The Horror Show (1989)
Review by Jude Felton
Way back before a certain, now defunct, video store chain stole the very soul out of renting movies, I spent many hours inside the local video shops. I was always eager to rent whatever horror movie I could find, good or bad, or just a groovy cover. One movie I rented several times was the 1986 Steve Miner flick, House. That was seriously one fun movie, which blended laughs and scares perfectly.
There was the inevitable sequel, which we won’t dwell on, and then there was House III. Or so the cassette case proclaimed. Being the wizened young fool I was though, I knew that it had nothing to do with the aforementioned 1986 movie, but was in actual fact a movie called The Horror Show, which had been retitled, probably in an attempt to make more cash.
Nevertheless, I should have bought the damned thing, and I actually did at one point, because I rented the thing so damned much. Released in the same year, 1989, as the vaguely similar Wes Craven shocker, entitled Shocker (funnily enough), The Horror Show blended black humor, plenty of claret and the late, great Brion James in the role he was born to play, that being convicted serial killer, Max Jenke.
Now, many moons later Scream Factory have done the good thing, and admittedly quite unexpected thing, and released The Horror Show on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and what a joy it is.
The film itself follows Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen), as he settles in to watch the execution of serial killer Max Jenke. The bane of Lucas’s life, he has finally caught this notorious killer, and nearly lost his life in the process, so nothing will give him greater pleasure than to watch the bastard fry.
Only it’s not that simple, as Max is not going to disappear into the electrical ether, amidst the smell of burnt flesh, oh no. Instead, this bad boy is coming back to reap revenge on the cop that put an end to his wicked ways.
The Horror Show is an absolute joy to watch. It might not be the best movie ever made, but the sum of its parts adds up to make a kick-ass flick. Brion James simply rocks as Jenke, and you can tell he had a blast playing the role, the blood and guts, and cool practical effects, just keep on coming, plus you have Lance Henriksen! What more could you ask for?
Although Shocker wasn’t a terrible movie, it did fail on many levels, and it is in these areas that The Horror Show works so well. There’s a rich vein of humor here, which perfectly complements the much darker aspects of the film, and it is a dark and violent movie. In many ways it’s a film that’s ahead of its time (if it had been made now it would definitely have had a sequel or three), yet it was also firmly rooted at the ass-end of the 80s.
I was a little worried that revisiting this film, after many years, it would have lost some of its dark charm, but I needn’t have worried. Aside from the dodgy fashion, that the characters wear, it’s actually held up really well, due mainly to the strong performances and practical effects. Lesson to those it concerns; CGI ages, often very badly, whereas good practical effects rarely lose their effect, when done well.
With this release, Scream Factory have delivered a fine looking Blu, which gives the film a new lease of life, as well as including some cool interviews. It may not be a packed release, in terms of extras, but it’s worth it just for the movie itself. Fans of the film are going to snap this up, as they should, but hopefully it will find itself a whole new fan base. It may never have developed into a franchise, but it did give us one of the scariest and most entertaining villains of the 80s. Chucky, Freddy, Jason and Mike may get all the headlines and fans, but for me it was Max Jenke, that was the coolest cat on the block.
The Horror Show is released by Scream Factory on November 26th.