Horror Show, The (1989)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-11-27 22:28

Written by: Alan Smithee, Leslie Boehm
Directed by: James Isaac
Starring: Lance Henriksen, Brion James, and Rita Taggart

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

ďLucas, I'm coming back to tear your world apart... I'm going to fuck you up."

Sean Cunningham struck gold in the early 80s when he liberally borrowed from Halloween for Friday the 13th, so you could perhaps forgive him for trying something similar later in the decade once the Friday property got away from him. This time, however, he took inspiration from Freddy Krueger, albeit a few years too late, as, by this point, the Springwood Slasher himself was already showing signs of fatigue. Still, that didnít stop Cunningham and company from conjuring up another returned-from-the-grave psycho with a penchant for haunting furnaces and generally tormenting the guy who put him in the electric chair in the first place in The Horror Show, a movie that might as well be known as that other electric chair killer movie from 1989 thatís not quite as good as Shocker (but to be fair, science has yet to determine if Shocker was the result of divine celluloid intervention).

This oneís pretty decent, though. Itís got Lance Henriksen as Lucas McCarthy, a high-strung cop still fretting over his recent arrest of Max Jenke (Brion James, aka the best 80s villain this side of Brian Thompson), a prolific serial killer who slaughtered hundreds of victims, including a good chunk of Lucasís police buddies. As a result, he still wakes up in a cold sweat, mistakenly strangles his wife, and prowls around the house during the night out of fear. Witnessing a little girlís beheading will do that to you, man. When Jenke is due to be executed, Lucas considers it a chance for closure, a notion thatís shattered when the maniac proves tough to fry: the first jolt simply gives him a hard-on, and, as he staggers from the chair in extra-crispy form, he vows to come back and make Lucasís life a living hell.

And he does. Thereís nothing particularly ambiguous about it, which would perhaps add a layer of psychological intrigue to the proceedings by having viewers question Lucasís sanity. Instead, the film is quite up front: Max has converted himself to electricity and taken up residence in the McCarthyís furnace, where he hangs out between bouts of raising hell, an activity that includes but is not limited to butchering the daughterís dopey, horndog girlfriend, hijacking the television, and appearing as a roasted turkey during dinner. Some real late-era Freddy Krueger shit, complete with cornball one-liners, maniacal laughter, and frequent trips to industrial backdrops complete with steam and fire and shit. If youíre wondering how all of this is possible, fret not, as Matt Clark drops by as a local professor who snuffs out Maxís plot and serves it up on an expository platter for both Lucas and the audience, not that it really matters (plus, itís way more fun just to assume that Max is simply too ornery to die).

Max is a real card, so it comes as no surprise that The Horror Show is at its best whenever heís around. Even still, it remarkably fails to live up to its zanier moments when it comes to pure slashing. After an early flashback to Maxís impressive massacre (wherein he splattered body parts all over a restaurant), the bloodletting dries up rather considerably, as the film degenerates into a bunch of padding that finds James toying with Henriksen until they finally have their big showdown in a factory, a la Freddyís Revenge. With such a modest budget, it canít match the channel-surfing lunacy of Shockerís climax, nor can it hold a candle to anything from Elm Street, so it just sort of lurches to its blood-soaked finish line.

You at least want to see most of the characters reach that point, though. Henriksen is as reliable as ever (and perhaps even more so considering this was before heíd been subjected to dozens of unremarkable projects like this), and heís surrounded by a decent familial set. Thereís even a weird subplot involving the sonís repeated attempts to scam large companies into sending him bulk quantities of their product, so heís all stocked up on Nesquick at some point. At no point does this become relevant, but it does make for an offbeat coda thatís more suited for a sitcom or something. But the real star in all of this madness is surely James, here relishing an outlandish villainous role that turns the entirety of The Horror Show into a gag, whether by design or not.

That the film is so tone-deaf is among its most palatable issues; one minute, a little girlís getting her head chopped off, the next features Jamesís head plastered onto a turkey. Its inability to commit to much of anything seems about right for a film that got Alan Smitheeíd at the script level (Leslie Boehm, coincidentally a Nightmare 5 scribe, obviously wasnít too ashamed, though); it also replaced its original director with the late Jim Isaac, here doing his first tour of duty as a director for Cunningham (the two would reteam a decade later for Jason X), so it seems to have been a rocky production that was difficult to overcome. Things only got weirder once it was actually released, as some foreign territories dubbed it House III, presumably because the family lives in a house and due to all of the carryover in personnel from that franchise (Cunningham brings Harry Manfrendini along of course, and rather than rip off himself, heís doing some Nightmare-inspired riffing).

The name stuck, as Cunningham deferred when he released the actual House III, which became House IV (and which also features a talking pizza played by Kane Hodder). All of this is to say that The Horror Show is an otherwise unremarkable experience aside from its curious adventures in titling and rebranding. Still, itís nice of Scream Factory to plug up that gaping hole on our shelves with a Collectorís Edition DVD/Blu-ray release that nicely restores the film in pristine HD and adds a theatrical trailer, interviews with Rita Taggart and Hodder (who served as stunt coordinator here), and a commentary with Cunningham. Best of all, this release serves to weed out those weirdoes in your life that prefer The Horror Show to Shocker; these are a godless sort, even if it is tough to blame them since Max Jenke is almost as awesome as Horace Pinker. Almost. Rent it!

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