The unexpectedly popular 1980s horror compilation might be almost forgotten today, but it still packs a punch.
Compilation horror movies became quite the thing in the 1980s – usually pitched at the splatter video crowd with an emphasis on blood and boobs. But 1984’s Terror in the Aisles, which arguably started the trend, was an altogether classier affair, one that became an unexpected theatrical hit on its original release. Who thought that cinema audiences would want to watch a bunch of clips from movies spliced together? But this wasn’t your random mish-mash of clips, often made to push a label’s product – it was a slickly edited affair that managed the seemingly impossible – taking clips out of context and removed from the narrative tensions that made the original films so effective and somehow making them work as a new piece, with the editing creating a new level of intensity during the film. It’s part documentary – with Nancy Allen and Donald Pleasence offering some not-exactly-insightful commentary about why we enjoy being scared – but works best as a series of moments that show the similarities and tropes of the genre (admittedly, mostly bigger budget and American films) and make them work in a music video level of audio-visual excess. Notably, director Andrew J. Kuehn cut his teeth editing trailers, and this film has the same breathless intensity as the best coming attractions promo.
Fans at the time were quick to criticise the film for the amount of non-horror films crowbarred into proceedings – Nighthawks, Marathon Man, To Catch a Thief, Midnight Express and others – but of course, it is ‘terror’ and not ‘horror’ that the title references – and over the years, many of us have come to have a much wider definition of what is a horror film anyway. Seen now, almost four decades on, the film feels curiously nostalgic – a study of the genre as it was at the time (‘the time’ mostly being the 1970s and early 1980s) and so very much removed from the current style of the genre. It feels like a museum piece, which is perhaps why it hasn’t seen any significant release since the mid-Eighties (presumably, clearing the rights for using the clips on Blu-ray or such would also be a logistical nightmare). But I think time has been kind to Kuehn’s film and it would be a shame for it to vanish into oblivion. Luckily, it is available – for now – online. Enjoy!
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