I have loved horror movies ever since I was a young child. My appreciation for horror literature however, would come later. While most horror movie documentaries concern the making of the film and the challenges in bringing the monster to life, Terror in the Aisles, from 1984, was the first movie that I remember that addressed the nature of horror itself. It has stuck with me for over thirty years.
No wonder these films give us nightmares. Or, is it our nightmares that give us these films?
An excerpt from the dialogue
T.E.M. Programs International presents a Kaleidoscope Films, Ltd. Production Terror in the Aisles. Terror in the Aisles was released in theaters in late 1984 by Universal Pictures with an 84 minute runtime. Building on the massive success of the Halloween and Friday the 13th movie franchises, this program is hosted and narrated by Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen. Nancy’s voice is gentle and sweet. While Donald’s, on the other hand, is creepy all by itself.
Terror in the Aisles is exclusively concerned with the genre of horror in films; though it does explore various subgenres of horror as well. In addition to the hosts’ dialogue, the documentary is made up of numerous movie clips. No dialogue from these clips will be included in this post. Only the words spoken by the two hosts will be documented here, with one exception. A sizeable excerpt from The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock (1973) is included. It presents Hitchcock’s thoughts on the nature of horror and suspense in his own words and is thus worthy of inclusion.
Presented below is the complete dialogue, as described above, from the documentary. All screen captures from the film were executed by me. As a disclaimer, I should state that the presentation of the dialogue and screen captures is for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended.
TERROR IN THE AISLES (1984)
Host: Donald Pleasance
Hostess: Nancy Allen
DONALD – 0:56
As you watch the screen, you heart begins to beat faster. There’s a fluttering in the pit of your stomach. Your throat is dry; your palms damp. Suddenly, a chill runs down your spine. You clutch the person next to you. You tell yourself, “It’s only a movie.”
It’s only a movie.
But sooner or later, it’s time to go home.
DONALD – 4:22
There’s no question about it. Some terror films go too far. But so do the audiences. First, they start grabbing each other; which is all very well, if you have a date. And before long, people are yelling at the character on the screen.
NANCY – 5:24
It’s strange, isn’t it? In real life, nobody likes to think about violence, pain, blood and death. But project these experiences on a screen, and people form lines in the street.
That’s because a terror film is a lot like a roller-coaster ride. Only, you’re sitting in a theater, which is relatively safe
DONALD – 6:27
Maybe, deep down, we have a need to be scared. Why else do we go to these movies? Perhaps we’re taking a dare, proving to ourselves that we’re not afraid. Besides, there’s something delicious about fear; especially somebody else’s.
Scary movies tap into your childhood fears of the dark, and of being alone.
NANCY – 8:15
Young or old, we go to the movies to see out dreams and fantasies come to life.
But not all of our fantasies are wholesome and dignified.
DONALD – 8:26
In the privacy of our thoughts, we can be as childish as we like. And the little scenarios of power and revenge we conjure up can be quite satisfying. Resorting to violence to get back at someone might not be your cup of tea. But I’ll bet you’ve thought about it. We all carry around a certain amount of resentment and rage because we can’t let it out. In the movies, we can.
The question is why make up horrible things when there is so much real terror in the world? Perhaps we invent artificial horrors to help us cope with the real ones.
In 1974, a picture came out that was inspired by a true story. It was called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and in it, the character of Leatherface was based on Ed Gein, a mass murderer and grave robber who lived in a small, isolated town. Gein was a cannibal, a necrophile, and a transvestite. But he didn’t dress up in women’s clothes. He dressed up in their skin.
No wonder these films give us nightmares. Or, is it our nightmares that give us these films? That’s the trick isn’t it? Once the lights go down, whatever you see, whatever you can’t see, whatever you think you see, is out of your control. You’re at the mercy of the filmmakers.
DONALD – 15:15
When the camera takes on the point of view of the killer, we see what they see, not who they are.
NANCY – 16:05
Of course, you can always close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.
DONALD – 16:47
And yet, keeping your eyes open is a good idea, especially if you’re out on a night with a full moon, because you never know what’s in store for you. Years ago, when filmmakers wanted to transform someone into a werewolf, the actor just sat still and trick photography did all the work.
Today, people are more sophisticated. And becoming a werewolf can take a lot out of you. Combining skill, ingenuity, and a strong stomach, artists and technicians continue to defy logic, stagger the imagination, and astound our senses; all the time raising the stakes.
NANCY – 18:48
But special effects are not essential to a good movie. It’s the filmmaker’s technique that matters most. And the unquestioned master was Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock – 19:40
When I say that I’m not interested in content, it would be the same as a painter worrying about whether the apples that he’s paining, whether they’re sweet or sour. Who cares?
It’s his style, his manner of painting them. That’s where the emotion comes from.
This scene is forty-five seconds long, but was made up out of seventy-eight pieces of film coming onto the screen in great rapidity. But the overall impression given the audience is one of an alarming, devastation murder scene.
NANCY – 22:08
The fact is, from the moment you buy that ticket, you know you’re gonna get it. It’s just a question of how, where, and when. The name of the game is suspense.
DONALD – 23:22
In effect, the filmmaker says to the audience, “Now, get ready. You’re going to see something that’s going to scare you. But I’m not going to tell you when.”
You’re being programmed to go nuts.
Alfred Hitchcock – 25:33
The essential fact is, to get real suspense; you must let the audience have information. Now let’s take the old fashioned “bomb theory.”
You and I are sitting, talking, we’ll say about baseball. We’re talking for five minutes. Suddenly, a bomb goes off, and the audience have [sic] a ten second terrible shock.
Now, let’s take the same situation, tell the audience at the beginning that under the table, and show it to them, there’s a bomb, and it’s gonna go off in five minutes. And we talk baseball. What are [sic] the audience doing? They’re saying, “Don’t talk about baseball, there‘s a bomb under there. Get rid of it.”
But they’re helpless. They can’t jump out of their seats up onto the screen and grab hold of the bomb and throw it out.
DONALD – 27:10
Shock and surprise are very different from suspense. If you want to shock people, you just have to catch them off guard, and then clobber them.
That was shocking, wasn’t it?
But suspense can be equally brutal.
Terror owes its very existence to the one group of characters devoted to its cause—the villains. From the dangerously disturbed to the thoroughly demented, they run the gamut in age, appearance, even occupation. And yet, they can be encouraging. They can be disarming. They can be reassuring. You may even be married to one. So that even when you’re certain of who they really are, there’s still no guarantee that you’re safe. At times we can’t help but marvel at their cleverness. Slick and calculating, when it comes to cruelty, they seem so self assured. The most compelling villains are often the most confident. For each villain brings a style and method to his madness. Untroubled by conscience, their capacity for evil has no limit. Some are capable of doing anything. In the end, they simply don’t distinguish between right and wrong. Perhaps they don’t know the difference. Perhaps they just don’t care. Whether they are ruthless, desperate or totally deranged, however unstable the villains, they are the ultimate figures in power. So no matter how much they make us hate them, they know how to make us watch them.
NANCY – 40:41
We are all born helpless. As infants, we’re dependant on others for food, shelter, for life itself. We’re 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, and we sometimes take foolish risks. Even when we know it’s dangerous. By the time we regret what we’ve done, it may already be too late. But what’s most frightening of all is that for reasons beyond our control, for reasons beyond our comprehension, or worst of all, for no reason whatsoever at anytime, at anyplace, we may find ourselves a victim.
Since vulnerability is the key, the victim is usually alone.
And unfortunately, in these movies, the victim is almost always a woman. To make thing worse, she maybe fully aware of the danger, but helpless to do anything about it, giving the villains an edge they’re only too willing to exploit. On the other hand, she may be totally unaware that se is in any danger at all.
DONALD – 51:18
You don’t have to be looking for trouble to find it. Evil can come from anywhere. Arriving mysteriously from outer space, or appearing suddenly here on Earth, on land or at sea. Environments once familiar, even pleasurable, become bewildering and ominous, concealing and protecting the enemy, while leaving us exposed. But of course, nature is not always to blame.
Malevolent life forms from other worlds may jeopardize our position as the supreme beings on this planet. How do we fight what we don’t understand? How can we triumph over the unknown? Evil doesn’t have to come from another world to control life here on Earth.
Our oldest fear, the devil himself, can take on any form; even that of a child.
More frightening still, are those who worship the power of evil.
The potential for evil may be hidden within all of us. Most of us never discover it. Some of us do. Who are we? What is inside us? And what if that which we held back suddenly were let go? In a world where evil plays without rules, no one is beyond reach. It’s no longer a question of what’s to become of us. But rather, what we are to become.
NANCY – 62:23
Now what’s the one thing these films have in common? People in trouble. And what’s the easiest way to get into trouble? Sex. And it always has been.
Even in real life, sex has its dangers. Because it makes people take chances. But usually, they survive. In a terror film, you don’t even have to take a chance. Just take a walk alone at night, and that may be the last we see of you. A moonlight swim in the nude is definitely a bad idea. In the bedroom, anything can happen. Heaven help you if sex is your profession. These films will put an end to your career, permanently.
In terror films, sex rarely ends with pleasure.
It ends in violence.
And since you’re never more vulnerable than when you’re naked, the bathroom is the most dangerous place of all.
DONALD – 71:35
In the beginning, horror films were dominated by the classic figures: Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man. But as the years passed they began to lose their shock value and found themselves being used to create the opposite effect. As horror and comedy became more intertwined, it was hard to know how to react.
Or, how to feel.
It’s only a movie…It’s only a movie.
But sooner or later, you must leave the theater…and go home.
While Terror in the Aisles is presented in a clip-show format (meaning that it is primarily comprised of numerous clips from movies), what makes this film a valuable example of an early documentary of horror movies are the hosts’ dialogue. Their words, in my opinion, offer superb comments on the philosophy and psychology behind horror films, as well as an early attempt to place the horror movie in a larger societal context.
Though not necessarily Academy Award material, Terror in the Aisles performed surprisingly well. According to its entry in IMDB, the film grossed over $10 million at the box office! This might not seem any great amount, but remember, this was for a horror movie documentary released in theaters in 1984. Pretty damn impressive, I say. And yet, despite this more-than-decent box office showing, most critics back then (and indeed now) gave the film negative reviews. (Being completely honest, I don’t put much stock in movie critics.)
“No wonder these films give us nightmares. Or, is it our nightmares that give us these films?” For me, this one statement of two sentences is probably one of the most profound expressions concerning the nature of horror that I have ever encountered. More than any one thing, this statement reinvigorated my love of horror as an adult and set me upon that road which I am still happily exploring. Terror in the Aisles, via the hosts’ spoken words, seeks to not only express the shared joy of the horror genre in film and print, but far more importantly, strives to understand why there IS a horror genre in the first place.
Terror in the Aisles. Dir. Andrew J. Kuehn. Hosts Donald Pleasance & Nancy Allen. Universal Pictures. Oct. 1984. Online. 20 November 2017. http://putlockers.plus/watch/oxQW1Vdn-terror-in-the-aisles.html
Fure, Robert. “31 Days of Horror: Terror in the Aisles.” Film School Rejects. Reject Media 2018. 01 November 2011. Web. 21 December 2018. https://filmschoolrejects.com/31-days-of-horror-terror-in-the-aisles-c6459c36ecf9/
Gallman, Brett. “Terror in the Aisles (1984).” Oh, the Horror! 18 September 2011. Web. 21 December 2018. http://www.oh-the-horror.com/page.php?id=939
Horrorpedia contributors. “Terror in the Aisles – USA, 1984.” Horrorpedia. 10 September 2016. Web. 19 December 2018. https://horrorpedia.com/2016/09/10/terror-in-the-aisles-reviews-1984-horror-movie-documentary-overview/
Roscoe, J.P. “Terror in the Aisles (1984).” Basement Rejects. 15 October 2017. Web. 22 December 2018. http://basementrejects.com/review/terror-in-the-aisles-1984/
“Terror in the Aisles (1984).” The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com, Inc. Web. 23 December 2018. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088249/
“Terror in the Aisles (1984) Movie Script.” Springfield! Springfield! Web. 21 December 2018. https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=terror-in-the-aisle
The Horror Club contributors. “Blu-ray Review: Terror in the Aisles (1984).” The Horror Club. 04 May 2016. Web. 20 December 2018. https://thehorrorclub.blogspot.com/2016/05/blu-ray-review-terror-in-aisles-1984.html#.XB-8wFxKiUl
“The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock (1973).” Cinephilia & Beyond. Web. 22 December 2018. https://cinephiliabeyond.org/men-made-movies-alfred-hitchcock-1973/
“The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock (1973).” The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com, Inc. Web. 23 December 2018. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069686/
Wikipedia contributors. “Terror in the Aisles.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 07 December 2018. Web. 20 December 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_in_the_Aisles