Meat Cleaver Max (Brion James) Jenke is executed for a murder spree that claimed 110 lives. Det. Lucas (Lance Henriksen) McCarthy believes the killing spree is finally over after the State zaps Jenke with enough voltage to melt the killer's flesh and ignite his clothing. Jenke's body is dead but his spirit lives on as an "electricity of evil" who haunts the McCarthy home. Lucas knows the new series of meat cleaver murders are the work of the dead Max Jenke. Too bad Lucas can't convince his terrified family or the police that he's not crazy.
The Horror Show was producer Sean S. Cunningham's attempt at creating a new supernatural slasher franchise. Unfortunately, the film suffered from numerous behind-the-scenes problems that hindered its success at the US box office. Original director David (Death Warmed Up) Blyth was fired shortly after filming started and replaced with Jim Isaac (Jason X). One unhappy writer, Allyn Warner, had his name replaced with "Alan Smithee", the pseudonym for disgruntled writers and directors in Hollywood. The MPAA, the folks who protect young children from evil horror movies, insisted on severe cuts to the gore scenes before they would grant The Horror Show anything less than an X rating. Ironically, Cunningham's old friend Wes Craven released Shocker, a film with a very similar plot, the same year.
What keeps The Horror Show entertaining is the performances from Lance Henriksen and Brion James. Watching Henriksen's slow slide into madness is great fun, especially when he shoots his television and attacks a demon possessed turkey. James brings a great deal of menace to the role of Meat Clever Max. Viewers know Jenke enjoys killing because James flashes a wicked little smile before burying the cleaver in a victim. Both actors have a rabid intensity that out shines the rest of the cast and over comes the weak dialogue from "Alan Smithee" and Leslie Bohem. Slasher fans should look for two alumni from The Prowler. Thom Bray has a small role as a scientist warning Henriksen of Jenke's return from the grave and Lawrence Tierney has a cameo as a prison warden.
KNB provides the special effects and some nice work can still be seen in the US print despite the cuts. A cop with severed arms and a kid with a bad case of exploding eardrums provide good gooey fun. Other highlights include an exploding head, various deep fried body parts, and the previously mentioned demon turkey. Sadly, the scene where something erupts from Dedee Pfeiffer's stomach right before Henriksen's chest rips open is badly mangled. Kane Hodder acted as stunt coordinator and double for Brion James during the more dangerous sequences. Fans will have no trouble spotting Hodder during the stunts because Max Jenke suddenly has a head full of hair.
After The Horror Show bombed in the US, Sean Cunningham changed the title to House III for the over seas markets. Foreign markets also got a meatier version, the MPAA's butchery didn't follow the film across the water. Under either title the film is worth watching for the strong performances from Henriksen and James. Both men tried to make the best film possible no matter how many distractions occurred off screen. The two also worked on Nature of the Beast and an episode of Millennium before Brion James died from a heart attack in 1999.