AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO in the HOUSE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 95 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Detective Lucas McCarthy finally catches the serial killer Max Jenke – named “Meat Cleaver Max” who killed 110 people, though costing the lives of his partner and a little girl. Lucas begins to have nightmares which keep him on desk duty and in therapy. He hopes that watching Max’s execution will give him closure, but before finally dying, Max staggers up from the electric chair to promise that he will return to tear Lucas’s world apart. Afterwards, the also present Professor Peter Campbell attempts to warn him that Max may be dead but is far from resting. Later, his spirit escapes his body, travels through the power lines and takes up residence in the McCarthy family basement….
Well this House series is certainly unpredictable. House 2: The Second Story was quite different from House, and House 3: The Horror Show, which isn’t for kids at all, is even more different. While some moments definitely are of a tongue in cheek nature, it’s far less humorous and is much more of a conventional horror movie, not to mention one that’s highly derivative of several other horrors films of the 1980’s – in fact for some of its running time it plays like a combination of two particular Wes Craven movies. Gore hounds disappointed by the lack of the red stuff will be partly satisfied by House 3, and it’s a considerably grimmer affair too with a genuine streak of nastiness running through it, though much like the first film [though not to its degree] there seems to be a conflict between the film’s silly and serious elements, probably partly due to director David Blyth walking off the set several days in and being replaced by former effects man James Isaac. Even odder is that it was only actually called House 3 outside of the USA, with the filmmakers and United Artists in conflict over whether it should be a second House sequel or not. The film therefore partly stands outside the series, though it’s certainly not without merit. It might be little more than a paint-by-numbers chiller consisting largely of a series of build-ups to scares of both the false and the real kind, and the imagination of the first two films is only sometimes in evidence, but there are some very strong moments here and there, though the picture certainly doesn’t really fulfil the promise of its first twenty minutes.
Of course any viewer noticing that a certain Alan Smithee [a commonly used pseudonym for someone who doesn’t want to be credited on a film] is credited as one of the two screenwriters should know not to expect too much, and we even get a fake scare involving a cat within a minute or so, though perhaps unfortunately the moment still worked for me so it’s not for me to criticise! The beginning scene of Lucas waking up at night and thinking someone’s in his house doesn’t really have a point to it, but we soon get the surprisingly gruesome and even quite intense sequence of Lucas trying to capture Max, who has body parts all over his kitchen and who even kills a little girl. The scene ends oddly and is then revealed to be a nightmare [though it’s also a flashback] – which happens to be a nightmare within a nightmare! It makes little sense but creates a very uneasy feel, and then before you can say the word Shocker we have a very memorable execution scene where Max seems to take forever to die [“Increase the voltage”!] and when he eventually does perishes very messily – though not before managing to get to his feet and say to Max: “I’m gonna tear your world apart, I’m coming back to f*** up”. Small wonder that this doesn’t give Max any closure whatsoever, though he totally dismisses the thoughts of Peter who tells him that Max’s spirit is probably still alive, something that we then see when Peter’s alone with Max, your usual old school whispy thingie escaping Max’s corpse to take residence in the McCarthy basement furnace.
Now I actually think that House 3 would have been better without the above-described scene because it tells us right away that some supernatural s*** is afoot, and would have made us wonder for a bit if all the strange things subsequently befalling Lucas, from seeing Max appearing on TV taking the form of a comedian telling sick jokes to receiving a phone call from him while he’s getting intimate with his long-suffering wife Donna asking him : “Did I catch you with your pants down”?, were actually happening at all, especially as, much like in the first film, nobody else seems to see everything. The constant repetition of wondering about/scare/wondering about does sometimes create some anxiety, and a scene where Lucas yells at Max but everybody else thinks he’s yelling at his daughter Bonnie’s boyfriend nicely leads to Lucas being accused of his murder later, but the reasons required to get various characters into the basement are awfully contrived, and the promise that the beginning scene seemed to make of lots of gore isn’t really kept, with all the murders cut away from. Despite this film initially being cut in the US and retaining it’s ’18’ certificate, I reckon it’ll probably just make a’15’ today. And the final third really does hark back to A Nightmare On Elm Street whose imagery and ideas this film unashamedly plunders throughout, but neither of the two directors have Craven’s skill at this kind of thing – though there’s an amusing yet slightly unpleasant stop motion bit with a turkey that along with a couple of other bits would fit straight into one of the Elm Street sequels.
The details of this film’s villain are never really explained despite Peter babbling on about pure evil consisting of electro magnetic energy – or something. Brion James is always great to watch and he is genuinely frightening here at times with a really evil laugh, but he can only do so much against poor writing and lackadaisical staging. Surely they could have thought of putting the character into something far less ordinary than the electricity supply? There’s an odd subplot involving the son Scott’s repeated attempts to scam large companies into sending him bulk quantities of their product. I couldn’t figure out why they included it, and it seems out of plac, though the film would have actually benefitted from more of such quirkiness. It’s just mostly a little bland but never terrible. The special effects moments, notably when James’s face pops up in a few bizarre places, are quite good but some seem a bit limited by the budget and perhaps don’t look quite as good as they’re supposed to, though as with much else in the film they’re never awful. The house in this film isn’t really a character like in the previous two films, and the interiors are less interesting, but then the latter was probably more in keeping with this particular story.
The fact that House 3 works as well as it does is largely down to Lance Henricksen, who really gives his cliched tormented cop character considerable power. He always seems to be on the verge of exploding and is sometimes more frightening than his opponent, which is actually a neat idea but as with much else in this film not really explored. The whole film has a flat TV movie look to it, the photography of Mac Ahlberg who did some good work in the first two House pictures being just okay, though one can understand why they wanted to give this instalment a different look. Likewise composer Harry Manfredini, who was clearly having fun with the first two films, doesn’t seem so interested in providing backing for this [mostly] darker endeavour. House 3 is certainly the weakest of the series so far, and not because it’s so different but because it just seems somewhat uninspired and pedestrian, though far worse horror films come out most weeks. The two stars are very good value and sometimes there are hints of the far better – and really dark – film which might have been.
This is the best looking of the films so far on Blu-ray, which in a way makes it a shame as it’s a considerably less appealing picture visually. The many sections with blue-ish lighting fare quite well and there’s plenty of crisp detail. For special features Arrow have really gone the extra mile here in including the uncut version which Scream Factory’s Region ‘A’ release didn’t contain. And as before they port over that version’s extras and add some new stuff. The audio commentary with Sean S. Cunningham is a great listen and recommended. Michael Felcher, who now has this kind of thing down to a tee, is on hand to keep asking him the right questions and Cunningham, even though he can’t always remember details, is happy to talk about every aspect of the production, including even the replacing of the original director, and clarifies the situation regarding the film’s titles and whether it really is a House film [it is, as it was originally intended by him to be one]. Cunningham admits that his concept for the franchise of unrelated haunted house stories was not the best idea, and even mentions that a reboot of the first film has been mooted [surprise surprise]. Cunningham, who I’ve always thought isn’t entirely happy with being almost totally associated with horror, also gives his views on things like filmmaking today. There isn’t anything that isn’t addressed and the two guys clearly get on well.
Then we have an interview with Kane Hodder who talks of doing his stunts and praises Ahlberg. He comes across as your typical movie stuntman – nuts, so enthusistic about things like being set on fire. An interview with Rita Taggart has her tell of how the firing of Blyth was a complete surprise, and relate an amusing story about Dedee Pfeiffer. Now we come to the new extras, the first being a chat with effects creators Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. As usual they’re good to listen to as they tell how bits were done and how House 3 was made at a time when quite often little of their work would end up in the film due to the MPAA. The second new extra is some behind the scenes stuff and it’s especially interesting as it shows two moments – Lucas putting his hand inside his chest and an extra gruesome sight in Max’s lair – which were cut from the finished film. A stills gallery completes this very decent release of an average horror film.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
*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 156-page book featuring new writing on the entire House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material
HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW
*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