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Director: Wes Craven
Writers: Wes Craven
Cast: Michael Murphy, Mitch Pileggi, Peter Berg
Length: 109 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: September 8, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio Commentary with Wes Craven
- Newly Commissioned Audio Commentary With Director Of Photography Jacques Haitkin, Co-Producer Robert Engelman, and Composer William Goldstein
- Cable Guy: Interview with Actor Mitch Pileggi
- Alison’s Adventures: Interview with Actress Cami Cooper
- It’s Alive: Interview with Executive Producer Shep Gordon
- No More Mr. Nice Guy: The Music Of “Shocker: Interviews with Music Supervisor Desmond Child and soundtrack Artists Bruce Kulick (KISS), Jason McMaster (DANGEROUS TOYS), Kane Roberts (ALICE COOPER), and Dave Ellefson (MEGADETH)
- 2 Vintage Making Of Featurettes including an Interview with Wes Craven
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Radio Spots
- Original Storyboard Gallery
- Still Gallery
In 2013, SNL alum Mike Myers commissioned and directed a documentary about famed music agent-turned-jack of all trades, Shep Gordon. The documentary, Supermensch, follows Shep through his life’s story, supplemented by no shortage of stories by either Shep or the myriad of famous people that he has helped along the way. Among the many hats that Shep wore in his illustrious career, one saw him running a short lived — but immensely important — film studio Alive Films. In an effort to turn the studio into a profitable business, Shep changed his sights from the arthouse to horror, nabbing two of the most successful and innovative horror directors of that time, John Carpenter and Wes Craven. The result of this collaboration saw these directors given literal carte blanche over their material. The only stipulation Shep wanted was that the films had to perform well for test audiences, beyond this, he didn’t care what they did with the films. It was a precedent rarely offered to horror directors from studios. The products that came out of Alive Films are two of Carpenter’s best films, They Live and Prince of Darkness, and two of Craven’s more ambitious but flawed works, The People Under the Stairs and Shocker. Up until this moment, the former three films have all been released on Blu-ray via Shout! Factory’s genre imprint Scream Factory. With the release of Shocker on Blu-ray in September, Scream Factory has completed the full run of output from these two visionary directors’ collaboration with Alive. Let’s see how Shocker stacks up to the rest.
Like with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Shocker is concerned with a madman running loose and causing havoc in an otherwise quaint community. The serial killer, nicknamed by the media as the “Family Slasher” for his gruesome murders, has left the cops with virtually no clues to place him, despite a long streak of killings. When the son (Peter Berg) of the lead detective (Michael Murphy) on the case begins dreaming of the murders as they happen, the killer, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), is identified and brought into custody. The town is given a sigh of relief when Pinker is sentenced to death via electric chair, but the tables turn when he is able to — through some sort of strange possession-by-Television — transfer his spirit out of his body and into others. Escaping his tangible form, Pinker continues to wreck havoc on the town.Full disclosure, while Shocker has amassed a fairly consistent following in horror circles, it is probably one of the weakest of Craven’s ‘good films.’ It suffers from a lot of the same problems that The People Under the Stairs does: an inconsistent tone and a bloated narrative. With that said, there is plenty to appreciate about the film and is still one of the director’s more interesting pieces. Immediately from the similarly plotted credit sequence, the film calls to mind A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven claims that Shocker offered him a chance to work in another fantastical realm outside of the dream world, but much of the plot of the film relies heavily on the utilization of dream space. This, matched with an oddly comical villain, makes Shocker feel a tad too derivative of ANOES. It takes almost the entirety of the film’s plot to really begin to develop the secondary world that Craven is clearly interested in: a tangible television space. Once there — bracketing the silly humor — Craven does a fantastic job having the characters move in and out of different television channels, predating the similarly themed Stay Tuned by 3 years. It’s a shame that Craven didn’t develop this more and ditch the dream aspect of the film, which really he doesn’t even bother developing in the narrative beyond its simple existence. It feels almost lazy, as if his viewers would accept it for the simple fact that it’s Wes Craven and they’ve probably seen ANOES. Listening to the audio commentary, its clear that Craven may not have thought out every aspect of the film as much as you’d expect. Some of the film’s worst scenes Craven laughs off, having a hard time explaining why he did it that way and sometimes even admitting he went too far. Its this kind of unevenness that really challenges the film’s wholeness. The other major problem is Craven’s casting of Pileggi as Pinker. Pileggi is a fine actor but he’s just not directed well here. The humor is far too broad, almost embarrassingly so. It can, at times, be fun but overall it’s a bit irritating. Other than that, Craven does do a fine job directing, as per usual, but I’d say Shocker is one of his less interesting films. Finally, even though the effects didn’t turn out quite as good as Craven would have hoped, they hold up surprisingly well.
Much like The People Under the Stairs, Shocker arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory in fine form. The 1.85:1 1080p BD transfer is clear of excessive digital smoothing (although there appears to be a bit of work done), leaving a fine amount of film grain intact. Its not a full blown restoration project like some of their past releases, but for its first ever release on Blu-ray, Shocker could do a hell of a lot worse. Color is strong with natural skin tones and looks crisp. I’d say there is a bit of room for improvement but it will certainly please fans.
Much like the video, the audio track is finely handled. As per usual, Scream offers both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 option, and while they each get the job done, the 5.1 gives the often-loud and dynamic sound mix a little bit more room to breath. Perhaps the connection to Shep is as much a positive as it is a negative because (despite the leagues of fans) the metal soundtrack is a bit off-putting. The songs are great, they just don’t always fit the mood/tone of the film best.
Craven is fascinating filmmaker and its always good to hear him talk about his films — regardless if you love or hate him. He’s not exactly animated when he speaks (and perhaps the commentary could use a moderator) but he does a fantastic job bringing audiences through the production of the film and is very honest about the film’s missteps. This audio commentary is a very worthwhile addition to a set of already fantastic features (including a second feature length commentary track commissioned for this release with Cast and Crew). Other treats include two solid interviews with actors Pileggi and Cami Cooper and a really fantastic one with Shep Gordon. Shep has a way with telling stories, his passion is very easy to see on screen and he shines through this brief piece. An additional featurette tracks the music in the film with interviews Music Supervisor Desmond Child and artists Bruce Kulick (Kiss), Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys), Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper), and Dave Ellefson (Megadeath). Even for those that didn’t care for the use of the score, this piece is a nice and necessary companion, after all the music was an essential aspect of the film (as noted in the film’s tagline). Finally, there are some vintage materials ported over included two making of featurettes, a theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, and two stills galleries.
Shocker is, in many ways, Craven’s lukewarm attempt to capitalize on another Freddy-type tale that falls short of its goal. In reality, it’s a rather uneven but fun attempt to ‘give the fans what they want,’ while still working to push himself as a director. Craven would prove to be creatively more successful with The People Under the Stairs (despite its problems), but both films show just how important Shep Gordon’s revolutionary (for the time) policies with both Craven and Carpenter were. People often wonder how these four films were made: well, Shep is how. With Scream Factory’s release, Shocker is available on Blu-ray for the first time ever and for all its flaws, we are happy for it.