Scoring a good buy can be really energizing, especially when Best Buy doesn't have the movie you originally went there to purchase. But I was jolted out of misery and despair when I noticed a Wes Craven 3-pack for $15. Truth be told, I've already seen one of the movies in the box, and there are no special features to speak of, but I was in a mind to spend some money and it was either the triple feature or Robocop 3. I'm not entirely sure I made the right choice.
The three titles on offer were The Serpent and the Rainbow, Shocker, and The People Under the Stairs. I've seen that last one many, many times and think it's highly underrated, by the way. The Serpent and the Rainbow is in my Netflix cue and though it's ready to stream right now, I just haven't been feeling up to it. That left Shocker, a movie Dan talks about all the freaking time.
Johnathan Parker has got it made in the shade. Starting out as an victim of child abuse, Johnathan found a new home with a police Lieutenant and was raised to be a loving brother, caring boyfriend, and football star. After suffering a concussion during practice, Johnathan dreams about "The Family Slasher," a killer who's been murdering families all over town, and is able to deduce his identity from the dream. As retribution, the killer goes after Johnathan's family, dispatching his mother and siblings. Shortly thereafter, Horace Pinker is arrested and sentenced to death. But death won't stop a man like Pinker! Infused with dark powers, Pinker's spirit survives the electric chair and jumps from body to body via electric shock. Once again loose on an unsuspecting world, Pinker murders everyone standing in between him and Johnathan. Tapping in to the essence of Pinker's power, Johnathan devises a plan to beat him at his own game, and bring him to justice.
I was a little stunned to see that Craven borrowed heavily from NOES, exploring the same dream territory in Shocker. But dreams are only one element of the movie's plot. A hint of Final Friday runs through the film, as Pinker possesses a number of bodies, though he does so without the use of a disgusting, pulsating worm. Pinker's possession is mitigated through electricity and so the film takes on an ironic twist as the vehicle for his execution becomes the very thing that gives him new life. The logic breaks down, however, after Johnathan, who is not dead, manages to harness that same power and infiltrate Pinker's plane of existence.
This gap in logic came as a bit of a shock, given that, despite the dubious quality of his other movies, Craven's writing always held up. But the logic problems aren't the only issue. The film also suffers from uneven tone. I don't know if this movie was supposed to be a comedy, but I like to think that it was. Unfortunately, the funny stuff is completely overshadowed by a seriousness that is completely at odds with the ridiculous nature of the events that take place on screen.
On the upside, Mitch Pileggi delivers an electrifying performance as Horace Pinker, and Ted "My Favourite Raimi" Raimi hangs about but doesn't say much. Also, NOES alumnus Heather Langenkamp makes a brief appearance as one of Pinker's victims. And if you can buy John Tesh as a serious news anchor, then you'll likely not have too much of a problem with the film as a whole.
I can't say that I thoroughly enjoyed Shocker, but once I let go of all pretense, the movie was a lot more fun to watch. So that's two out of three for the cheap Wes Craven 3-pack, and in the immortal words of Meatloaf, that ain't bad.