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The Horror Show (1989)

Horror House, House 3, House III: The Horror Show, House III

They tried to electrocute "Meat Cleaver" Max. It didnt work.

Rating: 3/10

Running Time: 91 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18


Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Aliens Henriksen) has finally apprehended Max Jenke (Brion ‘Bladerunner’ James), “the most feared mass murderer in this nation’s history”, and hopes that his own traumatic nightmares will come to an end once Max has been electrocuted. Max, however, has other plans, and returns from the grave to make Lucas’ home life hell. Lucas’ behaviour becomes more and more deranged as he starts seeing Max’s mocking face everywhere – on the head of his wife Donna (Rita Taggart), in the downstairs furnace, in the passenger seat of his car, in the dinner roast, on the TV set, even in the belly of his daughter Bonnie (Dedee Pfeiffer) – and when Bonnie’s boyfriend Vinnie (David Oliver) is found in the basement hacked to pieces with Max’s trademark cleaver, Lucas finds himself in the frame for murder. Max, however, is going to learn that it is one thing to mess with Lucas, but quite another to mess with his family.

Despite being produced, like the other ‘House’ films, by Sean S. Cunningham, being scored once again by Henry Mandfredini, and featuring a haunted house that opens onto other dimensions, ‘House III’ was released in the US under a different title (‘The Horror Show’), and is often cited as the only instalment of the ‘House’ franchise that is a ‘straight’ horror film rather than a horror comedy. The record, however, needs to be set straight: ‘House III’ is clearly meant to be a comedy. How else could one explain the villain’s hilarious ‘evil laugh’, the fraudulent scams perpetrated by Lucas’ son Scott (Aron Eisenberg) with absolutely no relevance to the main plot, the talking poultry (with a nod to ‘Eraserhead’), the gratuitous conversations about Elvis, Max’s appearance on TV as a stand-up comedian, the absurdly feel-good ending (even the family cat, Cosmo, survives), and the line “never sneak up on a man when he’s blasting Metallica”?

The problem is that almost all of the humour misfires terribly, and is difficult to reconcile with Henriksen’s typically intense performance -and the script is so uniformly ridiculous that it becomes difficult to distinguish the jokes from the more serious material. One seemingly endless scene of ludicrous exposition sees Professor Peter Campbell (Thom Brey) describing his research at Columbia “working on a theory of pure evil as a form of electromagnetic energy”, only to end with Lucas saying “Keep talking”. It comes as no surprise that one of the film’s co-writers is ‘Alan Smithee’, a dummy name employed when a project is deemed so embarrassingly bad that someone no longer wishes to have their real name associated with it.

What really haunts ‘House III’ is the success of the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ franchise, and Max’s menacing quips and reality-warping manifestations are stolen directly from Freddy Kruger at his worst. After seeing Max’s features in the McCarthys’ lunch, Lucas violently plunges his carving knife into the roasted bird, explaining to his horrified family “I just don’t like turkey, alright?” – which is exactly the way many people will feel about ‘House III’.

It's Got: Dedee Pfeiffer (sister of Michelle) as Lucas daughter Bonnie, and Lewis Arquette (father of Rosanna, Patricia and David) as Lucas chief; Brion James overacting to an extreme as mad Max; some really clunky exposition ("for quite some time now, I have believed that the same electromagnetic energy that released Jenke can be used to bring him back"); lots of material to appeal to anyone nostalgic for the late eighties (background posters for INXS and Guns n Roses, a stand-up comedian telling jokes about George Bush – Sr.!); and a talking turkey that is the perfect metaphor for the film.

It Needs: Better dialogue, sharper jokes, less padding, and fewer of those repetitive scenes in which characters head down to the basement and find that the lights are playing up.

DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of Dolby stereo 2.0/Dolby surround 5.1/dts; optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing; comprehensive bio of Lance Henriksen; film notes; Anchor Bay trailer showreel (The Manson Family, Bubba Ho-tep, The Toolbox Murders, Undead). Now available from Anchor Bay as a boxset with the other three House films. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10


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