In honor of the holiday, Death Ensemble brings you one of only two horror flicks that employ Thanksgiving as a setting. Phil really tried to review THANKSKILLING, which is a more appropriate film for today;, but he didn’t have it in him to write a review of a terrible flick that is intentionally terrible. Instead, below he reviews a terrible flick that he thinks was supposed to be scary. Enjoy a frequently shirtless Lance Henriksen alongside your Jenke-turkey on Netflix Instant today!
I’m convinced that if I ever get my low budget horror comedy DEADTENTION made, Lance Henriksen will show up on the set. Bewildered, X and I will look at him and say, “Nice to meet you, Lance. What are you doing here?” He’ll return a confused look, and say, “But it’s a horror show. I’m in every horror show now.” Lance seems to appear in just about every horror show filmed nowadays, most likely because he’s a solid actor and a popular genre presence, oh and he probably likes getting paid. But there was a day when Lance was a little more selective and a little less ubiquitous, and it’s prophetic that during this time a man who would eventually star in ever horror show was the lead in THE HORROR SHOW. If only it were a good horror show, instead of the ludicrously silly film it is.
To understand it fully, one has to look at the flick in this context. Films sometimes come out in clumps that have the same, basic plot. The 80s were notorious for this, with the body switch comedy probably being the most prominent example. In the late 80s, horror hopped on the train and in a short span at the end of my high school years, offered fans the “executed killer comes back for revenge” flick. Out came Wes Craven’s attempt at another NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise with SHOCKER; Lou Diamond Phillips’ star turn in THE FIRST POWER; and the farthest out there of the bunch, THE HORROR SHOW. The latter is like those others on a combination of steroids, magic mushrooms and Red Bull, and leaves me just as bewildered as I’ll be one day when Lance shows up on my set expecting to act, even though we never asked him to.
The plot starts off insane and never comes back. After some cheesy home videos of Lance’s Detective Lucas McCarthy and his picture-perfect family, he awakes from a nightmare and heads out to take out mad killer Max Jenke. Jenke has wiped out a bunch of people, as Lucas and his partner Terry Alexander (DAY OF THE DEAD) discover through the bloody results. Jenke quickly dispatches Terry, and then he and Lance face off, an innocent girl in Jenke’s evil clutches. In a move of sheer bravado, Max decapitates the girl right in front of Lance and throws the head at him. Captured, Max goes to the electric chair.
Normally I give a one-paragraph plot crunch, but this execution deserves its own paragraph, and probably its own review. This is a special execution as: those who’ve come to view are in the same room, mere feet from the electric chair; Jenke’s eyes aren’t taped, there’s no gag in his mouth, nor any bag over his head; and the same room will act as a morgue a few scenes later. With Lucas in the front row, Jenke has the opportunity to taunt him face-to-face. He spits the holy wafer back at the priest, tells the warden to screw off and absorbs a massive jolt. But he’s not out for the count yet, as he informs his audience, “All that did was give me a hard-on!” The voltage increased, he absorbs more before tearing out of the chair, his skin bubbling and frying as he walks toward Lucas and tells the cop he’s going to come back and “fuck you up!” While those other two flicks gave you simple execution scenes, THE HORROR SHOW pulls out all the stops and goes right to ludicrous. This scene tells you everything you need to know about what type of movie you’re watching, and whether you’ll enjoy.
Sadly, the rest of the film gives very little to enjoy. It boils down to a bunch of scenes in which Lucas may be dreaming, with Jenke threatening him and occasionally killing someone. Late in the game, the police accuse Lucas of a murder in his house, but the muddled script gives absolutely no motive for him to do so. It all leads up to one final confrontation between Lucas and Jenke that mirrors their first encounter, with the stakes raised. The film’s biggest flaw, as Mike Cucinotta pointed out as we watched it together a few weeks back, is that it never establishes rules. Is Jenke a vengeful wraith? If so, how does he carry out physical violence? Is he embodied? If so, how does he do things only a ghost could do? Is he just a figment of Lucas’ imagination, the fevered dream of a man who can’t let go? The flick never does answer these questions, and that’s the fault of both a poor script and the unclear vision of director James Isaac.
I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the Thanksgiving meal. Or, as the family keeps referring to it, “lunch.” Most people don’t have a full turkey and trimmings for lunch, but then, this is THE HORROR SHOW. As Lucas starts to cut the turkey, the gizzard takes on the face of Jenke-turkey! Jenke-turkey taunts Lucas, but this time in poultry form. I saw this flick on cable during my senior trip to Washington, D.C. late the first night, and I’ve always remembered Jenke-turkey. And so will you. Trust me.
Aside from the execution scene and Jenke-turkey, the only other fun is in the performances of Lance and Brion James as Jenke. As Lucas, Lance portrays a man who loses it more and more as the film progresses. He delivers his usually solid performance, though at times he looks as if he’s wondering if this paycheck was worth the gig. He’s also topless for most of the movie, providing plenty of beefcake, though I’m not quite sure why. James was born to play evil, and he’s so deliciously over-the-top in a role that really called for going way out there. Even though the film’s not much fun, he is.
And I must note that THE HORROR SHOW is yet another example of the Horror Movie Relocation Program, as it’s called HOUSE 3 outside the U.S. It has nothing to do with the HOUSE franchise, and screwed up its numbering. Neither title makes much sense.
About a decade after THE HORROR SHOW, FALLEN would be the next big “executed killer comes back for revenge” flick, bringing Denzel Washington and a Rolling Stones tune into the mix. It’s not good, but then neither were the three 80s examples. I’m sure there’s a good way to make use of this high-concept plot, but no one’s discovered it yet. If you want to see an insanely bad way to do it, with a shirtless Lance Henriksen and a possessed Thanksgiving turkey, watch THE HORROR SHOW. And if you have any questions for Lance, just make a low budget horror show. He’ll be sure to show up on set, ready to answer and to act.