Maybe Child’s Play was the last truly good slasher movie of the 1980s. Certainly, the subgenre was in decline by the decade’s end and early 1990s. Slasher entries either turned cheesy and low-budget (Cheerleader Camp, Slumber Party Massacre II) or found increasingly bizarre premises to stretch the tropes. By the time the 1990s rolled around, dead-on-arrival movies like Doctor Giggles put the subgenre on ice until Wes Craven’s Scream. In 1989, two slasher movies had the same idea – resurrected death row serial killers. Hey, Child’s Play proved a supernatural killer could work. One of those movies had Craven himself – Shocker. The other, The Horror Show, did not. If critics still hated Shocker, they held The Horror Show in complete disdain. Maybe they missed the point. Now over 20 years later, is The Horror Show a guilty please or just a bad movie?
“Meat Cleaver” Max Jenke is one of deadliest serial killers in American history. His victims – which includes women, children, and police officers – may number over 100 in total. But Detective Lucas McCarthy has finally put an end to the nightmare after capturing Jenke. Traumatized by the crimes, McCarthy attends Jenke’s execution in hopes it will provide some closure. Things go horribly wrong, however, and Jenke continues to haunt McCarthy beyond the grave. When a parapsychologist warns McCarthy that Jenke isn’t finished with him yet, the detective must prepare for a supernatural battle to save his family.
The Horror Show Gets Confused, Audiences Will Just Be Bored
Where to start with The Horror Show? Apparently, the movie was originally intended to be the third entry in the House franchise. United Artists also fired its original director early in production. Maybe it was this behind-the-scenes turmoil or it could have been the change in how Allyn Warner and Leslie Bohem’s screenplay was going to be used. Whatever the case, The Horror Show is a bad movie. Despite accusations that it’s a rip-off, The Horror Show was the first of a handful of movies about resurrected serial killers, preceding Shocker and The First Power. Nevertheless, director James Isaac (Jason X) fills his movie with tired cop flick tropes alongside goofy horror. Sure there’s plenty of severed limbs and Jenke manifests himself in bizarre ways, but none of it is scary. And another problem prevents the silliness from actually being fun.
…director Jason Isaac fills his movie tired cop flick tropes alongside goofy horror.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about The Horror Show is just how boring it is from start to finish. Though Issac struggles to pace the action, Warner and Bohem’s screenplay makes it a difficult task. Unusually long stretches of nothing fall between intermittent scenes of ridiculous supernatural horror and gore. In some ways, it’s not hard to see that the movie was initially intended to be a House sequel – the gross-out humor is present. Unfortunately, The Horror Show confuses its own subject and tone. Those stretches of dull family drama and half-hearted attempts at psychological thriller feel like they’re snatched from another movie. When you’ve watched a turkey with Brion James’ face taunt Lance Henriksen, it’s kind of hard to take anything seriously.
Lance Henriksen Deserved Better Than The Horror Show
Just how does an electrocuted serial killer come back to life? Well, The Horror Show avoids this narrative conundrum by just dropping a bit of expository stupidity. Arguably, Thom Bray’s (DeepStar Six, The Prince of Darkness) shoehorned parapsychologist character exists solely to drop the occasional silly babble about paranormal electrical activity. Or maybe it’s a deal with the devil. No one seems to know. To be clear, The Horror Show never offers much of a rationale for anything that happens on screen. Instead, Isaac rips bits of A Nightmare on Elm Street in what amounts to a dog’s breakfast of a story that just hopes its audience will go along with it.
To be clear, The Horror Show never offers much of a rationale for anything that happens on screen.
No one can blame Lance Henriksen for this mess. For most of his career, Henriksen (Near Dark, Pumpkinhead) has either lent a capable supporting hand to great movies or he’s been the best part of a really bad one. Here, Henriksen does just fine as the traumatized cop and family man struggling to keep a grasp on his sanity. He’s basically acting in a totally different movie and it helps, even if just a little. Though Brion James excelled at playing supporting role antagonists in great movies, including Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, he’s in over his head here. To be fair, The Horror Show’s confused tone may have handcuffed James. But he’s more silly than menacing, never quite convincing us that he’s America’s most fear serial killer despite his imposing frame.
The Horror Show the Second Best Movie About Resurrected Killers … Released in 1989
Not many horrors fans would rank Shocker amongst Wes Craven’s finest works. But it’s head and shoulders above The Horror Show. Whether it’s a House sequel or just a standalone movie, The Horror Show is a painful entry in the ‘resurrected serial killers’ sort-of subgenre. Whether it’s the nonsensical story or the interminable stretches of nothing, little about this movie works. Despite his stoic presence, Henriksen can’t do much other than make you wish he was in a better movie. And Brion James just works better as a secondary antagonist. As the 1980s was coming to a close, The Horror Show was just another nail in the slasher genre’s coffin.