Oh. Oh, Wes. You just…you made…it’s all jumbled…and there’s so much going on…and there’s dreams and death and sorcery and puns…and…oh.
I feel like this was a crossroads moment in Wes Craven’s career. He was now into the double digits for horror movies he’d directed. He was a viable name in a genre he knew nothing about when he first started, but that now held him tightly within a death grip that he couldn’t shake. He’d written into existence one of the most memorable horror villains of modern cinema, and had subsequently lost all control of said villain to a slew of sequels that he continued to view as chipping away the validity of that villain. He kept trying to do different things, but there is little opportunity for movement once you’ve found yourself stuck in a niche. Craven was a master of horror, whether he liked it or not.
Shocker definitely makes me think that at this point, he did not like it. At all.
I honestly believe that Craven didn’t intentionally set out to make a laughable movie with this one. I know from interviews he gave later that he wanted to create a new horror villain that would sort of be the antithesis to what Freddy Krueger had become in the NOES sequels. Craven was quite displeased with how his child murdering dream demon had become a vaudevillain, to coin a phrase, cracking puns as he killed and playing up a level of likability among his fans that Craven found perverse.
With his new villain, Craven wanted to return to that raw, unfiltered fear that he conjured at the beginning of his career. There was to be nothing likable or kind or appealing within the heart of Horace Pinker. He was meant to be a cold-blooded bastard whose only sense of joy came from the lives he stole in murderous, violent fashion.
Instead, Craven clearly took a wrong turn back at Albuquerque.
Again, this movie screams of external meddling. As evidenced with his early films and with the original Freddy (as well as the original script that Craven wrote for the third NOES movie), Craven had no problem entering the darkest depths of horror and mining from it what he knew he would need to truly frighten and unsettle his viewers. Left to his own devices, I have a feeling that Horace Pinker would have been the second successful original villain of Craven’s creating.
Instead, TPTB interjected with what I’m sure they viewed as “helpful” or “useful” recommendations, which were far, far, far from helpful. “Hey, Pinker is kind of a jerk. Make him funny. You know, like Freddy.” “Hey, make him get his powers through some kind of voodoo. You know, like from your last movie.” “Hey, remember how you had that girl able to enter her dreams to seek out Freddy, and pull things out of her dreams? Why don’t you make the football player in this movie have the same ability? You know, because it worked in that other movie that everyone loves.”
Yeah. Hot, jumbled mess this turned out to be by the time everyone was finished. Simply put, there are so many things going on simultaneously throughout this movie that it feels discordant and discombobulated the whole time you’re watching it. What Craven needed to do was streamline the ideas…leave out what he had already used and stick with what he wanted to use for this film. It would have made for a far better film instead of the mismatched jumble that this movie ended up being. Plus, the era of true shock horror had turned into the era of schlock horror by this point, and not even Craven was safe from the cheese of the times. I guess that’s the best way to describe some of the elements of this film, like the horrible jokes or having Timothy Leary play a televangelist or having a little girl use profanity while possessed by foul-mouthed Pinker. Seriously, the man who gave us (The Last House on the Left spoilers whited out now) a woman seducing a man into letting her give him a blow job so that she could bite off his penis after she realized that he was one of the men who raped and killed her daughter trying to shock us with a little girl dropping the F bomb? Puhlease.
[Loba Tangent: Also, make note of this filmmakers: Never use a little kid using profanity in your movie or show as a way of being controversial. It’s not shocking. It’s a transparent plea for someone to think you’re shocking.]
Craven had hoped to turn Horace Pinker’s exploits into a series of at least three films. However, the general response to the mucky mess of Pinker’s world was so subdued that future plans were abandoned. It’s probably for the best. Mitch Pileggi would soon have his hands full with keeping two FBI agents in check. He didn’t have time for this! And, yes, no matter how many roles Mitch Pileggi has played and no matter that he was ADA Skinner on The X-Files, I always call him Horace Pinker.