given him a bit more in the way of quotable lines…most of the time he just resorts to cussing out Jonathan when he really needed something clever to say. Still, Pileggi approaches the role with a good amount of manic energy that makes him a pretty intimidating screen presence. Good thing too since Peter Berg’s performance is lacking in anything close to charisma.

Craven may not have succeed in creating another horror icon with Horace Pinker, but this is still an interesting enough film. “Shocker” is a bit goofy…a bit of a head-scratcher…but it still manages to have enough electricity to be quite entertaining.

Halloween 2013 Series

Halloween_2013October is here! That means Forgotten Films shifts into Halloween mode with a month-long look at Forgotten Horror films. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be looking at all those scary movies you may have forgotten about. Once again, we’ll be participating in the Countdown to Halloween which compiles a list of various blogs that are doing a month-long series in salute of that scariest of holidays. Be sure to stop by there and check out all the other sites.

Oh, and one last thing…BOO!

Forgotten Filmcast Episode 15: Tapeheads

Episode_15Let’s get into trouble baby! It’s time for the latest Forgotten Filmcast! This time, Todd is joined by Tom Panarese from Pop Culture Affidavit to talk about a late 80’s spoof of the world of music videos. John Cusack and Tim Robbins star in 1988’s Tapeheads.

Download the show from:
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Show Notes:
Pop Culture Affidavit
Tom at Twitter
Music Alley

Film’s Discussed:
Tapeheads
Eddie and the Cruisers
Tank

Tank

Tank 5On the outskirts of the town I grew up in there was a large property that had once belonged to a World War I era colonel. The grounds have since been turned into a military museum. As a kid, one of the best things about visiting there was getting to see the collection of tanks, which we were allowed to climb all over to our hearts content. I admit I often imagined myself taking a little target practice with one of those bad boys. So I guess there is some degree of childhood fantasy fulfilled when watching the 1984 film Tank.

Tank 1The film introduces us to Zach Carey (James Garner) a Sergeant Major in the army who has just arrived at his newest post, which he also intends to make his last. His wife LaDonna (Shirley Jones) and teenage son Billy (C. Thomas Howell) are with him. Oh, how could I forget… Zach also happens to be the owner of a Sherman tank which he restored with the help of Billy and his older son, a fellow soldier who died in the line of duty.

Tank 2The family settles in quickly and things seem to be going well. Zach is connecting with old military buddies, LaDonna is hosting get-togethers with the other military wives, and Billy is moving up on the high school basketball team. However, trouble strikes one night when Zach is at a local bar which also happens to be a hangout for young prostitutes who cater to the needs of many of the local military men. Zach is simply enjoying a chat with a young woman named Sarah (Jenilee Harrison), who he doesn’t seem to realize is a hooker. He finds out soon enough, though, when a local deputy (James Cromwell) starts hurling insults at her and slapping her around. Zach is quick to defend the young woman and a fight ensues, leaving the deputy with the bruises to prove it.

Tank 3The next day, Sheriff Buelton (G.D. Spradling) notices his deputy’s bruises and questions why the man responsible was not arrested. He sets out to arrest Zach, but the military police have no intention of turning him over to the Sheriff.  Buelton retaliates by planting marijuana in Billy’s gym locker at school. He then arrests the boy on trumped up drug charges.

Zach tries to make a deal with the corrupt sheriff, but is double crossed. The good ole boy justice moves swiftly, resulting in Billy being sentenced to two years on a work farm. This leads to Zach taking matters into his own hands. He hops on his tank and busts Billy out, destroying a good portion of the town in the process. Now, with Sarah in tow, they make a slow speed run for the state line with the Sheriff and his men in pursuit.

Tank is a film I had been well aware of since its release in 1984, but had never gotten around to seeing. I had always assumed it was a comedy. Though it has a fair share of light-hearted moments, it’s actually pretty serious. This is largely expressed through Spradlin’s sadistic Sheriff Buelton. In one scene he takes great glee in making Sarah lift up her nightgown so he can thrash her with his belt. In another, he cheerfully tells Zach about how someone is likely to fall in love with Billy while he’s behind bars. He’s heartless, racist, sexist, vicious, vindictive, cruel and probably about a dozen other terrible things. Spradlin does a fantastic job creating a character that you just want to reach through the screen and strangle.

Tank 4The other side of the equation is Garner, who is perfectly cast as the honorable career soldier. He’s a man who tries to work things out peacefully, but in the end is pushed too far. Even when he takes things to the extreme, however, he does so in a very matter-of-fact, straightforward way. He may be demolishing the local police station but he doesn’t fly off the handle. This is just the way it is when you get on the bad side of a man who owns his own tank.

Tank 6The film is thoroughly entertaining…part First Blood, part Smokey and the Bandit. The final showdown between the tank and the Sheriff’s forces at the state line is, perhaps, a little bit on the silly side. However, by that point I didn’t care. I was in too much of a “rah rah” mood for it to matter.

When you get right down to it, Tank is a simple good vs. evil story. In this particular case, the evil is very evil. As for the good, they’ve got a Sherman tank and are ready to use it! What could be better than that!?