Shocker (1989)

Rated R for some gore, blood, and plenty of foul language.

No matter how one feels about capital punishment aka the death penalty, one has to admit that it is definitely pretty horrific. Whether people feel that it is justified or not, committing the actual deed is very scary. Pretty much every method we humans have thought of is absolutely terrible. We thought of beheading, which we know causes sharp pain and the head is often aware for moments after completion. Hanging breaks the neck when done right but causes a slow, painful death when done incorrectly. Firing squads are clearly painful with no question. The electric chair is absolutely brutal as it takes time for the body to overload with electricity and every pain receptor must fire off at once. The gas chamber is not only painful but has extremely unfortunate historical implications. We have recently learned that the method of lethal injection is both severely painful and extremely fallible. This is all coupled with must be the horrible anticipation and dread that being on death row brings.

As a former theater electrician, I developed a healthy respect for the awesome power of electricity. When I was first learning the trade for real in college, I had a lot of great teachers. I took to it immediately having had a little bit of experience already. Those who showed zero experience and zero instinct for the work were often nicknamed “Sparky”. Such was the case with a man who later became a friend who tried to loosen a lightbulb with a screwdriver. The mocking was not meant to be cruel. It was meant to make those who followed safety rules good and correct those who did not immediately follow the rules. I learned a lot from that gang of misfits. When I later worked with the audio department, I worked on a project where I learned what to do when somebody on a job site was getting electrocuted. All you had to do was loop your belt around their waist and attempt to pull and break the connection without completing the circuit with your own body. I was only shocked once and that is all it took to respect that force for the rest of my life.

The first thing I noticed was that this movie was very in line with Wes Craven’s other works of the time. As evidenced by the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Craven was definitely interested in dreams and weird imagery. The Scream and the Nightmare franchises show that he is very interested in getting meta. This movie combines the two concepts and ups the comedy aspects. It feels like Craven was cutting loose after producing two Freddy movies and being bombarded with the rest of the franchise. The movie knows exactly what it is and puts the pedal to the medal on how ridiculous things can get. Part of that is the crazy special effects they used. There are a lot of standard lightning effects but there were other things that surprised me. Including television into the mix makes for some great comedy and some inventive story beats. It feels like an answer to where the Freddy franchise had gone and maybe it was Craven stretching his legs a bit.

Part of the charm of this movie is the acting by Mitch Pileggi as the home-invading serial murderer who gets a brand new MO. He is so fun even as he murders people. He is like a cross between Freddy Krueger and Charles Lee Ray. He has a lot of the same snarky charm as Robert Englund and Brad Dourif portrayed too. Craven made a rare move and cast a male as the hero but still did a lot of the same beats as with a “final girl”. Peter Berg plays the dumb jock who suddenly finds himself with a psychic connection to the killer. Camille Cooper plays his girlfriend, a highly intelligent woman who I thought was going to be dismissed but she ends up being way more important. The rest of the cast plays their goofy parts to the hilt. There is plenty of pathos and drama but I really enjoyed the dorky comic relief in this movie. Horror fans will love cameos from Heather Langenkamp and Ted Raimi. Fans of goofy guys getting terrorized will love the cameo from John Tesh.

Overall, I really loved this movie. Like I said earlier, it definitely felt like a movie that knew exactly what it was and went for it. It was very much like Happy Death Day 2 U which I saw earlier this year. It is also the same spirit that the Fast and Furious franchise has where you cannot wait for the next ridiculous thing to happen and when it is all over, you understand everything that happened for a reason.

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