The Horror Show (1989)

JUNE 10, 2010


At this point, I’m just going to have to assume that James Isaac is a terrible director. As with Jason X and Skinwalkers, The Horror Show is a very flat and uninvolving film, not to mention just plain bad, with a repetitive, awkward pace that never builds on anything. And even though it came before, it bears so many resemblances to Shocker that it just kept constantly reminding how much better Wes Craven’s film was (and given that I am first to admit Shocker is not a perfect movie, that’s a big problem).

I will say this, Horror Show (also known as House III in some territories) doesn’t take as long to get its killer into the chair so that his more memorable form (also electricity based) can arise. But that’s also part of the problem, as the movie doesn’t really have a plot, and since the killer only wants to fuck with Lance Henriksen and his family, it’s almost entirely action-free, as there isn't really anyone for Max to kill. Like the guy is going to kill Lance’s pre-teen son, cute teen daughter, or his kindly wife? Come on. The only legitimate potential victim is the daughter’s boyfriend, and he bites it almost instantly. This allows for a go-nowhere subplot about Lance being accused of the guy’s murder (complete with what felt like an entire reel’s worth of a scene where he gets chewed out by internal affairs), but it’s incredibly half-assed, and the subplot is more or less forgotten moments later anyway.

Basically, the entire movie is just padding. You can sum up the entire thing in a single line - A serial killer transforms himself into energy to get back at the cop who brought him down, but fails. Maybe if there were a few cops involved that Max could go hunt one by one it would be a little more interesting, but instead we just get scene after scene of Lance freaking everyone out after seeing Max on the TV, or in the turkey dinner, or as another character... things no one else can see, of course. And what little mystery there is to Max’s resurrection is explained in one load of exposition vomit. With the minor exception of Lance’s arrest, there are no complications or plot wrinkles whatsoever.

The main problem is the same one as Jason X though - Isaac has zero ability to convey humor as intended. I could never tell if the movie was supposed to be funny (like Shocker) or if it just came out that way. I assume the deaths of children aren’t supposed to be played for laughs, and lines like “he wants to be buried with his meat cleaver” are delivered (and shot) without any comic rhythm, as if it was a serious thing. But I mean, at one point Brion James’ face is molded onto a turkey. That HAS to be intentionally funny, right? And I have no idea what to make of the scene where Lance reads a tabloid with the headline “Man cuts off arm after it was injected with an AIDS needle” (an even more upsettingly ironic “joke” when you consider that co-star David Oliver did indeed die of AIDS a few years later).

Either way, this means there is some “so bad it’s good” fun to be had, particularly in the opening massacre, where Lance finds body parts strewn about and ultimately finds his partner, who is missing an arm and is crying about his inability to stop Max. And it’s always fun to watch Lance try to play a normal family man. It’s like that deleted scene in T2 where Arnold tries to smile - there’s something in his design that makes such gestures feel creepy. Laughing at a TV comedian while eating popcorn is not something Lance Henriksen can look natural at doing. Shooting the TV a few minutes later after Max appears on it and delivers a pun-laden comedy routine? Way more up Lance’s alley. And the epilogue is a masterpiece of awfulness, as a truck with 5 years’ worth of chili shows up, a bribe to keep Lance’s son from suing them after supposedly finding a finger in his chili (the kid’s a scam artist), right before the daughter somehow finds the family cat packed into a box, an event that prompts everyone to laugh and then the mom to take a picture. I guess if you ever wondered what National Lampoon’s Vacation would be like if they cast Lance instead of Chevy Chase (the character even drives an ugly station wagon), Horror Show is the film for you.

Ultimately, the opening credits tell you everything you need to know. The score is by Harry Manfredini (ripping off Nightmare on Elm St for a change), the director is the same guy who gave us fucking Skinwalkers, and the script is attributed to Alan Smithee. The movie may suck, but you can’t say that they didn’t try to warn you away in the first few minutes. I mean, it’s not the worst movie ever, but it can be really painful at times, and seeing right after the solid Prison did it no favors (though I do think I would have liked the film even less if I was watching at home by myself instead of with a crowd).

What say you?

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  1. Agree with you on every level...this movie fails as a Shocker wanna-be AND as an in-name-only(kinda) sequel in the House franchise. It also makes House one of the most uneven "franchises" in horror: the first and the fourth at least have a character connection(poor William Katt!), but 2 was basically a fantasy for kids, and 3 was a ripoff of a better film. The only other film series that comes to mind for such inconsistency is Craven's Dracula 2000 movies(in which I'm including D3000 as a sequel, because of the similarity in title).

  2. Goddammit! "at one point Brion James’ face is molded onto a turkey" has ensured my tracking down and watching of this movie.




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