The Horror Show Blu-ray Review
Directed by James Isaac
Written by Allyn Warner (credited as Alan Smithee) and Leslie Bohem
1989, Region A, 94minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on November 26th, 2013
Lance Henriksen as Det. Lucas McCarthy
Brion James as Max Jenke
Rita Taggart as Donna
Dedee Pfeiffer as Bonnie
Aron Eisenberg as Scott
David Oliver as Vinnie
Thom Bray as Dr. Peter Campell
Terry Alexander as Casey
Max Jenke is a psychopath responsible for more than one hundred murders and is now facing his own execution in the electric chair. His last request is to be buried with his trusty meat cleaver. Nobody is happier to see Jenke die than Detective Lucas McCarthy, the man responsible for bringing this creep to justice. His years of hard police work are about to be rewarded when Max is somehow able to withstand the voltage long enough to leap from the chair and spit one last curse at the good cop before collapsing at his feet.
Lucas returns home to his family, but is haunted by visions of the maniac. Jenke plagues the man's dreams and vows to return from beyond the grave to torture the detective and his loved ones. Soon, strange things are happening around the McCarthy house and there's something lurking in the basement far more sinister than daughter Bonnie's horny boyfriend. Bodies begin piling up, only this time Lucas is being framed for the crimes. With the help of Dr. Peter Campbell, an awkward scientist, the detective is determined to find a way to shut down Jenke's reign of poltergeist terror.
After the enormous success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, countless knock-offs began flooding the market with Freddy Krueger clones that were neither scary nor creative. The winning cinematic formula was more elusive than simply having a wise-cracking killer cater to pop culture. It is impossible to guess which villain will catch on with audiences and launch a new franchise, but when filmmakers try and fail, the results can be awkward and unintentionally hilarious. The line of pretenders to the throne is sadly a long one, and it is here you will find Max Jenke.
In the late 1980s, there was a bizarre string of movies featuring convicts that were executed in the electric chair, returning to cause mischief and mayhem (Prison, The Chair, The Destroyer). The most successful of these Tesla-terrors was Wes Craven's Shocker, and low-budget producer (and sometime Craven partner) Sean S. Cunningham (The Last House on the Left) was quick to jump in with his own “original” film, The Horror Show. Originally pitched as the third entry in his successful House franchise (and released as such overseas), this film bears little in common with its predecessors outside of the idea that there is a house being haunted...sort of.
Cunningham has a reputation for “borrowing” inspiration from successful pictures like Halloween and Bad News Bears and putting his own spin on the material with movies like Here Come the Tigers and Friday the 13th. In the mid-1980s, a small wave of underwater thrillers (Leviathan, The Abyss) were hitting the box office and Cunningham was there to greet them with DeepStar Six.
The Horror Show (aka House III) is a sloppy film that is more confusing than satisfying. The story begins with a character dreaming about investigating a strange noise and then pausing for a flashback within the dream. There are countless trips to the basement, an oddly entertaining turkey dinner and every horror cliché you can imagine. By the time the third act shenanigans are underway, images are simply being thrown at viewers in hopes of something entertaining happening even if accidentally.
Director James Isaac (Jason X) was brought in to replace David Blyth (Death Warmed Over) a week into production and while he does a serviceable job, the real star behind the camera is recently deceased veteran cinematographer Mac Ahlberg (Hell Night, From Beyond). Les Bohem (Daylight) penned the script, but was forced to share credit under co-writer Allyn Warner (who insisted on the moniker Alan Smithee). Nobody seems eager to take credit for the film and yet it has garnered a fan following for 25 years.
The cast is solid but deserves better. Lance Henriksen (Lake Eerie) and Brion James (Red Scorpion) make the most of the material they are given, but neither emerges unscathed once the credits finally roll. Henriksen is fine in the familiar role of Detective McCarthy, and it is weird to see him smiling and looking happy at the beginning of the film. James unfortunately spends the majority of the film trying to make the Max Jenke one-liners float and is generally left simply screaming most of his dialogue. His best moments are when he is quietly using his “inside voice”. Deedee Pfeiffer (Vamp) is easy on the eyes as Bonnie, the daughter that never really has much more to do than look pretty. Genre fans will want to watch for some familiar faces including Terry Alexander (Day of the Dead), Thom Bray (Prince of Darkness), David Oliver (Night of the Creeps), Lewis Arquette (Scream 2) and Laurence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs).
The saving grace of most shoddy horror films is usually the gory murder set pieces staged by the effects company and The Horror Show is no exception. Unfortunately, the film is presented in its censored edit and while I appreciate the efforts Scream Factory undoubtedly undertook to offer the original uncut version, it would have been nice if the gore could have been included in a series of deleted scenes. As it stands, The Horror Show remains neutered and audiences are left without the punchline to a lot of the intended gags--so hang onto your import bootlegs, kids. Maybe Scream Factory will show some love to the slightly superior Shocker next.
Video and Audio:
The Horror Show is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks pretty good for its age and budget. The print is in respectable shape with minor damage, but features strong colors and natural looking flesh tones. The transfer also highlights the limitations of the production with some shots appearing a bit soft in focus.
The default DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is surprisingly decent and even makes good use of the surrounds when they're needed. Dialogue remains clear and free of distortion, which is a good thing considering that there are no subtitle options.
At the last minute, Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher was able to score a commentary session with producer Sean S. Cunningham and it really elevates the special features on this disc. Felsher is an excellent moderator and knows what to ask when it comes to this infamously troubled production. Cunningham discusses the problems with the script, replacing the original director after production had started and the multiple trips to the MPAA ratings board. Oddly, he defends the merits of censorship.
Kane Hodder continues to prove himself as a fine source of entertaining production stories in The “Show” Must Go On (11 minutes). Hodder served as stunt coordinator on the picture and the interview touches on his memories of working with cast and crew, about which he has nothing but nice things to share. Hodder frequently appears intimidating in films, but comes off here as a likeable and friendly guy.
Actress Rita Taggart shares her thoughts on the film in the 11-minute featurette House Mother. Her stories are candid as she addresses the replacement of director David Blyth with James Isaac and how it took a while to gain confidence in the decision. She also has fun tales of working with Lance Henriksen and Brion James. She honestly seems surprised that someone is interested in hearing about this film.
Rounding things out is the original theatrical trailer.
A DVD copy of the film is also included in the package.