After House II: The Second Story took the franchise in a more kid-oriented direction, producer Sean. S. Cunningham and director James Isaac decided some whiplash was in order.
House III: The Horror Show is so tonally off from all other installments in the House franchise, you’d at a glance never assume it to be among such company. Probably because the movie itself doesn’t seem to know if it’s part of the House franchise, but we’ll get to that.
House III: The Horror Show (1989)
Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen) has just sent notorious serial killer Max Jenke (Brion James) to the chair, but his nightmare has only begun. Having experimented with electricity before being captured, Jenke uses the voltage of the chair to free his soul from his body. Jenke’s malevolent spirit takes up residence in McCarthy’s home, tormenting his family and driving him insane. McCarthy has to figure out a way to eliminate Jenke once and for all before he has to take the rap for the killer’s post-humus murders.
The original House was a horror-comedy. House II was a light-hearted monster movie for kids. House III is a relentlessly dark and unpleasant psychological supernatural horror film filled with cruel characters and brutal murders. Tonally, it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series at all.
Heck, forget matters of tone; it doesn’t even belong in a franchise called House, either. As the name suggests, these movies are about haunted houses, where the domiciles have personality and history and are as much a character in the film as the people. House III pays no heed to the house in the film. It’s just some generic suburban joint and I don’t think it even gets a decent exterior shot. While yes, the house is haunted, the house-itself is nothing special. This is more of a slasher film where the villain by happenstance is also a ghost hiding in a basement boiler. Maybe if this franchise was called Spook or Phantom, then this flick would’ve been a better fit, but the house plays no part in House III.
From what I’ve read, this may not have even been intended to BE an installment in the House franchise when it was filmed. It was released in the United States as just The Horror Show and only retroactively had the House III branding attached to it for international distribution. I guess after it flopped in the US, Cunningham figured some brand recognition would give it a boost in foreign markets.
What’s even weirder is that when they got to the next REAL sequel in the franchise, they kept the numbering going based on the foreign title for The Horror Show being House III. So that’s why every time you went to the video store in the ’90s, you only ever saw House, House II and House IV on the shelf and never, EVER saw House III. Because in the US there was no House III.
And if you think THAT’S confusing, do some reading on the Italian House franchise (La Casa). It’s like six or eight movies strong except it’s a continuation of the Evil Dead films, however it doesn’t include Army of Darkness but DOES include House II and House III (but not House and House IV).
This tangent about franchise numbering is the most interesting conversation House III: The Horror Show has ever drummed up. The movie-itself is a plodding bore, filled with dry, clichéd characters and the least interested Lance Henriksen you’re likely to see until the made-for-Syfy Pumpkinhead sequels.
What’s worse is that the same year House III came out, Wes Craven’s Shocker ALSO hit theaters, which is almost EXACTLY the same movie, only better in every way. And keep in mind that Shocker isn’t even that good in and of itself; the thing’s just better than House III.
House III: The Horror Show is an incompetent mess of a movie. As a kid, I considered it a “lost film” because I could never find it (since in the US it was never known as House III). Thanks to the internet, I was able to find out why I could never locate the thing, and also thanks to the internet, I was finally able to watch it.
Thanks for nothing, internet.