I had never heard of, much less seen, the 1989 horror film The Horror Show so when I got the Blu-ray/DVD Combo set recently I was not certain what to expect. This is a genre movie to be sure – one of many 1980’s horror films that explored alternate forms of villainy (such as Freddy Krueger attacking children in their dreams). That said it’s sometimes hard to fairly review a film from this era as there is often a built-in “camp” or expectation of what you are about to see. With that in mind I sat down to watch The Horror Show as a fan of those low budget horror films I watched in high school.
The Horror Show is about Detective Lucas McCarthy (a “younger” Lance Henriksen that I really don’t remember ever looking young), who has caught serial killer Max Jenke (Brion James) and lost his partner in the process. Wrestling the guilt and problems of the arrest McCarthy feels he needs to attend the execution of Jenke by electric chair. Jenke vows revenge before he dies and shortly after starts hearing his voice and police start finding bodies of new victims. Initially McCarthy is the suspect but slowly he starts to believe that Jenke has really come back from the dead and is getting revenge from where McCarthy cannot fight him.
Initially this plot might sound familiar to you because your mind immediately jumps to the Wes Craven film Shocker which was released 6 months later in 1989. While the plots are very similar, their styles and aesthetics are very different. Also, I would argue that The Horror Show has a lot more in common with A Nightmare on Elm Street than Shocker; especially the ideas of a serial killer getting revenge for his death and having the ability to torment his victims on their dreams and day dreams. Also, I believe Shocker was intentionally a camp type film while The Horror Show was aiming to achieve a higher level of horror. As such, much of The Horror Show was slowly-paced with the intention of building up tension in the viewer. Some very creative deaths occur at the beginning of the film but there are no “Supernatural” deaths until about 40 minutes into the movie. Then another one about 20 minutes later is off-screen. The Horror Show attempts to focus more on the psychological condition and toll this all takes on McCarthy. The movie plays it very straight throughout most of the first majority of the move and then in the final act takes a wild turn. The end of the movie seems to explore whether the events are really occurring or if they are in the mind of McCarthy. It makes for a very entertaining pay-off; although I am not certain it was in the way the filmmaker intended.
The acting performances are pretty good; Lance Henriksen and Brion James are as good as can be expected especially James who was just born to play villains. Although, there are several scenes in which the actor is obviously the stunt double. This is mostly for Lance Henriksen’s character whose stuntman’s face is clearly seen at least 3 times. The special effects are acceptable but not great. Some scenes, especially those with broken reality scenes, play especially well in the special effects department. Given the lower budget this movie had the special effects are surprisingly well done.
Overall, I think fans of 1980′s horror will enjoy this movie quite a bit and overlook some of the unevenness of the film. Honestly, if you go into this movie thinking of it more as a psychological thriller rather than a horror/slasher film you really will enjoy it. If you have a need for a faster pace (or perhaps a lack of patience/ADD) you probably won’t be as thrilled with this one. It does a decent job of being better than most B movies but doesn’t quite hit the levels or larger movies. In the end, The Horror Show succeeds more often than if fails for a by and large win.
The video quality for this film is decent and presented in 1080p. It certainly beats the quality you would have seen in previous versions and other films of the 80’s but is not quite on par to more modern movies. But, I don’t think it’s from any lack of effort but rather it is more likely that the original print was of low quality to begin with and so this version is as good as you could possibly expect. The audio, however, is much better. The clarity is excellent and especially clean in the movie’s dialogue. In a film made before Dolby and surround sound it does not take advantage of those sound options but you won’t need to make any sound adjustments or have any trouble with music or dialogue sound.
• Interviews with Rita Taggart and Kane Hodder
• Theatrical Trailer
The Horror Show is currently available from Scream Factory
Fun Tidbit: The House horror franchise from the 1980’s is entirely unrelated to this film. However; the producers of The Horror Show renamed this film House 3 for foreign release which caused the actual third House movie to be titled House IV.