Saturday, October 27, 2007

The October Ordeal Day 26: Terror in the Aisles

October 26th: Terror in the Aisles (1984)

Andrew J. Kuehn's Terror in the Aisles is a collection of clips from (mostly) horror movies. While this has becomes a sort of cottage industry now (Something Weird Samplers; Synapse's excellent 42nd Street Forever series) with the advent of DVD, there were plenty of themed trailer collections in the days of VHS as well. Often, these tapes are simply commercials for a distribution company's back catalog. Terror in the Aisles is neither a nostalgic gimmick nor a marketing strategy, Kuehn seems to really love film. The objective here isn't to sell you on lesser-known fright films, its to remind you why the ones you already know about are still relevant. This is the intent anyway. The films on display are the bright lights of the genre: The Thing, Carrie, Scanners, Jaws, An American Werewolf in London, Exorcist, and Chainsaw Massacre.

Oh yeah, and Halloween. Lots and lots of clips from Halloween. This may have something to do with one of the hosts of the anthology: Loomis himself. Donald Pleasence hosts Terror in the Aisles along with Nancy Allen as his counterpoint. Pleasence, basically playing Loomis, roams a dark theater, where a room full of actors respond to unseen images on the big screen. Allen appears mostly in voice only, but occasionally the roaming camera will find her in one of the rows. Despite Pleasence's typical theatrics, Allen's calm, controlled demeanor is the real commanding presence in the film. Pleasence is grim, cryptic, teacherly; Allen is more inviting, inclusive in her earnestness (she's clearly having a blast). The typical Pleasence line goes something like: "There's something delicious about fear," or: "Perhaps we invent artificial horrors to help us cope with the real ones." Not limited to these wrap-around scenes, Allen and Pleasence are heard throughout, often speaking over clips.

The clips are divided into thematic clusters. One for Hitchcock features archival interviews with Hitch, and is the only section to feature a filmmaker speaking on his or her work. One section weighs the merits of suspense building over sudden shocks (Alien is used, as well as Jaws). A bizarre section on villains introduces clips from films which aren't in the horror genre (Nighthawks?), including clips from Vice Squad featuring Wings Hauser. At this point Nancy Allen takes over to host the bulk of the final segments.

Allen introduces a segment on women in horror with "And, unfortunately, in these movies, the victim is almost always... a woman.", and later adds "We are all born... totally vulnerable... slowly but surely, we learn to be afraid. We're taught the difference between right and wrong... and yet we're only human." This is in sharp contrast to Pleasence's constant talk of "evil" and "the Devil". I can't say whether Kuehn intended for their to be a difference in viewpoint, but it sure seems that way. Kuehn introduced the segment this way in order to examine closely the genre, to criticise it if necessary. Alas, the message only seems to be that this is unfortunate for the female characters themselves, which is obvious. Allen: "What the one thing these films have in common? People in trouble! [extreme playfulness here] And what gets people in trouble? Sex!" This is a totally irrelevant and tasteless section serving only to get some tits into the film, including revealing shots of Allen herself in Dressed to Kill. Yet, Allen also recites, with a sincere critical tone, "In terror films, sex rarely ends in pleasure; it ends in violence." If Kuehn meant only to point to abusers on screen, Allen seems to question certain filmmaker's motives via the power of her delivery.

A short section on science fiction is also included. Pleasence: "Malevolent life forms from other planets may jeopardize our position as supreme beings on this planet." Clips from the Body Snatchers remake are then shown. At the end Pleasence comes back to talk about horror's evolution from the Famous Monsters to slashers, and a truly awful song, "They're not very nice," by Larry Weiss, plays over some recap clips. After this, an unhinged Pleasence sits in the vacated theater: "It's only a movie... it's only a movie... but sooner or later, you must leave the theater and go home, perhaps alone!" This is all great fun. The interstitial bits are actually the best part of the film. Light on insightful commentary, it's a bit of a bore to sit through too-long scenes from movies best viewed as a whole, even if they are occasionally edited together in interesting ways (example: dialog from Rosemary's Baby and The Omen spliced: "God help me!" "God is dead!"). If someone makes a comp clip of just these theater scenes, definitely watch it. In the meantime, just watch the films themselves.

(This is kind of a cop-out review. Gimme a break I was busy today.)


Bemis said...

That Wings Hauser movie is Vice Squad - I looked it up after watching Terror in the Aisles, as the clips included are surprisingly strong. Martin Scorsese counts it among his favorite films of the 80's - it's on my Netflix queue, so it remains to be seen if he's right.

Also according to the IMDb, this made about $8 million. Can you imagine people paying to see a compilation film? Incredible!

My favorite meta-moment in Terror in the Aisles is Donald Pleasance, terrified, yelling "Get out!" or something like that at a scene of himself in Halloween. While I like all kinds of movies, horror was really my entry into the medium, and I could have easily become one of those stoner conventioners you mentioned in your Fangoria review. No matter how stilted or pointless stuff like Terror in the Aisles is, it hits the spot.

Endless Greg said...

After I posted this review I began surfing the tube and was shocked to see Chiller (Directv's horror network) actually playing the damn thing!

It is actually a lot of fun to watch, perhaps even more than the Synapse comps; I could easily watch an entire feature-length film of Pleasence stalking that theater.