Director: James Isaac
Screenplay: Allyn Warner (as Alan Smithee) and Leslie Bohem
Cast: Lance Henriksen as Detective Lucas McCarthy; Brion James as Max Jenke; Rita Taggart as Donna McCarthy; Dedee Pfeiffer as Bonnie McCarthy; Aron Eisenberg as Scott McCarthy; Tom Bray as Peter Campbell
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #117
After falling in love with the Cata-Puppy of House II: The Second Story (1987), and won over by the whole film itself being a sweet natured supernatural adventure romp, The Horror Show is such a violently drastic shift in tone. As mentioned before, The Horror Show was the first and only entry in the House franchise I had seen before these reviews, completely cut off from context from the rest. Now with full context, watched in order including the fourth film from 1990 viewed, it jars so much from the entire series completely to the point of being a sobering shock in comparison to the others. To see the change from the nice, humorous tone of the first two films, especially The Second Story, to a film which begins with dismemberment, a woman being found in a giant meat grinder, arm removal and blood everywhere on the walls is dark change of direction to experience, hard to even imagine someone renting this back in the day expecting another horror comedy only for this to be what they got. Not surprisingly The Horror Show was never meant to be a sequel in the House franchise in the first time, slapped with the title for marketing purpose which a complete lack of logic to that decision. Even under the banner that every House film was a separate story, even the more infamous sequels in other franchises (like Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)) shared the same tone as the films before.
And The Horror Show is not actually good either. It was the only The Horror Show I saw in my youth, and my original opinion as a dumb teenager that it was dull hasn't actually changed as an adult, giving my younger self some credit for once. The problem for my adult self revisiting the film is that its a terrible rip-off of one of the Nightmare On Elm Street series, beginning with a terrible villain. The late Brion James is doing his best to be animated, certainly having the face that should be in films, but Max Jenke is the worst kind of clichéd villain you can have. A type of serial killer who only exists in horror films like this, so brazenly painted as a mass murderer it was comical for me how the character was depicted in spite of the nasty tone of the whole film. Sadly as well James plays him like later Freddy Krueger with puns and a nails-on-the-chalk board mad laugh. Baring one scene where he gets to be subtle, when Jenke is playing a lawyer to mind screw the protagonist, the rest of the character in tone deaf and obnoxious even in context of being a serial killer. The detective who caught him, Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen), is not as interesting either in spite of who's playing him, the generic troubled cop whose family is plagued by Jenke when he overcomes death at the electric chair, becoming a vague entity able to manipulate reality(1). That McCarthy's family is a generic stereotype of suburban characters - especially the teenage daughter and the precocious son - doesn't help either in terms of emotional connection.
The connection to the House franchise is tentative as this continues the rubber reality of before. When it's following with this, the film is interesting and even sooths over how irritating the villain is. Brion James as a diseased looking, mutant turkey, (related to the chickens in Eraserhead (1977)), is the one other moment where the character, even his jokes, do work in a sickly humoured way. Most of the film however is never like this, following the previous films playing with bizarre prosthetic effects Instead of those strange effects in quantity, where a home in this franchise's world is where strange reality bending events takes place, most of the work focuses on gore effects which are far less interesting than even the cutesier puppets in The Second Story. Without this gimmick baring one or two shining moments, it even feels like the one film out of place within the franchise. Even when you include how it feels the most like the eighties out of the four films - the hair to the references to bands like Megadeth but with b-movie license hair metal on the soundtrack - it doesn't cover for the lacklustre tone of the movie.
(1) - And yes, in the same year (the year of my birth of 1989), Wes Craven also had a serial killer come back from the grave from the electric chair able to manipulate reality in Shocker. It's the one thing about The Horror Show that's actually compelling to think about.