Friday, December 6, 2013

The Horror Show

I tell you…Scream! Factory (the side of Shout! Factory that issues the horror genre of films to home media) has done quite a service to a lot of horror fans, such as myself, with the Blu-Ray releases they’ve put out lately.  I’ve already picked up quite a few discs from them, like The Funhouse, They Live, Day of the Dead, Psycho II, Psycho III, The Fog, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Howling and Body Bags.  And just like Body Bags, The Horror Show has been out of print for years.  If you wanted to get yourself a copy, you’d have to spend a lot of money on eBay or some other auction site to get one.  I’d almost done that a few times, but changed my mind and held out hope that we’d get a DVD or Blu-Ray back in print someday.  Well, the day has come and I eagerly popped this disc in to give it a looksee.

One of my favorite films from the 80s, 1989’s The Horror Show stars Lance Henriksen and the late Brion James in a silly, but pretty scary film directed by James Isaac.  It’s one of those films that brings me back to the days of hanging out with friends at the local movie theater (that would be the late Meridian Quad for me), playing some arcade games across the way before heading into the theater to get our latest horror movie fix, sneaking in beer or…some other substance…and watching the latest slasher flick.

Yes…the 80s…where the best thing about that era was the horror films and even though most were copycats of Friday the 13th, The Horror Show was sort of A Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off, going as far as using the basement furnace as a plot device.

Here is the synopsis of the film…

Detective Lucas McCarthy (Henriksen) has been looking and chasing after serial killer “Meat Cleaver” Max
Jenke (James) and finally catches and arrests him.  Sentenced to death, Detective McCarthy sits in on the execution to watch Jenke die in the electric chair.  But killing Jenke only brings him into a supernatural state and he decides to get revenge on the man who caught him—Detective McCarthy.

Before discussing The Horror Show, I’d like to take a minute to observe the elephant in the room.
Another film that was released in the same year, called Shocker (directed by Wes Craven), had nearly the same plot and themes, yet I’ve never heard any reasons or scrutiny about how the two films came to be that way.  I can understand if they were a year or two apart, I’d think that one ripped off the other, much like Friday the 13th was admittedly a rip-off of Halloween.  The only rumor I’ve heard was that Craven felt that The Horror Show took the ideas and themes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, so he returned the favor making Shocker.  But in order for him to do that, he would’ve had to steal the script or had a spy view the dailies…I don’t know.  The only thing that puzzles me is that it’s never been talked about.  Also, another confusing element is that this film is also known as House III, as in the second sequel to the William Katt vehicle, House.  Why this is considered to be part of that franchise, I’ll never know.  It also made it difficult to find a DVD copy before Scream! Factory released it on Blu-Ray because you’d have to do a search on House III; if you performed a search on The Horror Show, all you’d get is references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

With all that out of the way, I’d like to discuss the performances by the film’s leads.

Lance Henriksen is such a presence on screen and I’m surprised he doesn’t get the notoriety he deserves.  He’s as recognizable as any big star from the 80s and 90s, yet most people would snap their fingers and
say, “yeah, I know that guy!” or “that’s Bishop!”  But as senseless and goofy as this film is, he takes his role—and the roles in all his films—seriously, no matter what the subject.  He embraces the hell out of his character in this one and you—as the audience—feel you’ve got your money’s worth when watching Henriksen play Detective McCarthy.

Brion James is another actor of that caliber, where you know him as the villain in a lot of movies from that era, yet you can’t remember his name.  Besides playing a lot of bit parts in early 70s and 80s TV sitcoms and dramas, you’ll definitely recognize him from Blade Runner, 48 Hours, Tango & Cash, and many more.   He’s just that guy…that character actor you’ve seen countless times, but just can’t place him or remember his name.  Sadly, his life was cut short in 1999, but he has over 100 movies under his belt.  With The Horror Show, he definitely left his mark as the obnoxiously giggling mass murderer, “Meat Cleaver” Max Jenke.

The rest of the cast is the typical co-stars you’d see in countless B-horror films—usually slashers—of the 1980s.  Don’t get me wrong, I really feel they’re important to the film and somewhat pertinent to the plot, but they usually play their parts by-the-number, sometimes telephoned in or done, what appears to be, lackadaisically.  But because of those types of performances, Henriksen and James stand out as the good guy and bad guy of the film, knocking it out of the park.

One thing about the film is the son (played by Aron Eisenberg) and how he’s shown getting deliveries of canned food items.  Seems his character gets off lying to these companies, saying that he finds hair or human digits in their products.  To prevent any lawsuits, obviously, the companies send unlimited boxes of food items to make up for it.  It’s a weird subplot device that goes nowhere in the story and I’m not quite sure why this was written into the movie.

Although the film was very memorable to me, and I feel that this film is WAY better than Craven’s Shocker, it still fell to the wayside and was forgotten until Scream! Factory gave it (and us) some justice.  Like all their releases, the transfer of the film is clean and fresh-looking, sounding great and looks spectacular in HD.

So…what’s my final “bit” on The Horror Show?

I’ll say that the 80s were definitely a great decade for Henriksen, he’s awesome in this film, just as he is in almost every film from that time period.  He was definitely a staple in the 80s, from Piranha 2 to The
Terminator and more of my favorites like Near Dark, Pumpkinhead and, of course, The Horror Show.  And it goes without saying that we all know him for his ongoing role as Bishop in the Alien series of films, but I’ll always dig his performances in Pumpkinhead and The Horror Show.  I hope Scream! Factory (Shout! Factory) keeps releasing these wonderful—forgotten—gems.  For fans like me, they are definitely making dreams come true.  And I say to them: “Keep ‘em coming!”

P.B. (Post “Bit”):

I’ll say one thing…it’ll be nice to see all those Body Bags and The Horror Show discs disappear from those auction sites…or at least see them being sold for a reasonable price.  Now, if only Christine and Fright Night can be re-released to Blu-Ray again to get rid of those ridiculous prices people are trying to sell those discs.

Well, thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

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