It’s naturally impossible to start this review without at least mentioning Wes Craven’s recent, all too soon, death. It was sudden and felt throughout the genre cinema community. The outpouring of fan testimonials via social networking, blogging, and even mainstream news outlets showed how far his reach was and how potent a legacy he will leave behind. It just happened that Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Craven’s seldom discussed ’89 slasher Shocker would street mere days later. No company ever wants to appear to be cashing in on the death of a filmmaker – or maybe they do, but I’d like to think not – and that’s obviously not the case here with this having been created and dated for some time now, but it’s hard to separate the man from the work and perhaps this release will offer some sort of catharsis for fans.
Shocker has never been one of Craven’s more talked about films. It came at a weird point in his career, following the hellish production of The Serpent and the Rainbow and coming directly before the ultra crazy The People Under the Stairs, and it sort of shows. It’s best to view Shocker as an amalgamation of pieces of Craven’s career up to that point, with the dream logic of A Nightmare on Elm St and the gritty sleaze of The Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left colliding into a weighty 109 minute piece of genre cinema that seemingly can’t find a genre to belong to. This doesn’t place it far from the genre transgressions of the truly offbeat and wonderful The People Under the Stairs and its approach to (maybe unintentional) black comedy sets up the direction Craven would head in with Vampire in Brooklyn and the Scream series, even if he was to not write any of those. And it almost works. Almost.
Craven sets up Shocker as pure horror. And in those moments it is really on to something. But by maybe the half way point, he switches gears and it becomes something more. Craven gets a bit too metaphysical and a bit too metatextual and just too fucking meta all around. And it goes on like that for a long 109 minutes. It’s not an out and out failure though – he’d have those too – and it has moments that are truly inspired and fun. The deaths are graphic – apparently this had to be cut several times to get an R rating, though there is no uncut version to be found here – and frequent and the finale involving our lead protagonist and antagonist invading various TV programs, which feels like an entirely different movie, needs to be seen to be believed. As do those “out of body” effects. Beautiful stuff. In the end, Shocker isn’t Craven’s worst movie and it’s not his best. It’s a unique entry in his filmography that feels pieced together from various other parts of his career. Fortunately, those parts are great. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to live up to them.
Scream Factory have presented Shocker in a 1080p transfer and it mostly looks solid. This is a Universal title who tend to provide their own masters and since I don’t see any language that suggests otherwise, I’m going under that assumption here. Which would explain what appears to be some noise reduction used (Universal use to do this quite a bit) though it isn’t overt or inherent throughout. I mostly noticed it on close ups of faces and during optical effects – particularly those “out of body” transitions – but it’s there and it shouldn’t be. Outside of that, this is a pretty clean transfer. I didn’t notice any damage but there is some dirt on the source from time to time. Colors and black levels are solid and there is a level of grain present throughout, just not what it likely should be. Audio is in DTS HD 5.1 and 2.0 options. As always, I advocate for the 2.0 track which is as it was recorded. It sounds good, with everything in balance and the ridiculous rock music coming in very clear.
Craven fans will be very happy with how packed this release is. Starting with a commentary with Craven, which is a bit of a hard listen now, unfortunately. He’s talky and informative without being too technical, but focuses more on the story and details of the production. There’s a second commentary that’s a lot more technical, featuring DP Jacques Haitkin, producer Robert Engelman and composer William Goldstein. The awkward thing here is that it’s obvious these guys aren’t all together. This is seemingly compiled from different sources. But it’s good, nonetheless. There’s some great information shared and the participants are all relatively positive regarding the production and final product. Following those, we get a 26 minute featurette on the film’s music, “No More Mr. Nice Guy – The Music of Shocker“, and interviews with actors Mitch Pileggi, Cami Cooper and producer Shep Gordon. All of the content is quality and everyone interviewed is casual and anecdotal with Cooper skewing the funniest and Gordon being the most technical. There’s also some vintage behind the scenes footage, TV spots, trailers, and stills/storyboards galleries.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of Shocker comes at a rather strange time. It’s hard to not ultimately acknowledge the force that Wes Craven was regardless of the movie. But, as it stands, Shocker is one of his weaker efforts. It’s not without its charms and eccentricities but it is a long, confused affair that seems pieced together from Craven’s better (and better known) films. But, hey, that just shows how much great work he did before/after this one. Still, Scream Factory’s presentation is solid, despite some flaws, and the disc is packed with content. For Craven fans, this comes recommended. Everyone else should at least give it a shot and rent it.