The Horror Show (1989) poster

The Horror Show (1989)


aka House 3: You’d Rather Be on Elm Street

USA. 1989.


Director – James Isaac, Screenplay – Leslie Bohem & Alan Smithee, Producer – Sean S. Cunningham, Photography – Mac Ahlberg, Music – Harry Manfredini, Photographic Effects – VCE (Supervisor – Peter Kuran), Makeup Effects – KNB EFX Group (Supervisors – Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman & Greg Nicotero). Production Company – United Artists


Lance Henriksen (Lucas McCarthy), Brion James (Max Jenke), Rita Taggart (Donna McCarthy), Dedee Pfeiffer (Bonnie McCarthy), Aron Eisenberg (Scott McCarthy), Thom Bray (Professor Peter Campbell)


Police detective Lucas McCarthy goes to see the execution of mass murderer Max Jenke whom he helped capture. There Jenke staggers up from the electric chair to promise that he will return to tear Lucas’s world apart. Afterwards, Jenke returns as an electrical force, taunting Lucas and killing the people around him. As no one else can see Jenke, everybody believes Lucas is going crazy and is responsible for the killings.

The Horror Show was another of the never-ran’s in the late 1980s mini-genre of killers-back-from-the-electric-chair movies. This genre was inspired by Wes Craven’s Shocker (1989) but all of the films were ultimately further attempts at imitating the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. The Horror Show announces its Elm Street copycat intents even more blatantly than the others in its international retitling as House 3: You’d Rather Be On Elm Street. (The fact that the film was able to pass itself off as a House sequel with solely a title change and no other connection to the House films other than the presence of producer Sean S. Cunningham shows just how cynical an exercise the whole Roman numeral franchise business has come).

The plot is an unoriginal mixture of standard Elm Street reality intrusions and the cliches that the killer-come-back-from-the-electric-chair genre managed to set up for itself seemingly within the space of a single film. The philosophical ramblings on the nature of absolute evil having electrical physicality seem even more shonky than the usual explanations in these films. For all the routineness that exists down at the plot level, The Horror Show is a competently well made film.

The film had a problematic production with director David Blyth, best known for Death Warmed Up (1984), walking off the set several days in and being replaced by former effects man James Isaac. Whether or not such is the case, some parts of the film give the appearance of being handled by different directors. One part of the film seems to be directed with a series of slick, fluid scares and treats the subject matter seriously; the other sets into many of the initial scenes with tongue planted considerably in cheek. The opening dream sequence, for instance, has the amusingly campy images of bodies being fed into meat grinders – the legs left sticking up in the air, a head served up as a Blue Plate special, hands and cops’ caps sitting in deep-fry vats. Most amusing of all is the electrocution which Brion James plays with OTT relish – “Increase the voltage, shithead,” he taunts the executioner, “All that did was give me a hard-on.”

Max Jenke (Brion James) goes to the electric chair in The Horror Show (1989)
Serial killer Max Jenke (Brion James) goes to the electric chair

Certainly, the film’s cast is considerably better than the nobodies that usually fill out these films. Lance Henriksen, a muchly underrated genre reliable, gives a performance that is solid and credible. His character is never required to be more than routine but Henriksen’s portrayal is exemplary. Brion James in a goatee and a pencil thin Arabian Nights topknot chews scenery with demented relish in the type of role he was born to play.

There are also some good effects sequences – like the image of Dedee Pfeiffer pregnant with Brion James’s face in her belly and the turkey on the table that comes to life with James’s face. For all that is good about the film though, it is never enough to surmount the routineness of the cliched plot.

The other House films are:- House (1986), House II: The Second Story (1987) and House IV (1991).

Director James Isaac later collaborated with producer Sean S. Cunningham to make the tenth Friday the 13th film Jason X (2001). Isaac also directed Skinwalkers (2006) and Pig Hunt (2008) before his death in 2012.

Trailer here

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