Distributed by Scream Factory
If you happened to be a wise-crackin’, loud-mouthed, nearly unstoppable serial killer in 1989, there’s a pretty good chance you were put to death in the electric chair and returned from the grave to torment the family of the cop responsible for putting you away (and there’s also a very good chance you made a deal with the devil to do so). If your name was Horace Pinker, your cinematic showcase was Shocker, Wes Craven’s failed attempt at launching a new horror franchise. However, if you happened to be one “Meat Cleaver” Max Jenke, your launching pad was the little-seen cult item The Horror Show, which preceded Craven’s (slightly) more successful feature by a full half-year.
Also known in foreign territories as the third entry in the House franchise, The Horror Show charts the exploits of Max (played by the creepy and hammily effective James), a near superhuman murderer brought down by Detective Lucas McCarthy (Henriksen, great as always). After getting zapped to death in Ol’ Sparky (it takes a couple of tries to put the crazy bastard down), McCarthy moves on with his life, settling down in a new house with his wife Donna (Taggart), daughter Bonnie (Pfeiffer), and son Scott (Eisenberg). Before too long, strange events begin to plague the home while a series of brutal murders crop up – murders which will eventually be pinned to McCarthy. You see, Max has returned from the grave to wreak havoc on McCarthy’s life, and will stop at nothing to tear his world, his family, and his very sanity apart.
Directed by visual effects supervisor and eventual Jason X helmer James Isaac (who sadly passed away in 2012), The Horror Show is a fun and violent film, alternately campy and disturbing, presenting us with a memorable villain and acting as a showcase to some truly icky makeup effects and bizarre dream/hallucination sequences (turkey!). Henriksen makes the most of his otherwise two-dimensional character, James hams it up while managing to remain menacing, and the rest of the cast members do solid enough work to support the film. However, though the setup is intriguing enough, the film eventually becomes an incoherent collection of effects-driven setpieces by its final act, leading to a finale that’s as nonsensical as it is enjoyable.
Isaac’s direction in the film keeps its moving along at a brisk pace, and there are plenty of interesting moments throughout. Yet, in spite of the acting, direction, and effects, the entire affair is let down by its mess of a script. However, in this case, it’s hard to know who to point the finger at. The screenplay is credited to Leslie Bohem (who created the superb sci-fi miniseries “Taken”) and “Alan Smithee”. One imagines that the film’s weaknesses and lack of cohesion might be due to some trouble at the scripting stages of this project. A pity, given its potential.
Scream Factory has done right by this film with its Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release. In addition to the Blu’s decent image (some occasional softness and print damage can be noticed) and solid 2.0 audio track, we get a good collection of bonus features that look back on the making of the film. Included on the Blu are: an audio commentary featuring Show producer Sean S. Cunningham (he of Friday the 13th fame), moderated by Red Shirt’s Michael Felsher; a fun interview with Kane Hodder, who acted as the film’s stunt coordinator (he has a great story about locking eyes with Henriksen during a take – all while engulfed in flames); and an interview with Rita Taggart, who provides some fun anecdotes from the film’s making. The package is wrapped up with the theatrical trailer, which is a great, silly blast (”If you thought Freddy was a howl, and Jason was a scream, wait ‘til you meet Max – he’s a cut above the rest!” – hilarious).
Overall, while The Horror Show is far from a classic and is not without a considerable number of flaws, it’s still an enjoyable slice of late 80s popcorn horror, and should delight those with an affinity for just that type of film. If you have fond memories of watching this movie as a budding genre fan back in the day, it might well be worth a revisit. And if you’ve never seen it and find the provided synopsis appealing, definitely be sure to give this film a look at some point in the future (just so long as your expectations are firmly in check).
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5