Wes Craven has been gone a few days now and I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. I'm far more deeply affected by his loss than I ever thought I might be to the point that I'm losing sleep over it. I keep thinking about that voice of his, so soft and fiercely intelligent, now silenced forever. I loved listening to him speak. If I had my way, I'd be falling asleep to his commentaries every night and it might make me feel better. But I'm not sleeping. I'm just sad.
Howling II, so there's no accounting for taste), and when Scream Factory recently announced that they would at long last be releasing a Blu-ray of the movie there was much rejoicing in the horror community. With Craven having now passed away, I will have no choice but to pick up the disc just so that I can hear what will now be a posthumous commentary from him. I can't imagine I'll be able to listen without breaking into tears, though it does help that he'll be talking about Shocker. I find it difficult to take the movie all that seriously.
Peter Berg plays Jonathan Parker, high school football player and hometown hero whose foster family is almost entirely wiped out by Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), a TV repairman and serial killer. Jonathan tries to help the only remaining member of his family, his foster father Lt. Don Parker (Michael Murphy) catch the murderer because he saw it all happen in a dream, but their efforts only lead to more bloodshed. Eventually Pinker is caught and sent to the electric chair, but his spirit somehow escapes and affords him the ability to "jump" from person to person, continuing to wreak havoc and death on a small L.A. suburb. As Jonathan discovers the reason behind his dreams and his inexplicable connection to Pinker, those closest to him and put in more and more jeopardy as Pinker's powers continue to grow. Will the killer be stopped? No shocker there. #youseewhatIdid
The thing that I still find most frustrating about Shocker -- besides its challenging pace (it takes forever until Pinker is electrocuted and the story proper actually kicks in, and even then the movie runs just under 120 minutes) -- is that I'm not sure what Craven is really trying to say. His best movies are as much about scaring us as they are about ideas. Even most of his problematic-to-bad efforts offer some kind of political or psychological subtext. Shocker pretty much doesn't. Now, that may be me projecting my own expectations of a Wes Craven movie onto it, and it's not fair to do that if it's not what Craven is after. Maybe he really did just want to make a fun, silly horror movie with a sense of self-awareness about its own ridiculousness and a bunch of metal music. If that's the case, I guess Shocker is a success.
But outside of standing back and smiling at some of the movie's goofiness -- I mean, the theme song (from a soundtrack of all metal jams) is by a Paul Stanley side project called Dudes of Wrath -- I'm not always able to enjoy what Shocker has to offer. Even if I think I can now better understand what Craven is trying to do, I still don't think it's the best possible version of that thing. I have never warmed to Peter Berg as the Final Girl; he has some really nice moments with his girlfriend early on and is at his best when he seems a little bit sweet and dopey, but is mostly just competent and motivated by revenge. That would be ok if it seemed like he was at all upset that his family is slaughtered at the start of the film, but they might as well be strangers. In fact, his entire relationship to Michael Murphy is confusing in the early scenes, as Jonathan calls his father by his first name and treats him more like a cop he knows instead of the man who raised him.
Once Horace is taken to the chair, the movie comes alive. There's a very cool long take in which the camera moves into the execution chamber and circles all the way around it as Megadeth's cover of "No More Mr. Nice Guy" plays. The idea of Pinker jumping from body to body is kind of fun, though don't tell horror fans I said so as it's this very idea that so many of them hate in Jason Goes to Hell despite not taking issue with it here. The conceit does limit Pileggi's screen time, which is too bad as he has a lot of sweaty, overacting fun in the role. Craven's most inspired/dumbest gimmick comes late in the film when Horace Pinker "jumps" while stretched across a TV satellite, effectively beaming himself through the airwaves and onto televisions everywhere. Jonathan gives chase and the two characters run through a number of series like they're fucking John Ritter and Pam Dawber. In my younger days I assumed this was Craven thinking he was making some deep commentary about the dangers of television and the things it invites into our lives. This was because my memory of the film was that this conceit made up a much larger section of Shocker. In my head, Horace Pinker was to television as Freddy Krueger is to dreams, but that's so not the case. It's just a set piece in the movie. Did it stand out so much to me because it's the most interesting stuff in the movie? The most novel? Or the silliest? And does it matter? Is the fact that it stands out at all proof of its effectiveness?
I miss him so much.