Back in 1989 two films featuring virtually identical plots were released within months of each other. One of these films went on to become a minor hit and a cult-classic, while the other one…well…not so much. I speak of Shocker and The Horror Show, both films featuring violent killers meeting their respective ends in the electric chair, only to come back in the form of pure energy to torment those responsible for their capture. With the drawing power of Wes Craven’s name and a bigger marketing push than The Horror Show, Shocker won the battle for U.S. audiences, while The Horror Show found itself folded into the then-popular House franchise where it was sold as House 3 to overseas moviegoers. Out of print for over fifteen years (last available as the first half of a VHS double feature with House IV), The Horror Show, like its cleaver-wielding antagonist, has been brought back from the dead by Scream Factory for its Blu-ray debut.
Lance Henrikson stars as Lucas McCarthy, a tough cop scarred both physically and mentally during the apprehension of serial killer, “Meat Cleaver Max” Jenke (Brion James). Responsible for more than a hundred deaths, a good number of those being police officers, Jenke is sentenced to death by electrocution and, when the day or reckoning comes, McCarthy has booked himself a front-row seat. Tormented by vivid nightmares since the fateful day in which their paths crossed, McCarthy is anxious to close the book on Jenke once and for all, but his presence only seems to fuel Jenke’s resolve, and, before he is finally put down after several attempts, Jenke promises McCarthy that he will have his revenge.
From that point on, McCarthy’s life goes into a tailspin. Already on psychiatric leave since his first encounter with Jenke, McCarthy finds his grip on reality slipping further as he begins to see and hear Max Jenke everywhere, from on his television set to the turkey at the dinner table. As Jenke’s influence grows stronger, so, too, do McCarthy’s “episodes”, resulting in erratic behavior and violent outbursts that further the divide between him and his once-trusting family, opening the door for Jenke to make good on his promise.
The Horror Show, much like the aforementioned Shocker, features a fairly ludicrous premise that doesn’t even play by its own rules, let alone those of logic, but that’s actually half the fun. The film’s tongue-in-cheek murder set pieces and hallucinatory effects are more absurd than scary, and it’s obvious that The Horror Show was meant as a cash-in on the Nightmare on Elm Street series’ “gags and gore” formula that so endeared it to late 80s horror audiences. Of course, seeing as how the man who created Freddy Krueger decided to make a similar film in the same calendar, The Horror Show was pretty much destined to fail, despite the fact that, to me, it’s a better film than Shocker on almost every level. From its protagonist (sorry, Peter Berg, but Lance Henrikson can act circles around the 25 -year -old version of yourself), comedic bits, and scares to the imaginative and extremely gory death scenes (thanks to KNB effects), I just found this film much more enjoyable than Craven’s.
Scream Factory brings The Horror Show to Blu-ray in a somewhat disappointing 1.85:1 transfer that’s a victim of its vintage, sullied by that late 80s gauzy/dreamy look that saps most of the detail out of the image. It’s all a bit soft and hazy, with muted colors and a generally unpleasant look to it, but I’ve got to think this comes down to the source material. The 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio track isn’t a sonic marvel, but its serviceable stuff, with crisp and clean dialogue and well mixed environmental effects. Overall, however, The Horror Show’s A/V quality is a bit of a letdown from Scream Factory as the quality of their transfers is almost habitually beyond reproach.
Bonus features include a surprise commentary track with Sean S. Cunningham that isn’t listed on the features on the box. It’s a really good commentary, too, rich in detail, and covering all nitty gritty about the film’s troubled production, its unexpected inclusion in the House franchise, and more. I was hoping Cunningham would aim a little venom toward old friend Craven (Cunningham produced Craven’s 1972 debut, Last House on the Left) for Shocker, but, alas, there are no sour grapes to be had.
We also get a pair of interviews (HD), one featuring actress Rita Taggart (who played McCarthy’s M.I.L.F wife, Donna), and the other with stunt coordinator Kane Hodder. Also included is the film’s trailer (HD), and a DVD version of the film. It’s not a large haul of extras by any means, but, given the film’s relative obscurity, what we get is impressive, especially when one factors in the unadvertised commentary track!
The Horror Show is goofy, gory, and entertaining stuff. It’s not a “classic”, but it’s certainly worth a watch, especially for fans of the spate of late-eighties of Nightmare on Elm Street wannabes. This isn’t the best example of Scream Factory’s treatment of their catalog, however, as the film’s transfer is a bit underwhelming when compared to their usually superlative work, but, seeing as how the only way you could get this film prior to this release was on ratty old VHS, fans will be much more forgiving of the A/V quality than your typical videophile.