Lance Henriksen is an anomaly of nature, and I'm not referring to his uniquely memorable facial features alone, which is not to suggest there is anything abnormal about his face to begin with. Rather, throughout the 1980s, the actor did not seem to age at all, looking nearly identical from one movie to the next. Despite a seven year difference, he doesn't appear all that different from his small stint in Spielberg's 'Close Encounters' and his detective in Cameron's 'Terminator.' Even when he returned to work with Cameron for arguably most famous role as Bishop in 'Aliens,' it's still the same likeness we see in the vampire flick 'Near Dark,' only grimier and tougher, and his well-intentioned, vengeful dad of 'Pumpkinhead.'
Henriksen finished the decade with another performance as frustrated detective and concerned dad in the little known and remembered 'The Horror Show.' That same rough, weathered face of his is one of the first we see when drives up to the back entrance of a restaurant. There's little doubt, the man has unique features which surprisingly make his portrayals that more believable — he genuinely looks scared, anxious and frazzled, as well as trusting and deeply caring. Sadly, his excellent acting range is largely wasted in this dreary and sluggish horror movie from special creature effects technician James Isaac and producer Sean S. Cunningham ('Friday the 13th'). Henriksen is only one of two reasons to watch this half-baked, poorly-executed and somewhat baffling movie.
The other aspect making it the least bit bearable is the practical effects work of Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero. The script credited to Leslie Bohem and Allyn Warner (who funnily changed it Alan Smithee is post-production) is mostly a supernatural tale, but it occasionally dips into "slasher" territory at various points. Several gruesome deaths are not only very well-made for a small-budgeted flick such as this, but they are also pretty laughable — most of which I'm sure were unintentional. Arguably, the film's highlight is during a family dinner when Henriksen's Lucas McCarthy, still reeling through the emotional challenges of PTSD, hallucinates the turkey coming to life and making death threats to his family. Such quirky visuals add of a good deal of amusement in an otherwise ill-conceived story.
That story features another unique face of the 1980s that somehow didn't appear to age: Brion "Leon Kowalski" James. Though not quite as strong or memorable as Henriksen, James's performance still deserves its due, especially for one of the movie's most violent and equally hilarious sequences. As the famed serial killer "Meat Cleaver Max" caught by Henriksen's McCarthy, he's scheduled to die by electric chair in front of a live audience, but he refuses to go quietly or without first increasing the voltage to the point of burning him from the inside out. His ghost then haunts and traumatizes the cop and his family, though the precise details of how any of this is possible is rather fuzzy and perplexing, which is not to say the filmmakers didn't try to in the kooky parapsychologist (Thom Bray).
The same year that 'The Horror Show' hit theaters, another horror movie with an almost identical premise also made it to wide release: Wes Craven's 'Shocker.' And funnily, I remember paying to see both on the big screen that year and thinking it just as weirdly odd then as I do now. Even funnier is that neither film is particularly good, but given the choice between the two, I think I prefer the latter, which if I recall correctly is the same thoughts I held back then. Craven embraces the silly campiness of the plot with a subtle tongue-in-cheek approach whereas Isaac and Cunningham are a tad on the serious side. In the end, it is fun reliving memories, but in revisiting this again, I'm only reminded of why I forgot about 'The Horror Show' in the first place.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Horror Show' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside a normal blue case with a second DVD-9 disc on the opposing panel. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the bottom of the screen with a static photo of the cover art and music playing in the background.
The little known horror flick violates and disturbs homes in the digital realm with a mostly strong but also fairly average looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The video's less satisfying aspects are largely due to the quality of the source and the budgetary limitations of the production. Contrast is arguably the weakest, seeming a bit dull, flat and lackluster. Although primaries are accurately and cleanly rendered, the overall color palette is not particularly bright or bold, making facial complexions appear rather sickly and drained. Black levels, however, are pretty opulent and full-bodied with surprisingly good shadow delineation.
On the positive side, the 1.78:1 image retains a thick layer of natural grain, providing the movie with a nice film-like appeal. Despite a few sporadic moments of white specks and dirt, the picture displays very good definition and resolution with clean, distinct lines around furniture, buildings and clothing. Facial complexions are often revealing, especially during close-up shots, but by and large, the high-def transfer is average.
'The Horror Show' debuts with a slightly more impressive DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack that's surprisingly pleasing and engaging. Imaging is fairly wide and welcoming, as music and effects spread evenly across all three channels, generating a decently satisfying soundfield. Vocals are delivered cleanly in the center and very well-prioritized even amongst the loudest action sequences while separation is nicely balanced with better than expected, room-penetrating dynamics. Low-frequency effects are deep and responsive for a nearly 25-year-old movie, providing the action and music with some appreciable weight. In the end, the lossless mix gets the job done with aplomb.
From special creature effects technician James Isaac and producer Sean S. Cunningham, 'The Horror Show' is a forgotten horror flick with a nearly-identical premise as the much-preferred cult favorite 'Shocker' from Wes Craven. Starring Lance Henriksen and Brion James, the movie's most memorable aspect is the special effect, but even that is in short supply, reminding why the film is easily forgettable. The Blu-ray arrives with strong video and a better audio presentation with a small collection of supplements, making the overall package one for the fans only.