Shout! Factory // 1989 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // November 25th, 2013
Max is waiting.
The 1980s might have been the golden age of modern horror, but there were a whole lot more bad ideas than good ones. Amazingly, two versions of one of the worst ideas of the bunch came seemingly independently to two of the most iconic producers of the era, Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th). Both simultaneously decided that it would be awesome to have a serial killer get electrocuted, turning them into electrical monsters that can travel the grid and take revenge. Craven's effort became Shocker, an altogether terrible horror movie, while Cunningham, who was only the producer on the project, came up with The Horror Show and released it a few months prior to Shocker. It's no less terrible, but having never seen it before, I haven't harbored a hatred for this movie for the last twenty years, allowing me to at least have some fun with it.
Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen, Millennium) has spent years tracking "Meat Cleaver" Max Jenke (Brion James, The Fifth Element, whose body count of over 150 grows by the day. When he finally nabs the killer, Jenke is put on the electric chair and they flip the switch, but he just laughs it off. The second jolt finally does the trick, but not before breaking his bonds and going after McCarthy, claiming he's coming back to ruin his life. Now his evil spirit can travel through the wires and he can manifest his body whenever he likes. Crazy as it makes him look, McCarthy knows his family is in danger and must face the undead killer by himself.
If there's one actually positive thing that I can say about The Horror Show, it's that it answered a long unanswered horror question. It was always a mystery why there was a House 2 and a House 4, but I never saw a third installment. This is House 3, at least it was in Europe, and it was successful enough that they didn't want to mess up the continuity, which is nice, even if I can't remember much continuity in the series.
And that is the most interesting part about The Horror Show, a perfectly awful counterpart to Shocker. It's been a long time since I decided to waste my time with that movie, so it's probably not a fair comparison, but The Horror Show is the better movie. It's a cheaper, more stripped down production with a grittier feel. Unfortunately, the dialog is as corny as it gets, with the same terrible one-liners that kill horror movies for me.
Saddest is that Brion James, with his greasy, crazy look, had a lot of potential as an intimidating killer, but it's all lost in the script and he's left as a lame Freddy Kreuger knock-off. Lance Henriksen mails in a job that doesn't do the story any favors, though he isn't given much to work with. Director James Isaac (Jason X) fails to build any suspense and there isn't even a body count to use for a crutch. Dumb an idea as an electricity ghost may be, it doesn't even play by its own rules. While he's electricity now, he seems to manifest in the McCarthy household through their furnace, and I couldn't tell you how he makes the jump from the wiring to the gas line. Also, Jenke appears to McCarthy during a turkey dinner...as the turkey. After the obligatory bird stabbing, I knew I had witnessed one of the stupidest things ever in a horror movie.
The one thing about the movie that makes me happy to have watched is its hilarious dated references. Daughter Bonnie (Deedee Pfeiffer, The Allnighter) and son Scott (Aron Eisenberg, Puppet Master 3) are shown in montage at one point, she picking out sexy underwear for her boyfriend in front of her huge poster for INXS's Kick, he wailing away on air guitar with a neon electric guitar above his own huge poster for Guns 'n Roses's Appetite for Destruction. Supplemented by lines such as, "Don't you know never to sneak up on a man blasting Metallica?" and it couldn't be clearer when this movie was made. That's not so much a positive as it is a reason to watch, and there isn't much else to work with.
The Horror Show has been given a very decent Blu-ray/DVD combo release from Shout! Factory. The 1.85:1/1080p transfer has some softness in the image, but it's otherwise quite good. The detail is fairly sharp throughout and colors look as good as they can. It still has the pallor look that plague a lot of horror movies of this era, but that's not the fault of the transfer in any way. The 2-channel Master Audio track is pretty good, too. It's nothing particularly special, but dialog is mostly crisp and the music of Harry Manfredini (DeepStar Six) sounds good.
The main extra feature is an unadvertised and very strong audio commentary featuring Cunningham talking with Michael Felsher. They speak some about the movie itself, but there's a heavy focus on its fate post-release, while talk of Cunningham's career and feelings about horror in general are a welcome addition. Short interviews with stunt coordinator Kane Hodder (who played Jason from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood through Jason X) and Rita Taggart (Mulholland Drive), who plays McCarthy's wife in the film are good listens, as well.
The Horror Show is anything but horrific. There's no suspense and, excepting a couple of strong effects, not very interesting at all. It's pretty funny in its stupidity of it and, for folks who grew up in the late 80s, it has a dated appeal that can't be beat. With a strong Blu-ray to back it up, I can mildly recommend the movie to diehard genre fans, no matter how dumb it is.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* DVD Copy