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No Rules? No Problem. Let’s Talk About Wes Craven’s Shocker

Feature Presentations: Episode 42

Welcome to my column dedicated to the appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Scream Factory‘s release of Shocker.

Close-up of Pinker holding a knife up.

There isn’t another director out there quite like Wes Craven. The man created three classic films within the horror genre. Beyond The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream, people tend to gloss over much of the rest of his output. Sure, plenty of love goes to the Scream sequels, The Serpent and the Rainbow, or The People Under the Stairs. What doesn’t get talked about near as much are the number of misfires within his filmography. I’m not going to bash Wes Craven. I enjoy most of what he offers. I’m just saying that it’s ok to discuss works that didn’t connect with critics, audiences, or both, including today’s subject: 1989’s Shocker.

I grew up during the heyday of USA’s Up All Night with Rhonda Shear—think of this show in a similar vein to its counterpart, Joe Bob‘s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel. It was during this time that I first watched Wes Craven’s film, and it spoke to me in all the right ways. As a pre-teen, watching a serial killer hop bodies and electrical equipment to continue his murderous spree was a good time if I ever saw one. The movie has one speed, and it’s “go time” for the complete 110-minute runtime.

Even as I’ve grown older, Shocker has always appealed to me. Maybe it’s a sense of nostalgia or the lack of rules within the film. And I get that it’s not a great movie. I understand that completely, but there’s something about a film that gives a finger to logic and makes things up on the fly. Who cares? It’s a fun time, and for me, that counts. Logic be damned, I say!

Scream Factory shares that love as well since they gave Shocker the Collector’s Edition treatment with a disc chocked full of extras! Before we get into that, being a Collector’s Edition, the package comes with a slipcover featuring newly-commissioned artwork. For the Blu-ray case, you get a reversible wrap with the new art on one side and the theatrical print on the other. If I get a slipcover with different art, I usually flip the wrap to showcase the old and new artwork.

Diving into the disc, Scream Factory included a handful of new interviews. The first one, “Cable Guy,” is a sit-down with actor Mitch Pileggi. “Cable Guy” is one of the more entertaining interviews I have watched recently. Pileggi is the complete opposite of the villain, Horace Pinker, during this 15-minute chat. Full of laughs and smiles, Pileggi recalls how he came into the acting scene, working with Wes Craven, and his thoughts on the film. I didn’t expect to use this word to describe “Cable Guy,” but Pileggi is adorable. Listening to his joyous persona as he smiles at recalling Shocker is quite the treat, and Pileggi makes sure to include plenty of production information. And make sure to stay through the end credits!

Jonathan and Alison stare ahead while in the street.

The interview, “Alison’s Adventures,” finds actress Cami Cooper talking about her time in the film. Cooper first talks about entering into acting and her role model Mae West. She then shines a light on Wes Craven’s sense of humor before conversing on the challenges of using a green screen. Cooper wraps up her chat, discussing her only regret during the film’s production, thoughts on the final product, and her career trajectory afterward.

“It’s Alive” is a talk with Executive Producer Shep Gordon. Gordon traces his history of how he came up in the world of film production, talking about how he was able to make money to fund projects and how he came to work with Wes Craven and John Carpenter. It’s almost insane hearing how Gordon came to work with Craven and Carpenter (a story you need to hear to believe). While not an interview that discusses Shocker in-depth, what you get with “It’s Alive” is a frank, honest and compelling chat about the film production. Gordon was part of the production company Alive Films and talks about his approach to funding a film and walks the viewer through the company’s short but fruitful history. While I enjoyed the interview with Mitch Pileggi, “It’s Alive” is my favorite feature on the disc. Gordon’s honesty is compelling as he pulls back the curtain to allow those not “in the know” in Hollywood a glimpse and the wheeling and dealing that occurs.

The final interview, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” discusses the music of Shocker. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” features interviews with legit musicians and producers associated with Shocker. Musicians Jason McMaster from Dangerous Toys, David Ellefson with Megadeth, KISS and Dudes of Wrath’s Bruce Kulick, Kane Roberts, the guitarist for Alice Cooper and the Dudes of Wrath, and producer Desmond Child each split time talking about their contributions to the soundtrack. Each musician gets their moment in the sun to talk about the specific tracks they contributed. I appreciated this method as it works well to give the viewer insight into each musician’s reasoning for the compositions they contributed. As someone not well-versed in music, I found “No More Mr. Nice Guy” a welcome inclusion.

The last batch of interviews comes via multiple Electronic Press Kits conducted around the time of Shocker’s production. Anyone familiar with EPKs understands that these never provide much insight, only created to sell the film. The EPKs feature a handful of behind-the-scenes shots and comments from Wes Craven, producer Marianne Maddalena, and actors Peter Berg, Michael Murphy, and Mitch Pileggi. Except for the behind-the-scenes footage, there isn’t much here. Only those who love the film might find any enjoyment in these.

When it comes to the marketing side of this disc? There’s plenty for everyone. Scream Factory included the theatrical trailer and multiple TV and radio spots. Those who enjoy storyboards will find that Scream Factory provided four storyboarded sequences for your viewing pleasure. Rounding out this portion of the disc, you get a stills gallery featuring shots from the finished film, behind the scenes, and publicity photos.A bloody bathroom with a threating message on the mirror.

The last features on the disc are two separate, feature-length commentaries. The first track features writer/director Wes Craven riding solo as he navigates through the production of Shocker. I’ve always found Wes Craven’s commentaries insightful yet unremarkable. Not to knock Wes Craven, but I find his tracks serviceable. And there’s nothing wrong with that. He has a calming presence and is meticulous and thorough when discussing his films. He does and gives what you expect a commentary track to provide. While he occasionally lapses into silence while watching the movie, this is a standard Craven track, and that’s fine by me.

The second track features Director of Photography Jacques Haitkin, Producer Robert Engelman, and Composer William Goldstein. While listed as a commentary, Michael Felsher with Red Shirt Pictures speaks in the opening moments that this commentary is composed of three individual interviews with the participants. Felsher does an excellent job providing in-depth questions and allowing the interviewees to offer insightful answers. Haitkin talks about how he came about as a director of photography, his work with Craven and New Line Cinema founder Robert Shaye and the feel of working on a Wes Craven film.

Near the halfway point, the track switches from Haitkin to Robert Engelman. Engelman spends his time discussing his working relationship with Wes Craven—first working with him on The Serpent and the Rainbow. Engelman continues by talking about how he came to be considered the First Assistant Director on the film while delving into Craven’s collaborative spirit, Shocker not fitting the mold as a typical “slasher,” and his views from the perspective as a producer.

Lastly, the commentary track concludes as Felsher speaks with William Goldstein. Goldstein discusses being “born” into the life of music as he traces his career through Shocker, including the avenue of music that spoke best to him. Goldstein discusses some favorite scores throughout his career and his love of ’30s jazz. As the track nears closing, Goldstein talks about collaborating with Wes Craven and working to craft the score, including basing the music from the sound effects in the film.

While some might be disappointed that this commentary isn’t scene-specific, rest assured that there is enough detail to make the track worth a listen.

Pinker emerging from a TV

And there you have it! Scream Factory did a hell of a job with this release. As a die-hard fan of Shocker, the love and care given to a “lesser” Wes Craven film made this writer a happy guy. Minus the deleted footage cut to get an R rating, everything anyone could want with Shocker is here. If I haven’t been clear enough, Scream Factory’s this release of Shocker is the definitive edition. If you love this film, you’ll love this disc.

Written by Robert Chipman

Robert is a lifelong cinephile and has had an admiration with film for as long as he can remember. When he's not checking out the most recent theatrical release, viewing a movie on one of a 1,000,000,000 streaming services or picking up the latest physical media disc, he's trying and failing to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter. He also has a weird fascination with Stephen Dorff. Make of that what you will. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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