Police detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen) awakens in the middle of the night, something he has been doing a lot lately thanks to his sleep troubled by a recent case. That was where he had to track down a serial killer with over one hundred and ten victims to his credit, most despatched with a meat cleaver, his weapon of choice, but Lucas was able enough to track down Max Jenke (Brion James) even if it did mean the loss of his professional partner in the process. Soon Jenke will be off to the electric chair and Lucas will be able to return to work after his trauma...
And it'll all be over! But no, this is what happens in the opening fifteen minutes and we still have a long way to go from that point in this, either an attempt to start a franchise very much in the then-recent Nightmare on Elm Street tradition, or an addition to an existing franchise which proved to be so out of character that it was rejected, depending on who you believe. That existing series was the House one, a pair of lighthearted horrors which amused some, but were too corny for most, though its producer Sean S. Cunningham's rejection of this from bearing that name did not prevent it from being called House III in Europe and elsewhere.
This meant the producers of the actual third House movie, a straight to video effort, had to call their film House IV, but never mind that, what of this, which bore a curious resemblance to Cunningham's erstwhile partner in crime Wes Craven's try at kicking off his own new franchise with Shocker? Both films had a villain supposedly executed in the electric chair which only serves to make them stronger and lend them supernatural powers into the bargain, though Craven's baddie had a penchant for television sets which Jenke does not share (he does cause Lucas to shoot his TV at one stage, however). As it turned out, neither movie did well enough to be counted a success.
But compared, there really wasn't enough between them in quality terms to place one ahead of the other. James certainly relished the role, being an old hand at this sort of thing and perhaps hoping for Robert Englund levels of fan adulation (this was Brion James we were talking about of course, a cult actor who was already welcomed in his accustomed bad guy roles), but what might have been more interesting was the presence of Henriksen, interesting because this looked to be a dry run for his television horror/thriller series Millennium, one of the most miserable TV shows ever to make it to prime time. His detective here is somewhat more emotional than his Frank Black character of the nineties, but it's entertaining to wonder if Lucas wasn't an incarnation of Black from a few years further back.
The Horror Show was directed by James Isaac, a protégé of David Cronenberg who specialised in special effects but was able to move into direction when there was a change of staff in the first week of shooting - basically David Blyth was sacked. The results were fair, but never got quite as exctiing as they were supposed to be, involving far too much wandering about in darkened rooms, in particular the basement of Lucas's home where Jenke takes up otherworldly residence after the electrocution supposedly kills him, but actually renders him as a Freddy Krueger-style murderous menace. A few novel touches survived: Jenke managed to achieve this by taking sessions with his own personal electric chair to build up immunity; he appears in hallucinations which include a talking roast turkey and the talking pregnancy bump of Lucas's teenage daughter (Dedee Pfeiffer); that sort of thing, which may have been silly but worked up some personality. Not sure about Jenke's maniacal giggle, however. Music by Harry Manfredini.
[All four House movies are available on Blu-ray from Arrow. The box set features:
Brand new 2K restorations of all four films
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
The House Companion limited edition 60-page book featuring new writing on the entire House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material
On the House III disc:
Uncut Version, for the first time on Blu-ray!
Audio commentary with producer Sean S. Cunningham
The Show Must Go On interview with actor/stuntman Kane Hodder
House Mother interview with actress Rita Taggart
Slaughter Inc. brand new featurette with special make-up effects creators
Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger