Thursday, October 27, 2011

Terror in the Aisles

Boy, this must've sounded good on paper. Or in pitch meetings. Imagine a non-stop barrage of all the best scare scenes from horror films/thrillers from the past 30 + years! No boring expositions or slow dialogue scenes! 1984's failed collage TERROR IN THE AISLES has this as its promising premise. Unfortunately, a seemingly promising idea is wrapped in a completely misguided one.

Almost immediately, this film is a bust. How could it miss? TERROR IN THE AISLES is narrated by 2 latter day stars of horror cinema: Nancy Allen (DRESSED TO KILL) and Donald Pleasance (HALLOWEEN). You might rightly wonder why the "Queen of scream" of the late 70s/early 80s Jamie Lee Curtis (HALLOWEEN, TERROR TRAIN, PROM NIGHT....)didn't participate. The narration is obvious and silly, and not only in voiceover; we also see Allen and Pleasance sitting in movie theaters amongst terrified patrons, reacting to the clips in TERROR's anthology. If the commentary had been insightful, it might've been interesting. Instead, we get lines like, "why would we subject ourselves to these movies when there's plenty of real horror in the world?" We also see the moviegoers clutching each other, covering their eyes, screaming. To remind us that the films showcased are scary.

It reminded me of a test I put to certain genre films, namely comedy and horror. If a film needs an audience to tell me that it is funny or scary, it is a failure. I don't need a group of strangers to dictate or validate my reactions.

But many would cite the joy of the filmgoing experience, the collective thrill of screaming and laughing along with those strangers. How a good laugh or scare is perhaps the great equalizer. I might've thought that once. I still do enjoy seeing movies in the theater, but for the excitement of the big screen and big sound and the unquantifiable magic that occurs. The other people in the theater have often been the downside to the experience: the obnoxious comments, the cell phone chatter, the fidgeters, the noisy eaters, on and on.

But, rethinking, many of the films featured in TERROR IN THE AISLES perhaps play best with audiences shouting out instructions to those being chased by serial killers in masks. During a clip from HALLOWEEN, when Curtis wearily discards a knife, one of the actors in the fake movie theater yells, "don't drop that, you asshole!"

That is accurate. During my many nights of spending my allowance or fast-food job earned cash on all those 80s slashers, the audience was almost as much spectacle as the films themselves. In writing this review, I recalled all those Friday and Saturday nights at the Cross County 8 and Village Green theaters, listening as people broke wind, threw things, and argued and threatened each other if they didn't shut up. Those crowds were rowdy. I guess Freddy Krueger or Jason inspires such behavior. TERROR IN THE AISLES' audience does not exhibit this sort of action (aside from Ms. Curtis' heckler); it should've, it would've been more precise and entertaining.

But what about the clips themselves? We are shown key moments from:

JAWS
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
CARRIE
THE SHINING
SCANNERS
THE FURY
THE THING (1982)
PSYCHO
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
WAIT UNTIL DARK
POLTERGEIST
THE EXORCIST
THE BIRDS
VIDEODROME....

.....and many others. There are also clips, to no great effect, from films not classified as horror, like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, KLUTE, VICE SQUAD, and the 1981 Sylvester Stallone cop drama NIGHTHAWKS. Then there are comedic scenes from PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and the intriguingly awful ALONE IN THE DARK, featuring a clearly slumming (and hammy) Martin Landau. Archival footage of Alfred Hitchcock describing his cinematic methods is even featured. TERROR IN THE AISLES attempts to link the assembled clips thematically, but it just doesn't really make any sense. Many of these scenes are undeniably effective (the stomach burst in ALIEN, the transformation in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) but thrown together in this hodgepodge, it is almost ineffectual. The movie, as a result, is poorly paced and even boring! Not the wild ride that was intended.

This idea could work. Just edit the scenes to a mix of your favorite disturbing music. Correctly match the intensity of the visual and the aural. Rob Zombie or Ministry for the carnage, Incubus or Morphine for the slow dread, fast, dissonant classical piece of your choice for the chase scenes...TERROR IN THE AISLES might've been a decent trash classic if it were constructed as a music video. In this age of decreasing attention spans, it would be apt.

I'm not advocating for a remake, mind you, because then we'd have to suffer through scenes of the HOSTEL and SAW films and the like. If you really want to have a horror film marathon this Halloween, you'd be better off just getting the original films in their entirety. Good advice: skip any film that has "DON'T" in the title.

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