APRIL 25, 2010
I really didn’t know what Terror In The Aisles was until I sat down to watch it at the New Beverly this morning. I thought Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen were sort of hosts, presenting a bunch of scenes from classic horror movies. But it’s really sort of a basic documentary, with Pleasence and Allen sitting in separate crowded theatres, talking about some basic principles of horror movies and showing a bunch of context-less, untitled clips from a variety of horror movies, including Halloween, Jaws, and... To Catch A Thief?
Yeah, they get pretty lazy with their selections. I mean, I can sort of accept This Island Earth, because it has aliens, but To Catch A Thief? It’s probably the LEAST horror-y of Hitchcock’s well known pictures. Marathon Man, Midnight Express, Nighthawks, and Klute are also included (the first three in a long segment that is practically sans narration entirely, so it's like a different movie entirely for a while). But yet, despite being released in 1984, only one of the three Friday the 13th films (Part 2) are accounted for, and it skips over a great number of the slasher films of 1980-1982. One might argue that they were trying to stick to classier movies, but they have The Funhouse, which is not a classic, or even a big hit. I assume that they simply couldn’t get the rights to certain films, but even that can’t really explain the lack of Friday 1. Paramount gave them Part 2 (and several other films, including To Catch A Thief) but not the first?*
But who cares? The movie is a delight! Over 80 minutes you get to see a lot of key moments from a variety of horror films, which is all the more fun in a theatre, because people will cheer when their favorite movie shows up. You can also gauge how much they really know about certain movies - a scene from Scanners showed up early on and no one made a sound, but 10 minutes later when the head explosion scene began, everyone cheered. It’s like when you go to see Meat Loaf in concert and half the crowd stops singing along with "Anything For Love" when the 2nd, usually edited verse kicks in. REAL FANS KNOW THE FULL VERSION!
And you also get the surreal experience of watching Donald Pleasence watch Halloween in a crowded theatre, even yelling “Get him!” at Laurie Strode at one point (but Donald, if she does, you’re not going to be able to SHOOT HIM SIX TIMES! in a few minutes!). I kept hoping someone else in the crowd would be like “Yo, Pleasence, shut up!”, or that he and Nancy Allen would ultimately share a scene, but alas, we have to settle for them doing their thing solo, and with no one in the crowd seemingly noticing that they’re going on and on while they’re trying to watch a movie. Also, Allen has far less screen time, and added with the fact that she appears to be in a different theatre, I suspect that they needed more of these segments and couldn’t get Pleasence to come back for more, so they got Allen to do a few instead. And Pleasence is far more fun to watch; Allen is hot, yes, but she’s got nothing on Sir Donald, who occasionally bugs the other patrons, overacts (his depressed expression when he talks about how the real world is scary enough is worth the price of admission alone), and generally just plays up his usual batshit persona. His “it’s only a movie!” outcry at the end, before realizing that the movie is indeed over and that he’s the only one left in the theatre is so awesome, I didn’t even mind that it ended without really giving Allen a sendoff.
Also, Allen has to deliver one of the more ridiculous sentiments, that the victim (singular?) in a horror movie is usually a woman. Statistically, a female character is more likely to survive a horror movie than a male. I can think of a few where the male and female leads survived (like the later (post-Aisles) Friday the 13th movies), and obviously a ton of them where just the female lived, but apart from Shocker, I can’t think of too many that have only male survivors. There’s also a rape scene (from Ms. 45) and a lot of Jack terrorizing poor Wendy in The Shining, so if someone were to watch Terror in the Aisles without knowing much about horror movies, or even having SEEN one, they would probably think that they were just excuses to attack/kill women, instead of the opposite, which is that it’s the only genre in which women regularly get to be strong and courageous (if only in the final 10 minutes, but it's still more than usual. It’s not like Jamie Lee was the one who took down the terrorist in True Lies).
Otherwise, basic and “yeah, no shit” as they may be, the movie makes some decent points about why people like horror movies. Dealing with fears in a manageable way, cheap thrill for a date, etc are all addressed here, and when delivered by Donald Pleasence, they even sound classy (more evidence that Allen wasn’t part of the plan - a British guy makes anything sound good). Sure, I can think of better examples for some of the sentiments - Pleasence notes that you don’t have to “go looking for trouble to find it” over clips from the 1978 Body Snatchers, instead of something like The Funhouse, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or Suspiria (all movies used in other sections) - but I like that they didn’t just stick to slasher movies or whatever; I could probably match a movie to each of my genre tags. Even musical - Phantom of the Paradise pops up (as do several of De Palma’s films), which reminded me that I need to watch it again.
Halloween purists such as myself are likely to be annoyed with the presentation of the film, however. They play the synthy version of the score from Halloween II over clips of the original, or play some crappy knockoff version. I’m not sure if it was an editing decision or some sort of rights issue (“you can have the video, but not the audio!”) but just about every clip from Halloween is presented with “alternate” audio, something that doesn’t seem to affect the other films (though to be honest I probably wouldn’t be as privy to it for other films).
Sadly, the film is unavailable on DVD (in region 1 anyway), due to the various clips being used (many of which are now owned by different companies than the ones listed in the end credits, i.e. Halloween now belonging to Anchor Bay), and the VHS is obviously out of print (plus cropped - I don’t know how the split screen segment from Carrie would look in 1.33:1, and frankly I don’t want to!). Not only would I love to throw the film on from time to time (it'd be great background stuff for a party), I’d also love to hear the filmmakers talk about the process of putting it together, or why they even did it in the first place. And I love that it was a theatrical release, ironically opening against, and besting, De Palma’s Body Double in October of 1984 (America said “We don’t want to watch your new movie, we want to watch a bunch of edited, largely out of context clips from your old ones!”). In fact it was very close to being on top overall; according to boxofficemojo, its take was only 11k less than the #1 movie (The Terminator), which has to be one of the narrowest photo finishes at the box office ever. I wonder if people even knew what they were getting into then, since 26 years later I was still a bit fuzzy on the movie’s purpose as I sat down. No matter, I had a damn fun time watching it, and that’s more than I can say about a lot of stuff (even some of the movies featured). Bring on the remake! Maybe they can get Malcolm McDowell to yell at Zombie's Halloween along with the rest of the crowd.
What say you?
*There IS a shot of Jason popping out of the lake to drag Alice under, but this is apparently the shot from Part 2, as the first film is not listed in the end credits with all the others. Unless it was an oversight on the credits, but if so it is still the only clip from the film that is present.