How to Ruin Your Own Movie: Shocker Edition

A recent conversation with The Divemistress about the movie Shocker got me to thinking about just how puzzling a film it is. Never has there been a movie whose purpose for existing was so unbelievably clear, yet which has done done such an abhorrent job of fulfilling that purpose.

Simply put, the film Shocker exists for one reason: To create a franchise horror villain that Wes Craven would own the rights to, so that he could make back some of the sweet cash he lost by signing away Freddy to New Line.

That character? Horace Pinker, the “Freddy Kruger of Television”. He would have the ability to travel through circuitry, move around as an electrical man, and, most importantly, both exist within the reality of television shows, and drag other people within the shows to be killed there.

It’s an ambitious idea, finding yourself trapped, in fact murdered, within the realm of your favorite television show. While it’s not quite the equal of ‘guy kills you in/with your dreams’, it’s certainly a decent premise, and more than capable of supporting a franchise of films.

Which brings me to the question I’d ask Wes Craven if I ever had the opportunity – why does it take this movie so damn long to get to the point?

Let’s compare it to some other films that it shares qualities with, shall we?

Wes Craven’s breakout hit, Nightmare on Elm Street, whose iconic, extremely profitable, main villain he hoped to emulate in Shocker. When does Freddy first appear in Tina’s dream?

Okay, now let’s take a look at an unrelated film who shared similar horror themes with Shocker, and stole its most effective sequence outright from Wes Craven’s movie. That movie? ‘Fallen’. It featured a body-jumping-themed villain. So how long before he demonstrated this ability?

Okay. So there’s your baseline. So now let’s take a look at Shocker, a film about the Freddy Krueger that can jump through televisions and pull you into the realities of fictional programs.

Horace Pinker, aptly played by Mitch Pileggi, is already a mass murderer as the film begins. He commits his first onscreen murder at the 8-minute mark.

This murder is witnessed by Peter Berg because of his poorly-explained ability to astral project while dreaming.

Of course, this isn’t a movie about a human killer, it’s about a human killer who becomes a supernatural one. Why does that sound so familiar? Anyhoo, the first thing a killer needs to do in order to get supernatural powers is to die – but that doesn’t happen until a full 45 minutes into the movie.

So now he starts with the TV-grabbing, right? Nope. First he becomes a body-jumping themed villain, capable of moving instantaneously from person to person.

Then we learn he can be weakened by a magic necklace.

Wait, hold on a second – this movie has a magic necklace in it? And astral projection? Huh?

Horace finally jumps out of a television at the ninety-minute mark.

And only gets around to dragging Peter Berg into the TV until some time later - not before first attacking him with a chair.

That’s right. Among other things, Horace Pinker can possess chairs. Speaking of which, have you ever wondered what Mitch Pileggi would look like if he were half-man, half-chair?

Wonder no longer!

Anyhoo, after a tussle around the apartment Peter forces Mitch to flee by using, what else, the magic necklace, then jumps into the television set after him.

At this point the film finally reveals its reason for existing, as Peter and Mitch engage in an epic fist-fight that takes them through every copyright-cleared piece of footage that Wes Craven could obtain. The effects supporting this sequence are widely inconsistent, going from decent blending-

To atrocious.

But whatever the quality of effects, it’s clear from this scene’s energy and audacity that it was what Craven had been going for all along – this is the reason for Horace’s existence, and by extension, the movie’s. Had there been the sequel that Craven so desperately desired, it would have been about the TV-jumping serial killer.

So why did Craven wait until the movie only had 15 minutes remaining to get to that point? That would be like making an entire movie about Freddy Krueger, child molester, having him get burned alive by the parents at the halfway point, and only have him show up in someone’s dreams as an end-of-movie stinger.

People enjoy horror movies, and they like themed villains. You know what they don’t like, though? Villain origin stories. I don’t have a lot of evidence to back that theory up, because almost no one’s ever been stupid enough to spend an entire film giving a villain’s origin story, but between the financial disasters that met the releases of Shocker and Hannibal Rising, I think there’s an argument to be made against ever trying this again.

Your killer can be as ludicrous as you want, with powers as outlandish as your imagination can produce – but don’t spend an entire film trying to justify them. You’re robbing the audience of an impressive villain by showing him finding his way in the world. We didn’t want to watch a story about Michael Myers’ tragic abusive upbringing, no one wanted to watch a movie about Hannibal learning to be a cannibal, and we certainly didn’t want to see the moment that a trio of Dream Demons offered Freddy his powers. Although, come to think of it, that sequence was almost certainly ripped off from this movie-

So, to wrap up – save origin stories for superhero movies. Horror fans will cut you a lot of slack as long as the killer is interesting enough. Overexplaining is the death of drama, and an entire film of nothing but explanations is death itself.

Also, if it’s not too much trouble, maybe you don’t want to have your villain defeated by a remote control. Just FYI.

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