Triskaidekafiles is a love letter to cheesy cinema from the 80s and 90s, with the occasional dip into other eras.  if you're a fan of MST3K, Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, or just bad horror movies in general, Trisk is the place for you.

The Horror Show (1989)


WRITER: Alan Smithee and Leslie Bohem

DIRECTOR: James Isaac

STARRING: Lance Henriksen as Lucas McCarthy
    Brion James as Max Jenke
    Rita Taggart as Donna McCarthy
    Dedee Pfeiffer as Bonnie McCarthy
    Aron Eisenberg as Scott McCarthy
    Thom Bray as Peter Campbell

QUICK CUT: After capturing a brutal serial killer, and watching him be executed, Lucas McCarthy and his family have to deal with Meat Cleaver Max coming back from the dead for revenge.


    Lucas McCarthy - A good cop and family man, but after the horrific nature of a recent case, he's been having disturbing nightmares even though the man responsible is now in jail and soon to be executed.

    Max Jenke - The killer Lucas put behind bars, and a real sicko with a twisted laugh, and a determination to have revenge, even from beyond the grave.

    Donna McCarthy - Lucas's wife, who doesn't get much beyond 'good wife', but she does have to put up with her husband's nightmares, and watching him lose himself to the darkness.

    Bonnie McCarthy - Donna and Lucas's daughter, with a boyfriend they don't entirely approve of, or at least don't trust to be alone with their daughter.

    Scott McCarthy - And their son, who is your typical mischievous teenager, obsessed with music.  Also, he has a running gag subplot where he keeps conning companies for free products by saying he found a thumb in their chili and whatnot.  I never mention this since it goes nowhere in the movie and has no relevance in the actual plot.  But I'll nod to it here.

Oh, I hope that's not a description of the movie I'm about to watch.

Oh, I hope that's not a description of the movie I'm about to watch.

THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions!  I am wrapping up October's sixth anniversary celebration with The Horror Show, because Lance Henriksen.  Some of you may find yourselves thinking while I talk about this, gosh this sounds awfully familiar!  Well, there's good reason for that.  The movie was also released under the title House 3 initially, as an unrelated sequel to the first two movies in that series.  If you saw it back in the day, it was probably under that name.  I've talked about how studios loved doing this in the 80s plenty already, so let's just move on...

Oh, and as for the 6th6th6th summoning of some demons, it looks like we got all that mess cleared up, although there's still a few hinky things going on.  Don't worry, it should be fine!  I hope.

We start off with a nice slow burn as Frank Black wakes up in the middle of the night, checks on his family, and creeps down into the basement to check on some noises.  He finds some flashbacks hiding behind the furnace, and we get to see one of his previous big raids trying to take down the serial killer, "Meat Cleaver Max" Jenke.

Well, there's yer problem, you've got the flashbacker turned up to high!

Well, there's yer problem, you've got the flashbacker turned up to high!

As his partner goes one way, Lucas heads into a diner to look for Mad Max, and finds a lot of finger foods and fried bacon, as Max has hacked up several other cops already and dropped their bits into boiling oil in the kitchen.  See, Bishop?  This is what happens when you play five finger filet too much.

Lucas rushes to find his partner, but soon finds he's also on the menu, leaving our hero all alone to stop the killer.  And yeah, this is the *beginning* of the movie, not the end.  I double checked!

Finally, Lucas finds Max and his hostage, who gets quickly killed by the guy who brings a cleaver to a knife fight.  Lucas catches the girl's head, and wakes up from a nightmare.

And I will allow this being all a dream, because it's memories of a past event, and clearly shows how much the case messed up Lucas's head, and how brutal Jenke is.

Oh, but the fun isn't over yet, as Lucas hugs his wife, and she transforms into Jenke, who buries his cleaver into Lucas's chest, so we get double nightmares!

Til death do us part!

Til death do us part!

In a play straight out of the Freddy Krueger handbook though, the hacking into his chest has left a mark, that will proceed to grow throughout the movie.

But the day has come for Jenke's executional, and I love how seriously they take this guy.  After slicing and dicing through cops like they were the secret ingredient on Iron Chef, he's led to the chair by no less than five guards, one of which keeps a shotgun aimed at the back of his head the whole time.  They have very effectively set this guy up as a total bad-ass and not to be taken lightly.

Lucas shows up, and they bring Mad Max in, strap him to the chair, and they go through the usual prep of getting him ready to be crispy fried.  An appropriate punishment for his officer offerings.

Witness me!!

Witness me!!

But things do NOT go as planned.  The initial shock doesn't kill him, so they increase the voltage, which STILL doesn't work.  Max tears his way out of the chair, bloody, bursting at the seams, and ON FIRE.  But he only gets a few steps towards Lucas before collapsing dead.

There was another guy at the execution, well lots of other people, but one in particular who was interested in what was going on.  He comes back to see Max's dead body later, and look for any strange power surges.

As he takes his readings, electricity starts shooting around, and an asphyx shoots out of Jenke's body, rushing off down the wires to Lucas's junction box.

No more Mr. Nice Guy!

No more Mr. Nice Guy!

Oh wait.  Remember how I said this probably sounds familiar because it's also known as House 3, and people are more likely to have seen it under that name?  Well, it's more than that.  This movie is also familiar, because it is NOT the first movie I've reviewed about a crazed maniac killer dying by electric chair only to terrorise the people who captured him in the first place by becoming an electric spirit.

Yep, The Horror Show is pretty much the same basic plot as Shocker, the second movie I ever reviewed on Trisk, which, hey!  Was done exactly six years ago today!  That's right, it's a stealth sixth anniversary review.  THE HORROR CONTINUES!

After some family drama, and Lucas visiting his shrink, the McCarthys head out to dinner to celebrate, leaving the kids home alone with their babysitter Max in the basement.

It's an interesting amalgamation of ideas from Wes Craven, both the obvious Shocker references (Which came out at the same time, so is more likely just weird coincidental timing), and that Max is going to be haunting Lucas's dreams, and knows what he's afraid of, like Freddy Krueger.  The guy also likes his furnaces, like one Mr. Krueger...

The movie also lays it on pretty thick with Lucas having constant flashbacks to his nightmare at the start of the film.  On the one hand, it's still a good sign that the cop is messed up, but on the other hand, it is quite a bit of reused footage.

Meanwhile, daughter Bonnie has snuck her boyfriend into the basement, where he waits for the parents to leave, and instead runs into the waiting spirit or whatever of Jenke.  The killer lures Vinnie to his doom by using Bonnie's voice.  This guy sure like crossdressing...

The second act of the movie does start to have a few too many people wandering around dark places calling out people's names, like Vinnie looking for Bonnie, then Bonnie looking for Vinnie, but even with that padding, the pace still feels pretty brisk for most of the movie.

Bonnie recruits her brother on her quest, but they wake up dad, who heads down into the basement to yell at nobody, and the furnace yells back.  Bonnie assumes he's yelling at Vinnie to get out of the house, not the murderous electroghost.

The doll's trying to kill me and the furnace is laughing at me!!

The doll's trying to kill me and the furnace is laughing at me!!

Time passes, and while Lucas 'fixes' the furnace, the rest of the family gets ready for lunch, consisting of a giant turkey.  Hey, Thanksgiving isn't for another month!

As things calm down from last night's craziness and yelling, that's not due to last long as the turkey starts talking to Lucas, and becoming this hideous monster with Max's face.  Because we've already borrowed heavily from Craven, let's mix in some of The Thing as well.

Lucas does what any normal person would do and stabs the turkey good, but all his family sees his their patriarch becoming increasingly unhinged.

Got any cheese spread??

Got any cheese spread??

But don't worry, we're soon back to swiping from Craven, as the family gathers to watch tv, and Jenke starts popping up on the programs, that only Lucas can see.  He eventually decides to turn off the tv...with his gun.

He's at least cognizant enough of his own recklessness and endangering his family, so he goes to the police psychiatrist to try and get help.  He doesn't really offer much, beyond being a sounding board, and it leads to Lucas heading to Jenke's old apartment for answers.  No reason, just he decided to go there suddenly.

While there, Bishop runs into Campbell again, who tries to explain the plot, but what we get is all this talk about evil being an electromagnetic force, and because Max was pure evil, he was the most purest electrical force of evil.  He also tries to convince Lucas that Max was electrocuting himself in small doses to build up his immunity to it.

Um, hate to break it to ya, but electricity is not iochane powder, and this is not Gilder.  Even for a fantastical horror movie, this is far fetched.

But, fine, okay, electricity of evil that allowed him to travel to another plane of reality, whatever.  At least we set up that if we blast him with enough electricity, it'll bring him back here, and then we can just kill him in any old normal fashion.

While Lucas is getting the dodgiest science lesson this side of unobtainum, Jenke uses his ventriloquism trick to lure Bonnie down to the basement.  She finds Vinnie's body, and the police assume Lucas did it, so they arrest him.

And back at Jenke's apartment, the killer shows up to have a chat with the professor about his theories.  And kill him.  Okay, mostly just to kill him.

I'm sorry, but we have to...cut your funding.

I'm sorry, but we have to...cut your funding.

Meanwhile, after a really fun, if rather long, interrogation scene between Lucas and internal affairs, Jenke shows up as Lucas's lawyer.  Huh, he didn't seem like the type to have a law degree...

Frank finally gets bored sitting around his interrogation room, so heads home because we're moving into the final minutes of the film.  Fortunately Jenke is already there and taunting the family.

Lucas rushes home and finds his family in various states of death and torment, but ultimately it's just all mind games from Max.

Sure, let's also swipe from Alien, because why not at this point?

Sure, let's also swipe from Alien, because why not at this point?

We wrap up the mind games and gore, and Lucas heads down to the basement to yell at his furnace some more.  He then walks into it, and winds up back at the diner.  What is this Narnia bullcrap??

It goes from there, to the plant where he captured Jenke before, and look.  I know some movies do love to come full circle, and there's something narratively satisfying about that, but this just comes off as forced.  If not for the movie making it clear how traumatic this all was for Lucas, and that Jenke loves playing with the guy's head and on his fears, this would make me throw my hands in the air.

They throw jabs, and Jenke throws quips like he's more Spider-Man than Electro, and eventually Lucas and his wife escape deeper into the power plant.  They get him to hack his way into one of the transformers, and the juice sends everyone back to the really real world.

Remember kids, don't play with electricity.

Remember kids, don't play with electricity.

Now that they're back to reality, Lucas just ends the story pretty abruptly with a good old fashioned gun and simply shoots Max to death.

So the movie ends, and the family moves, because after Bonnie's boyfriend got killed, and they've been terrorised, and killed a serial killer who was already dead, it's probably good to move on.

But before they leave, dad sends Bonnie *down to the basement* in case she forgot something.  Like what, pieces of Vinnie's brain??


Video: As is no surprise, from a Scream/Shout Factory release, and a movie made with a big studio behind it, it looks good for the time.

Audio: It's a good mix, with everything being solid, and it gets some good atmospheric effects when Jenke's doing his thing.

Sound Bite: "Don't look now, but your family's dead... just kidding."  Ahh, my dinner with Jenke.

Body Count: I'm surprised there's such a low number.  Most of Jenke's victims are piled up before the movie even begins, and another fair amount are done as nightmares.

1 - Just under 10 minutes, and Lance's partner gets killed off camera.
2 - Girl gets her head cut off, unclear if this actually happened, or JUST in the dreams.
3 - Max Jenke gets fried up good and bloody at his execution.
4 - Vinnie gets hacked to bits in the basement by Max
5 - Jenke pops up in his apartment to hack up Campbell.
6 - And finally, Jenke dies again, because that can happen in horror movies.

Best Corpse: The award this time goes to Meat Clever Max himself, the first time around.  Bloody, monstrous, bloating, and on fire.  You don't top that.  Heck, that tops most of the deaths this site has seen.

Blood Type - B+: There's a surprising LACK of blood, but it does crop up here and there at times, and a lot of the points come from the creature effects.  Jenke's electrocuted and not quite dead body, the monster Jenke baby in Bonnie's belly, and the Jenke dinner.  Trippy stuff.

Sex Appeal: Bonnie has her moments...

Drink Up! whenever Jenke starts laughing.

Video Nasties: I had to share the turkey dinner, because that is messed up and weird, and memorable.  I almost went with Jenke's executional.

Movie Review: Okay, sure, this movie is flawed.  It hits a big second act slump where people wander in the dark too much.  Jenke doesn't really *DO* much of anything, outside of stuff we're told and flashbacks.  People make logical leaps for no particular reason.  Lucas spends a bit too much time lounging around, smiling and/or at the shrink, and that tugs down the pace a bit, but I *do* like the different take and character building it brings.  Any sort of reasoning behind why this was happening was absurd, sure.  But it's still well made, with some very memorable moments.  Most of them cribbed from other better movies, but it does some interesting things in its own right.  Horror Show never quite transcends the homages and swipes, however.  It's original in its idea, but uses too much other familiarity that it never quite exists as its own thing.  But the main cast, Lance and James, are amazing.  Henriksen is always amazing and a treat, and there's a reason he's had such a long career, and you can see a lot of that in full force here.  And Brion James may not be the best actor, but he was perfect for Jenke.  He's over the top, chews the scenery with great aplomb, and is just a maniac.  You believe this guy is gonna mess you up, and even though we see very few of his past deeds, his presence and acting and what we DO see absolutely sell you on the terror this guy brings.  Four out of five turkey dinners.

Entertainment Value: I really shouldn't, but I love this movie.  In a lot of ways, it's terrible.  it's derivative, it slows down too much, but Brion James is so damned entertaining.  There is genuine fun here.  The family could be tossed aside and their plotlines ignored, since they bog things down, and are super cheesy, more at home in a sitcom than a horror movie.  But they're a good family, and you don't want anything to happen to them.  There's just something I found super fun about this movie, and I'm sure a large part of that is because of the two leads.  And seeing an alternate take on the Shocker idea is fun.  I like the more serious tone here more, but Shocker had a better, more sensible setup.  Magic voodoo is way better than trying to convince me that evil is an electric force.  But there's a lot of FUN in the weird craziness of Shocker.  I would love to see a team up between Horace Pinker and Max Jenke.  Shocker is probably the more fun movie, but I think Horror Show is probably the better movie, since it doesn't get quite as wacky, even if it has the moments of strange all its own.  Four out of five deep fried cop hands.