Shocker (1989)

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*. It seems at first like a movie that’s trying to do something a little different, but then you realize it’s just Wes Craven trying to launch a Nightmare on Elm Street clone franchise. Apparently he thought he didn’t make enough money out of Freddy so he came up with Horace Pinker.
*. Horace is a TV repairman. There’s a job you don’t see advertised very much any more. These days, if your set is under warranty they just give you a new one. If not, it’s junk. TVs are so cheap to produce nobody bothers fixing them.
*. As usual, Craven has come up with a relatively interesting plot (relative to ’80s horror films, that is). It’s full of ideas that were picked up by other, better movies. The body-hopping serial killer (Fallen), the evil spirit coming out of the TV set (Ringu), even the crazy stalker-TV repairman (Cable Guy). I don’t think Shocker invented any of these tropes, but it came to them early.

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*. The movie falls flat in nearly every department though. The writing is abysmal, the special effects anything but, and the performances laughable (except for Mitch Peleggi as Pinker, who has a wonderful lolling tongue). Over ten minutes of gore were cut to give it an R rating, but from what I’ve heard nothing that was cut would have made it a better movie.
*. There seems to have been some idea of making it into a critique of media violence, especially given the newsreel footage that rolls with the credits and the battlefields Jon and Pinker fight their way through at the end, but this isn’t developed at all. Instead the only message we get is an angry pro-death penalty one (that bleeding-heart lady doctor gets what’s coming to her!), which doesn’t even work out that well because the violence is so comic-book anyway.
*. I mean, is that a real prison uniform? Pinker looks like he’s a member of a Legoland pit crew.
*. And are we to assume that Pinker really is Jon’s father? Or is he just blowing smoke? If it is a legitimate back story, does it make any difference? Craven doesn’t appear very interested in their relation, and the audience is left hanging after Pinker’s final words.

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*. Jon’s dead girlfriend Alison is an insufferable Disney princess, even covered in blood. The lines she is forced to deliver are painful. And why on earth is Jon so terrified of her when he sees her in the lake (in his dream)? She’s been trying to help him all along, and has already saved his life twice!
*. Why would waving the remote around have the effect of tossing Pinker across the room? Or by that point should I even be asking questions like that?

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*. The final battle between Jon and Pinker on TV is pure slapstick, and really forces you to reconsider where the movie is coming from. It’s obviously meant to be comic, but it’s not a satire of anything in particular. The sense I have is that Craven just lost his head. It happens. Kubrick was originally going to end Dr. Strangelove with a pie fight. Wenders really did film an end for Wings of Desire with a pie fight, but left it out. In this case Craven either didn’t have anyone telling him just how silly his ending was going to be or didn’t care.
*. I really don’t have any idea what happens to Pinker. I don’t think he has been “killed” only because, like Freddy, I don’t think he can be. He was meant to be a franchise villain who would just keep popping up every time someone turned on a light switch or picked up a remote. But to the best of my knowledge he hasn’t been heard from since.

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