Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Film Review: HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW (1989, James Isaac)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Lance Henriksen, Brion James, Lawrence Tierney.
Tag-line: "They tried to electrocute 'Meat Cleaver' Max. It didn't work. Now he's REALLY burned!"
Best One-liner(s): See review.

"Don't look now, but your family's dead. Just kidding." HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW is an exquisite puzzle of a film. The HOUSE moniker was attached by the distributors in post-production to cash in on the HOUSE craze begun by the original HOUSE and HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY. It does, however, take place largely within a house. Then comes THE HORROR SHOW part. I suppose this refers to a brief scene where Max Jenke (played by the inimitable Brion James, also known as the android in BLADE RUNNER who says "Wake up, time to die" and the one-armed Cajun in SOUTHERN COMFORT) turns into a morbid talk show host. But this is not the tradition from which HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW emerges. It is, in fact, nearly identical to Wes Craven's SHOCKER, though it surprisingly and neatly eclipses that better known film on all fronts. Furthermore, it's directed by former Cronenberg makeup technician (and helmer of JASON X) James Isaac, who infuses the film with his own flesh-mutating obsessions, including a chest slit (just like VIDEODROME) and a disgusting turkey dinner (just like ERASERHEAD). So back to the SHOCKER comparison. The plot is this: a serial killer (Brion James) with a nemesis (Lance Henriksen) is put to death by the electric chair (the warden is played by Lawrence Tierney), but instead becomes electricity itself, commits more murders, and gets his nemesis blamed for them. Also see: GHOST IN THE MACHINE. While SHOCKER suffers from just overall lameness, HOUSE III falls into no such traps. Case in point: when the killer, Pinker, gets initially zapped in SHOCKER, he merely says: "No more mister nice guy!," a particularly weak one-liner, which was also the subtitle for the film. In HOUSE III, when Brion James gets zapped, he deliciously intones: "All that did was give me a hard-on!"

Then he gets out of the chair, rips it to pieces, points straight at Lance Henriksen, and bellows: "I'M GONNA TEAR YOUR WORLD APART!" Based on this scene alone, HOUSE III is far superior, not just to most serial-killer coming-back-from-the-electric-chair as-killer-electricity films, but to most films in general. Brion James even considered Max Jenke his finest role, and the man is in everything from RED HEAT to TANGO & CASH, God rest his soul (1945-1999). Lance Henriksen exudes extraordinary pathos as Detective Lucas McCarthy, and there are all kinds of well-done subplots, from a mysterious scientist trying to solve the riddle of Max Jenke, to a missing house cat that turns up in the most unexpected of places to one whacky kid and his winnings of a lifetime supply of chili! Five stars! Also see: HOUSE drinking game.

-Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

This is my favourite movie. First time I saw Brion playing. After that I was a big fan and still are. I saw him in inlot,s of series and movies. Love blood and flesh too with another favourite; Rudger Hauer. I feel sad Brion died much too early, but He gave me lot,s of joy with his acting and of course his ,,special,, face.. I will always remember you Brion.. Thanks..RIP

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for stopping by! HOUSE III is indeed an underrated film. I'm a big Brion James fan myself; I'd say FLESH + BLOOD is certainly a highlight, alongside SOUTHERN COMFORT, BLADE RUNNER, THE PLAYER, his TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode, and so many others. Truly a great actor, and I think that it's fantastic that he wasn't just restricted to character work and that he had an opportunity to carry a movie himself, as in HOUSE III.