by Jack Sommersby
Time would be better spent taking up stamp collecting or watching "Welcome Back, Kotter" reruns.Terror in the Aisles is a harmless but unnecessary compilation of horror and thriller movie clips that has no real reason for being except as an egregious exercise designed to try to pull in fans of those genres who can't find anything better to watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon. You're certainly afforded the opportunity to take in moments from several of your favorite movies, but they're bunched together through stunning obviousness from start to finish; there's a complete absence of genuine thematic insight that would give them some connective tissue -- you're watching clips and that's basically it, so there's very little point in paying good money for this rather than just going ahead and watching a favorite in its entirety. To give an idea of its lackadaisical creativity, the first sequence shows different female characters slamming doors shut against their inimical pursuers; next, we have a bunch of characters getting grabbed by those pursuers in "Gotcha!" shock moments -- without suitable build-up leading up to these, they're merely shots that we take in without much in the way of psyched-up apprehension and emotional investment. (Put a first-year, first-semester film student in a bare-bones editing room and he or she could produce a similar mechanical collage.) And adding insult to injury are the inane commentaries by Donald Pleasance (Halloween) and Nancy Allen (Dressed to Kill), who sit in a scummy movie theatre with equally-scummy-looking patrons and offer up the following mind-bending complexities:
"Why make up terrors when there's so much terror in the real world? Perhaps we invent artificial horrors to help us cope with the real ones."
"No wonder these films give us nightmares. Or, is it, our nightmares that give us these films?"
(Somehow, I don't think Sigmund Freud or Bertrand Russell are weeping with envy in their graves over these far-from-shattering insights.)
The movie has been advertised and marketed to appeal to horror fans, and while it indeed shows clips from cinematic fare like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, Friday the 13th, and the first two of the Halloween series, it also throws in many from thrillers like Marathon Man, Play Misty for Me, Nighthawks, Midnight Express, Klute and Ms. .45. If a character is being terrorized by slash-and-dice psychos Michael Myers or Leatherface, or by more down-to-earth humans like Laurence Olivier's Nazi torturer or Rutger Hauer's international terrorist, they're all being, well, terrorized, which the inept director, Andrew J. Kuehn, who's only helmed one feature-length fictional film, has myopically generalized to the nth degree. And the villains, well, they're just, you know, bad guys. (Pleasance: "In the end, they simply don't distinguish between right and wrong. Perhaps they don't know the difference." Gee, ya don't say?) Bafflingly, even though Terror in the Aisles has been released by Universal Studios, which accounts for many of the clips having come from movies from their vaults, there's not a single shot from or mention of the greatest psychological horror film of all time, 1933's The Invisible Man. Rather, we get brief bits from Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Dracula that are thrown in simply to aver that these films relied on strong monster characters unlike later horror entries, which is eye-rolling in that Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger haven't exactly been utilized merely as minor characters in their numerous outings. Duh.
Even more tritely, Allen ruefully comments on so many female characters of the slasher subgenre being vicitmized, especially if they indulge in sex, like it were a misogynic, pathetic thing on the part of male directors. But then, right when we expect some development of this, the matter is dropped like a sixty-four-cent pair of socks; and it's something of a curiosity that of all actresses, it's Allen, who played sexually-promiscuous victims in ex-husband Brian De Palma's Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out, is the one hypocritically mouthing this. Plus, what are we to make of her incredulous mutterings that these characters usually survive, when the vast majority most certainly do not (two of hers didn't), and that the sex they do engage in rarely results in pleasure, which P.J. Soles' Linda in Halloween and Jeannine Taylor's Marcie in Friday the 13th, who experienced mind-blowing orgasms before being slaughtered in their post-coital states, would definitely disagree with. (David J. Hogan's fascinating book Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film dealt with this subject matter oodles and eons better.) On the matter of screams, we're shown Janet Leigh's famous shower-murder scene from Psycho with Allen spewing, "You can close your eyes, but you can't close your ears," and you want to scream at her, "No, but you can cover them, you hopeless dingbat!" Seriously, did Allen undergo some kind of frontal lobotomy before agreeing to give lip service to all this vacuous verbiage?
Terror in the Aisles has quite the flimsy reason for being because it doesn't do anything particularly substantial. It obviously relishes the early horror movies and those of Hitchcock, but it doesn't have the guts to critically contrast these with some of the crummy, low-grade later movies that were spawned from them -- like the females-as-victims thing, it's left hanging in the air. Why couldn't Kuehn have employed the movie-within-a-movie setting by cannily manipulating us into not always being sure if we were watching Pleasance and Allen in their movies being shown and them being in the audience? I'm not asking for something as semi-brilliantly conceived as Bigas Luna's outstanding 1987 Anguish, but to never make any kind of tie-in with Pleasance and Allen as actors and Pleasance and Allen playing audience members is awfully negligible. And why, pray tell, wait until near the end to show just one clip each from two great monster movies, the original The Fly and 1981's Alligator, after we've been given countless ones from so many non-horror movies? (C'mon, did we really need to see clips from the horrid Morgan Fairchild stalker movie The Seduction?) The whole enterprise lacks the enjoyable trashiness and giddy sense of fun of Robert Worms' 1983 horror-movie compilation Terror on Tape, which served up bits from an array of low-budget B-movies along with hammy B-actor Cameron Mitchell as a kooky video-store owner giving kooky commentaries on it all. Just five minutes from that tasty treat leaves the endlessly-erroneous and arid Terror in the Aisles in the dust.Skip it, trust me.
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originally posted: 10/16/11 12:32:45