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RetView #23 – Shocker (1989)

Title: Shocker

Year of Release: 1989

Director: Wes Craven

Length: 110 minutes

Starring: Peter Berg, Mitch Pileggi, Michael Murphy, Heather Langenkamp, John Tesh

shocker

I was 15 when Shocker came out, and so at PAA (Peak Appreciation Age) for horror movies. And a lot of other things, including heavy metal. One of the most attractive things for me about this movie was the soundtrack, which featured Megadeth covering Alice Cooper’s No More Mr. Nice Guy alongside songs by Bonfire and Iggy Pop. Most impressively, the title track was recorded by The Dudes of Wrath, a supergroup consisting of Paul Stanley (Kiss), Vivian Campbell and Rudy Sarzo (Whitesnake) and Tommy Lee (Motley Crue). It even featured powerhouse songwriter Desmond Child and members of Van Halen on backing vocals. All this considered, Shocker was a perfect storm of my two main obsessions coming together. Metal and horror. Although dubbed a critical and commercial failure at the time (though not really, as it raked in $16.6 million at the Box Office against a $5 million budget) it has since gained cult status, and deservedly so.

Parallels are often drawn between Shocker and Wes Craven’s seminal A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. While the former is much more light-hearted, often venturing into campy horror comedy territory, there are similarities. In his 2004 book Wes Craven: The Art of Horror, writer John Kenneth Muir says, “Shocker was basically Craven’s response to the Freddy Krueger film series and to Universal Studios, which informed him they wanted their very own horror franchise à la A Nightmare on Elm Street. Accordingly, moments in Shocker echo Craven’s earlier milestone film. Both films open with grisly serial killers working in their den of evil, both feature non-believing parents who also happen to serve on the local police, and both films also dramatize the now-expected ‘rubber reality’ dream sequences.”

In Shocker, the Freddy Krueger role is taken by a new anti-hero, Horace Pinker (Pileggi, later to make it big as Walter Skinner in the X Files) who appears to highschool footballer Jonathan Parker (Berg) in his dreams. This proves to be nothing but a precursor, when Horace (isn’t it more endearing when savage comic villains are referred to by their first name? Freddy, Jason, etc) then butchers most of Jonathan’s foster family, much to the chagrin of his police detective foster dad (Murphy). Using his dreams, Jonathan leads a police squad right to Horace’s door, but the killer escapes, brutally murdering all the cops in the process (except his foster dad, who yells at him). He then kills Peter’s girlfriend in revenge (Langenkamp, from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Obviously a favourite of Craven’s, she was also cast in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). Shortly afterwards, he is finally apprehended and it transpires that he is actually Peter’s biological father (bummer!). He is then sent to the electric chair. What his executioners don’t know, however, is that Horace has struck a deal with the devil. The chair doesn’t actually kill him, but ‘frees’ him and turns him into pure electricity, enabling him to continue his killing spree by hopping from body to body. Jonathan eventually wins through, with the help of his dead girlfriend, by trapping his nemesis dad inside a television set leaving the path open for a sequel. The much-touted sequel, which was supposed to be the second instalment in a horror franchise to rival A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday 13th never materialized, probably due to a combination of mixed reviews and shifting audience attitudes.

Some critics disagree, with Horrornews.net going so far as to call him ‘lame’ but IMHO Pileggi plays a remarkably convincing baddie, and with his bald head and trim physique is eerily reminiscent of a young Dana White. He does suffer a little from ‘Freddy Krueger Syndrome’ with all the banter and wisecracks (“C’mon boy, let’s take a ride in my volts wagon!”). However, despite its cult classic status, this film is not without its problems. One of the main sticking points is its length. At 110 minutes, it far exceeds the average 90 minute running time for this kind of genre staple and takes quite a while before it gets going. I blame the editors for that. Maybe a slightly shorter, more streamlined version would have fared better.

Trivia Corner:

According to Craven, the film was severely cut for an R (15) rating. It took around thirteen submissions to the MPAA before it was awarded an R instead of an X (18) which would have limited its appeal. Some of the scenes that were cut included Pinker spitting out fingers that he bit off of a prison guard and a longer and more graphic electrocution. An uncut version has never been released.

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Revenge of the Toothfish!

My short story, Revenge of the Toothfish, appears in the anthology Trigger Warning: Body Horror, out now on Madness Heart Press, the place where Southern hospitality meets shredding insanity.

Here’s a peak at the cover:

Body Horror Front Cover

Revenge of the Toothfish is probably the most bizarre title I have ever bestowed on anything in my entire life. The idea for the story came from a documentary I saw a couple of years ago about toothfish, which is an actual species, by the way. Though you probably know them by their other, more consumer-friendly name, sea bass. I started thinking how much it must suck to be a fish, swimming merrily along trying to find some lunch, blissfully unaware that all the while a bunch of humans are trying their level best to bury a metal hook in your gullet, yank you out of your natural habitat, chop you up and sell you. I started thinking how great it would be if one of these persecuted fish could somehow get some payback.

Trigger Warning is an annual collection of stories geared toward making readers uncomfortable, which I hope I achieve with Revenge of the Toothfish. Just the word ‘toothfish’ for some reason makes me feel icky. The story itself is a good old-fashioned body horror tale, with a healthy dose of surrealism and bizarro. It’s probably one of the weirdest things I have written, but also one of the most enjoyable. I had fun with this one, and I hope you do, too.

Trigger Warning: Body Horror is out now.


Best of the Best

Some characters you create, and some you just wish you’d created.

Deviant Dolls

What’s the best character you’ve ever written? What’s the one character you wish you’d written? These are the hard questions I like to put to other authors, but rarely like answering myself. (Don’t worry, I do answer this one)

The Dolls had to answer me, or else I’d be bitchy at them for weeks, so here are the best characters they’ve written, and/or the one they wish they’d written:

41ZPP0T6czLKatrina: I wish I’d written Calamity Leek from The First Book of Calamity Leek. I love kid characters in adult books, but especially ones that have one over on the adults–they see more, learn more, do more… Calamity is a force to be reckoned with at only ten or eleven years old in her clan of crazy, heathen sisters.

41Es7snNtSL._SY346_Christian: What’s with all these impossible fucking questions? Jesus. That’s not my answer, by the way. Okay, not a…

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The Process

A lot of writers talk about their ‘process.’ The thing is, there is no right or wrong way of doing it. Ultimately, you have to figure out what works for you. Maybe this will help.

Deviant Dolls

A common interview question for authors is “Do you have a writing process?” This refers to the little things we do or incorporate into our routine in order to be productive in our writing. It’s fascinating because every writer is different, and some have some pretty weird shit they need/do to keep the creative juices flowing.

Christian: When I write non-fiction, yes. I write down all the main points I want to make in order, then do the necessary research and piece the whole thing together like a puzzle. That’s more of an exact science, and there are formulas to follow.

But when I write fiction, none at all. I generally wing it. I don’t know what works for other people, but I hate routines. Too stifling. I think when you try to pour creativity into a bottle is where it all goes wrong. I set targets like word…

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Online Obsessions: Sites We Can’t Live Without

Take a look around our world!

Then turn around and leave, shaking your head in a mixture of disbelief and disappointment…

Deviant Dolls

Christian had this idea that you guys might enjoy knowing a few of our favorite things. Maybe he was wrong, but we’re going to tell you anyway. This week, let’s discuss the website we can’t live without.

Peter: It sounds crap but probably Amazon; I order almost everything I buy from there as I don’t like going out (mostly books and booze).

Christian: Wales Online, for many reasons. I travel a lot, and it’s the best way to keep in touch with things that happen in Wales where I am from. No other website, not even their own, has as much Cardiff City FC coverage. Other than that, I love the wacky news stories they publish, because Wales can be a pretty wacky place. Just the other week, they ran a headline, “MAN ADMITS HAVING SEX WITH HIS TERRIERS, TAFF AND BEN.”

I just love how they gave…

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So, Let’s Talk about Why You Didn’t Like My Book

The Deviant Dolls never avoid tackling issues. In fact, most of them go running off in search of issues to tackle. Drama.

Deviant Dolls

Wouldn’t we all love to ask a reader that? Especially those one-star jerks who leave NO EXPLANATION AT ALL? Yeah, you guys suck. In case you’re wondering, here’s one question we’d ask readers who didn’t like our books. Except Michael, who has to make sense and be rational all the time.

Michael: I have no questions. He or she has bought it so have every right to opine.

Katrina: There was one reviewer who couldn’t believe ALL DARLING CHILDREN was published because apparently it was so bad that anyone who okayed the publishing was obviously stupid. I’d probably ask her what put her in such a bad mood that she needed to be so horrible. It wasn’t as if she was criticizing any one or two things; she was just being shitty.

Christian: What’s wrong with you? Are you some kind of fucking dunderhead? Hello? McFly?

I’m…

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Favorite Things: Musical Edition

Because it’s all about them beats…

Deviant Dolls

Christian had this idea that you guys might enjoy knowing a few of our favorite things. Maybe he was wrong, but we’re going to tell you anyway. This week, let’s all share our favorite album (music, for you young folks like Katrina who aren’t aware that such things are still in some people’s vocabulary). For many of us, music is crucial to getting in the right head space for writing, so finding a whole collection of songs that make us happy is pretty important.

Christian: I’m a rocker at heart, so I’m going for Def Leppard’s Hysteria. It’s just the perfect album. Sometimes the best works of art are born out of adversity, and this album certainly was because drummer Rick savage lost his arm in a car accident prior to recording. Twelve tracks, seven singles and 25 million sales, it epitomizes eighties garishness and excess and Mutt Lange’s…

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