When 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.
The 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.
Ah, 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.
Now, 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” 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.
I 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.