The Horror Show is a Sean S. Cunningham-produced quicky that was remarketed as a second sequel to Cunningham's moderately successful "House" for the European market when it performed poorly in the US. Now, I'm a fan of the first two House movies (particularly the second installment) but those movies are both incredibly goofy. One of my overriding thoughts while watching The Horror Show was how the producers could have thought it would slot into a predominantly comedic franchise, being much harsher than the other installments - but I guess there was money to be made, so fuck it, they probably would have called it Indiana Jones 4 if they were able to. $$$$$!
In a way, it's kind of a shame that The Horror House is reduced to the status of second sequel to a kind of crappy (but entertaining) haunted house movie.. But then, it may not have ended up on DVD otherwise. It's definitely worth a viewing based on it's own merits, as it shares absolutely nothing with the other House movies, in terms of plot or it's overall tone.
Lance Henrikson plays Lucas McCarthy, a cop who has brought one of history's most notorious serial killers, Max Jenke (Brion James) to justice, but is plagued by nightmares about the night of the arrest, so much so that he has had to take a leave of absence and hasn't worked in months. Lucas hopes that once Jenke is executed the nightmares will stop, but Jenke doesn't go so easily, breaking out of the electric chair like a total badass and telling Lucas "I'm coming back to fuck you up" before bursting into flames. Pretty cool, no? From here, Jenke turns into a kind of Freddy Kruger style super-villain, assaulting Lucas in his mind and slowly turning his family and collegues against him.
Maybe it's kind of unfair to just go with the Freddy Kruger comparison straight off, but I did see some blatant rips of Elm Street at points in this movie - such as the scene where Jenke appears as talk show host on Lucas' TV or when his face appears on Lucas' turkey at dinner and begins taunting him from the table (this scene is pretty amazing/hilarious to be fair). Shit, Jenke's spirit even resides in a boiler in Lucas' basement, which again seems to be straight from Elm St... But hey, it's an 80s horror movie, sometimes you just have to go with these things.
The Horror Show has two big plus-points that make it more enjoyable than your average crapfest. Firstly, the acting is actually pretty great. Lance Henrikson is a big favourite of mine, and can lend credibility to even the most ridiculous movies - he really carries this one, playing his role with the same vaguely creepy intensity we're used to seeing from him. Brion James is always great too, even though I guess he plays the same character in every movie I've seen him in. Watch out for a split-second appearance from Lawrence Tierney at the beginning of the movie too.
The second aspect that really appealed to me was the fact that not only is this movie gorier than most late-80s productions, but it's also got a fairly mean streak that was absent from a lot of late-80s horror. A good deal of this nastiness comes from Brion James' performance being genuinely intimidating, but there are touches here and there that actually surprised me with how rough they were. Unfortunately, I think they kind of copped out towards the end, going for an unbelievably sugary final scene that seems totally out of place considering what's come before - I kinda hoped they'd go for a really dark ending, but that obviously didn't fly.
Don't get me wrong though, it's not like this movie is Irreversible or anything, it's still pretty campy in places. The Internal Affairs cop who's after Lucas' ass is just bizarre, stealing one scene by appearing out of nowhere, going off on a crazed rant that has nothing to do with anything and disappearing just as fast. And of course, because no 80's movie would be complete without at least one heavy-metal obsessed character, we have Lucas' son Scott, who provides classic lines like "Never sneak up on a man when he's blasting Metallica". Check his shit out:
I was into The Horror Show because I approached it with ultra-low expectations and it actually turned out to be pretty decent. I could watch anything with Lance Henrikson, but this movie actually has some things going for it outside of his involvement - it's not like it's particularly intense or creepy, but it does the job and passes the time. If you ignore it's obvious similarites to more famous movies of course...