JULY 26 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : NIGHTTRAIN MURDERS
Aldo Lado is one of the most interesting, yet least known of the many Italian directors who were churning out genre films in the early 70’s. His debut film was the marvellous SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS (1971), and he followed this with WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972), one of the best examples of the giallo movie. NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS followed in 1975, but unfortunately his career more or less stalled after this, although he did direct the terrible THE HUMANOID in 1979, but the less said about that the better...
NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS opens with two young guys, Blackie (Flavio Bucci) and Curly (Gianfranco de Grassi), mugging an alcoholic Santa Claus in Germany. Meanwhile, Margaret (a very young looking Irene Miracle) and Lisa (Laura D’Angelo), two young girls, are preparing to travel to Italy to visit Lisa’s family for Christmas. They get on a train, but so do the two thugs from earlier. The girls eventually end up meeting the guys, and help them avoid the ticket collector. Meanwhile, an upper-class woman (Macha Méril) catches the eye of Blackie, and he follows her to the (very spacious!) toilet cubicle, where they indulge themselves. After this, the two guys get into a fight with a conductor and the girls take the chance to take their leave. The train is stopped at the next stop due to a bomb hoax, and the girls change train, the new train being almost empty, which at first seems a relief after the packed one they were on originally. Relief soon turns to terror however, when the two guys and the mysterious woman turn up at their carriage and start making themselves comfortable. Things get more and more out of hand as the thugs are encouraged by the older woman, ending with the two girls both leaving the moving train by the windows, rather than the more conventional exit. When the train eventually arrives at its destination, Lisa’s parents (Enrico Maria Salerno and Marina Berti) are waiting for them. Of course, they don’t turn up but the evil trio manage to hitch a lift back to their house. Anyone who’s ever seen LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) can work out what comes next, I’m sure...
I had only ever seen NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS once before, many years ago, and the version I had watched was an extremely dark and ropey bootleg. Still, it made an impression on me and I remembered it quite well, and was interested to see how it held up now that a lovely spick-and-span transfer of the film is available on DVD. The film is essentially a rip-off of Wes Craven’s infamous aforementioned LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, with the twist of the train setting. Of course, further Italian LAST HOUSE-influenced films were to follow, the most notable being Campanile’s HITCH-HIKE (1977) and Deodato’s HOUSE BY THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980), both of which benefitted immensely from the presence of LAST HOUSE’s David Hess as the psycho. NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS substitutes the Hess character for Macha Méril’s plain evil "respectable lady" character, and it’s a trick that really works well, giving the nasty goings on an extra kick as it’s pretty unusual to see a female ringleader in this type of film.
In all honesty, the film isn’t completely successful, taking too long to get going initially and then rushing the climax, but there are many good things about it: as already mentioned, Méril is excellent in her role as the sadistic older lady, there’s a fairly effective scene involving a voyeur (played by Franco Fabrizi), the claustrophobic setting of the train carriage works well, and there’s a fascinating cast for admirers of Dario Argento’s work. Macha Méril played Helga the psychic in PROFONDO ROSSO the same year, Irene Miracle went on to play Rose Elliot in INFERNO (1980), Enrico Maria Salerno played Inspector Morosini in THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), Flavio Bucci played Daniel, the blind pianist, in SUSPIRIA (1977) and Gianfranco de Grassi had a small role in Soavi’s THE CHURCH (1989).
Let’s see – what else deserves a mention? Ennio Morricone provides yet another good score, even if it’s not one of his best, and that hallmark of Morricone’s work, the harmonica playing character, makes another appearance. There’s a terrible opening and closing ballad sung by Demis Roussos entitled ‘A Flower’s All You Need’ (“it seemed like a good idea at the time,” Lado comments in the accompanying featurette!), an homage to Leone’s FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE (1971) in the form of the scenes showing the various characters on the train, characters discussing the role of violence in society and a failed rapist commenting that a girl’s vagina was "as tight as a frightened arsehole," before sticking a knife up it in a scene reprised more graphically but less effectively in Fulci’s NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) and Mario Landi’s GIALLO A VENEZIA (1979). Surprisingly, there’s not that much blood or nudity on show, but Lado manages to convey a sense of depravity and crazed violence by clever use of lighting, and by cutting to the other characters’ faces during such scenes. I don’t think that the film has aged as well as perhaps HITCH-HIKE or HOUSE BY THE EDGE OF THE PARK, and may seem somewhat tame and restrained by today’s standards. Still, there are plenty of reasons to see it, and it’s great that such a rare film is now available on DVD for all to see.