Director – James Isaac
Cast – Lance Henriksen, Brion James, Rita Taggart, Dedee Pfeiffer, Aron Eisenberg, Thom Bray, Matt Clark, David Oliver, Terry Alexander, Lewis Arquette
Release Year – 1989
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The Horror Show is a film I had never heard of until recently, and immediately upon seeing the film’s plot and the fact that it stars Lance Henriksen…I was stoked to give this one a watch. Also known as House III in the non-US market, this watch has absolutely nothing to do with the House series of horror films, a move that came from sleazy producers looking to cash in on someone else’s success. Nonetheless, this film proved to be a truly shocking watch for me simply because of how downright awesome it is, and the fact that I had never heard of this sweet flick until recently, over 20 years after it’s debut.
Lance Henriksen(Pumpkinhead, Aliens) stars as Det. Lucas McCarthy, a 19 year police veteran who has finally captured the country’s most gruesome killer of all time…Max Jenke AKA ”Meat Cleaver Max”. On the day of Max’s execution via the electric chair, Det. McCarthy gives himself a front row seat for the greatest event of his career, an event that will hopefully put an end to the nightmares McCArthy suffers over his pursuit of Max. Despite a terrible ordeal that nearly allows Max to claim revenge on Det. McCarthy, the execution goes according to plan and Max is dead. Unfortunately, the electricity used in the execution uplifts Max to another level of reality, making him more powerful than he was before. What seems like a closed chapter in Det. McCarthy’s life soon turns to true chaos when Max begins to haunt McCarthy in his own home, which not only threatens McCarthy’s sanity, but his family as well.
I will start off by saying that this flick has to be one of the best hidden gems I have come across. Going into this watch I expected a cheezy 80s effort that would deliver some positive elements but come with the usual faults, but I was very wrong. From start to finish I enjoyed every second that occurred before my eyes, and I take great joy in chalking up another film to my “Most Underrated/Appreciated” list.
Right from the get-go The Horror Show takes off at an alarming pace, adorning the screen with copious amounts of awesome gore, sweet kills, and some genuine horror that makes the film’s first act one of the greatest first acts I have ever seen. I commend director James Isaac and the film’s three writers for this stunning introduction to this vastly underrated horror experience.
James Isaac does a swell job bringing this film to the viewer, with great sets, good camerawork, and an uncanny ability to deliver some delicious horror that actually made me laugh at times due to how insanely awesome it was. His execution throughout the film is top-notch, and he manages to throw in some pretty decent scares as well, something we usually do not get from cheezy low-budget 80s horror films. As mentioned earlier regarding the first act of the film, we get some great gore thrown in and the kills in the film are outlandish at times and definitely satisfying to us gorehounds. Mr. Isaac gives us good performances from his actors, although I must say that I was heavily impressed with the acting performance from Brion James as Max Jenke. While I love Lance Henriksen, and wish everyday that I had his voice, Brion James stole the show in this film. Yes, you read right, someone OTHER than Lance Henriksen stole the show in this Lance Henriksen-starring film. Henriksen was great as usual, and he played the seasoned detective act very well, but James’ Max Jenke character called for a true psycho, and Brion James gave us just that. It was amazing to watch him do his thing, and he himself claimed this role as his favorite acting role of all time. If you have seen this film then I am sure that comes as no surprise to you.
As far as story goes we get an interesting concept thrown into the horror genre that we rarely see, and that is a villain surviving an execution. The most recent film that I can think of to employ this concept is Ryuhei Kitamura’s Alive, and before that I can only think of The Horror Show, which shows just how rare this idea is. To make things even cooler the execution actually enhances the villain’s ability to torment his victims, which was icing on the cake for me. Watching Max Jenke torment Det. McCarthy both physically and mentally while in the comfort of his home was truly unsettling and was brilliantly written and paced. The screenplay comes to us from three writers; Alan Smithee, Allyn Warner, and Leslie Bohem, which came as a surprise to me given most films that involve several writers usually fall apart due to creative mishaps occurring all at once, but that is not the case with The Horror Show. From start to finish the film paces well and comes with a smooth cohesive feel, thanks much to the numerous and awesome kills written into the film as well as the character play between Det. McCarthy and Max Jenke. The character play between the two is fun to watch, with Det. McCarthy suffering numerous problems as a result of Max Jenke’s insatiable vengeance. Several other characters are thrown into the mix, and despite most of them being miniscule at most, we really do not get any worthless or useless characters in this film. Each character contributes, and that is a symbol of good writing, which once again amazes me given this film comes from three different writers.
I really have no gripes against the film, although there is one thing that did bother me at times…and that is the fact that the second and third acts of the film were nowhere near as awesome as the first act was. This is by no means a bad thing given the second and third acts were positive and well executed, but because the first act was insanely awesome I find it safe to assume that had the film followed the feel and tone of the first act the end result would have been spectacular instead of just satisfyingly positive. Simply put, I am just being selfish.
Overall, this is a very fun watch that gives us a sweet story, Lance Henriksen, an awesome villain, and superb direction that comes with great kills and lots of sweet gore. The film takes off quick and delivers heavily on the fun and the horror, making this a not only one of the more underrated/under-appreciated films of the genre, but a highly recommended watch as well.