THE HORROR SHOW vs. SHOCKER
It’s time for another slaughterhouse showdown here at Tavern of Terror. While our previous entry Let’s Commit Aerobicide caused some discussion, it also pertained to some rather hard to find flicks, Death Spa and Killer Workout. This new title bout pits up two movies that are better known, especially Shocker, though they too have esoteric appeal. Both of these movies came out in the same year, both were efforts by horror movie legends (Shocker was written and directed by Wes Craven and The Horror Show was produced by Sean S. Cunningham) and both have a very similar concept behind them: a serial killer goes to the electric chair and becomes an electric supernatural slasher.
Shocker actually belongs in my Please, Rewind category, as it was an enormous part of my tween years. But sentimentality aside, I want to put ‘ol Horace Pinker toe-to-toe with Max Jenke and see who proves the more victorious villain.
Let’s start with the underdog.
THE HORROR SHOW (1989)
While marketed to the non-US market as House III, this movie really is a stand alone piece and has no relation to the House series other than sharing some of the same production crew, including Cunningham and composer Harry Manfredini, to name a few.
The movie had a few strikes against it from the very beginning. It came out in 1989, right around the same time as the bigger budgeted and heavily promoted Craven flick Shocker, causing many to pan The Horror Show as a lower-budget rip-off, even though both films were being made at the same time. The Horror Show also had production problems, including the firing of its original director David Blyth and the hiring of replacement James Isaac (at least according to Wikipedia which actually has the plot of the movie wrong).
But The Horror Show has something that Shocker doesn’t: horror icon power! The leading men in this forgotten fright are none other than Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead, Near Dark) as police detective Lucas, and Brion James (Mom, The Fifth Element) as cleaver-wielding maniac, Max.
That’s right all you genre nerds! It’s Bishop vs. Leon!
The film begins with us meeting Lucas, a cop tortured by his recent bust. Having tracked down the nation’s most notorious serial killer, Max Jenke, Lucas struggles with nightmares of their gruesome warehouse showdown.
While watching Lucas wander around his cameron-blue house is tedious, the flashbacks to the showdown are filled with classic 80’s gore, including multiple severed heads. We also get a nice lead-in of trees blowing in the dark – that takes us into Lucas’ bedroom where the curtains dance, hinting of spooky danger. It’s a tired horror movie gag but I always like it, every damn time.
The flashbacks and nightmares continue and we see Lucas’s token black partner die a predictable death, the movie’s cop drama being right out of The Simpsons’ McBain movies. We also meet Max, and we’re treated to Brion James at his psychotic best, donning a trench coat and about to murder a little girl. Max is an over-the-top, self-mutilating cop killer and James brings him to life in that special way that only he could.
Lucas wakes from his terrible memory-dream only to be greeted by Max in drag, who lunges at him Krueger style, hinting at a break between two worlds. But then Lucas wakes up, again, and all is well. He puts on his suit and goes out to witness Max’s execution.
Max is pumped for his big day, and only asks to be buried with his beloved cleaver. He’s strapped in and then gives us some incredibly lame lines, telling Lucas that he is his “worst nightmare” along with some other hackneyed quips. But James, being James, is just creepy anyway, and when the juice fails to take care of him they amp up the voltage, causing him to catch on fire. He breaks free of his shackles and comes face to face with Lucas as he burns to death, threatening Lucas the whole time.
Also at the execution is a shifty wiener who turns out to be a professor of … um… electricity? Anyway, he gets into the morgue just in time to see Max’s lightening-bolt ghost shoot out of his body and snicker away. This scene, like most of the movie, is cheesier than a Pizza Hut dumpster but it is more fun than a lot of the monotony that follows as we wait for the movie to put the horror into the show.
We get to know Lucas’s family, including his douchebag kids. His daughter Bonnie is supposed to be the movie’s sex appeal, with her shower scene and her boyfriend hiding in the basement, but she looks no older than fifteen. His son, Scott, likes to bamboozle companies with fake complaints, and while he loves head-banging metal he looks and acts like a refugee from Camp Saved By the Bell.
Lucas, in the meantime, gets a few visions of Max that he doesn’t seem too shocked or concerned about, whether he believes them to be aparitions or hallucinations, and he shrugs off the Professor’s weak attempt to warn him that Max is still sort of alive. Max returns in his old form, having popped out of Lucas’s circuit breaker, and has no trouble picking off people in the real world — starting, of course, with Bonnie’s boyfriend. Max also continues to haunt Lucas, even when he is trying to watch TV.
If you’ve ever wanted to see Brion James do standup, this is your chance.
Lucas eventually starts putting things together when he visits Max’s old apartment and has a chat with the Professor. We find out that Max not only had Lucas targeted before his death but he was also practicing being electrocuted at home so he could harness his pure evil into one electrical currant and ride the lightening forever as an electro-phantom. The professor theorizes that if they shock his ass back into the physical world they can finally kill him like any mortal man. Makes sense, right? Okay, not really, but what the hell do you expect?
The movie at long last kicks into “oh shit” mode when Bonnie discovers her dead boyfriend’s corpse and Lucas ends up taking the blame based on his recent odd behavior. The family starts getting haunted and attacked, including a crazy pseudo-pregnancy scene, and Lucas has to bust out of jail to save his family, engaging in a cookie-cutter showdown than is ripe with the film’s solid gore effects as Lucas and Max battle within two worlds.
The Horror Show is typical late-80’s video-store trash. The story doesn’t always make sense, and the dialogue would make Steven Seagal call for backup. However, despite its slow pace and miniscule body count, it delivers on the blood you’d expect from a Cunningham production and offers some truly insane FX sequences, including one that puts Brion Jame’s face on a possessed turkey. That alone makes it worth sitting through. I also appreciate Henriksen doing his best with the weak material, and that his character Lucas defies the horror movie cliché of just shooting the bad guy once and then dropping the gun so he can rise again. Henriksen don’t play that. He blasts until his clip is empty. I can understand why he was chosen to play Charles Bronson in Reason For Living: The Jill Ireland Story.
- RATING: 3 out of 5. Amusing, but not that memorable. It makes for a good rainy afternoon movie that you probably won’t tell your coworkers about the next day.
- CHICK OF THE LITTER: Jailbait Bonnie, who makes us uncomfortable as she keeps on stripping.
Neither Meat Cleaver Max nor his opponent Horace Pinker have any use or respect for men of the cloth. Both The Horror Show and Shocker have scenes were these maniacs tell off the preachers that come to console them at the hour of their execution. They seem all too eager to drink their blood.
Why not join them with a cool can of Monk’s Blood?
This thick-laced, heavy-hitting beer comes from California’s 21st Amendment Brewery. A midnight-dark Belgian, Monk’s Blood offers a variety of distinct flavors as it smacks the sense out of you with its 8.3% ABV. Slightly bitter but compensating for it with a creamy froth, this beer is bound to delight IPA fans as well as malt lovers like your barman. This is a sippin’ beer, and its four pack box should be more than enough to pair with your viewing of this high voltage double feature.
On Monday we’ll see how Shocker compares…