NOVEMBER 7 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985)
There was a time when Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski and Danny Glover were all hot commodities in the film world. That's not so much the case these days, but all can still turn in a decent performance now and then. Throw them all together in a weird little thriller and you have the makings of a watchable movie though not necessarily one that's remarkable in any sense.
Three strangers on a train; Peter Dobbs, an alcoholic salesmen heading home from his company Christmas party. We have Chloe White, a quiet and quirky med student on her way home for the holidays. Finally we have Miles, an aging train conductor working his way through his wife's medical bills. All seems a quiet Christmas Eve as the three strangers cross paths in the rear car of a historic passenger train. That is until a certain unsuspecting man boards with a package and promptly passes away in his sleep. Curiosity gets the best of the trio as they opt to peek into the man's package to discover riches beyond their belief, all wrapped up in an old ornate jewelry box. Unable to pass up a chance at untold wealth, the three conspire to make the jewelry box their own.
The beauty of "Night Train" lies in the fact that it is a movie for the sole purpose of telling a story. There are a few exciting visual scenes, but it is primarily these three experienced actors working a story. It isn't flashy, its not crazy, loud or full of jump scares. It is simply spooky and rather thought provoking. The characters are developed fairly well and new ones show up throughout to keep things interesting. This all works well and is pretty vital considering the scenery of the film rarely changes. All of it takes place in the confines of the train. That's it. There are some CG shots that give us glimpses of the train traveling the countryside but other than that, its all internal. This forces us the viewer to concentrate intently on the performances and thankfully for us, Zahn, Sobieski and Glover do the job just fine.
"Night Train" isn't without its faults though. They rely heavily upon a convoluted story that they give us little to no detail on making it hard to identify with much of anything. With its slower pace and dreamy atmosphere, the movie is definitely sleepy in feeling and could be hard for many to sit through. If you can let yourself disappear into the plot you'll be alright. If there's the slightest chance that you're not in the mood for a quiet head space film, you'll be lost and bored in no time. This isn't to say the film is bad, it is just of a taste that isn't for everybody. Feeling much more like a 1920's noir than a thriller or horror film, I found that it worked for me.
This film isn't out to scare the pants off of you by any means. They are out to give you a few chills, a few laughs and some mystery and they deliver fine there. One of the highlights as far as characters go is Sobieski's Chloe White. Bedecked in black from head to toe, its hard to say what exactly her motivation is. She slowly reveals herself to have a dark side and a penchant for morbid tastes which comes to the surface when talk of disposing of bodies comes along. She manages to give us bits and pieces that make her character more and more of an oddity. The point here is, without these gifts, the characters may have fallen more flat making the movie a bit more of a chore. While Zahn and Glover did fine in their respective roles, there just isn't much to their characters to bring to life.
"Night Train" is a decent movie; while there is nothing here that will astound you or bring new strides to the thriller genre, it is still a very watchable film. It feels the perfect fit for a rainy Sunday afternoon to while away some ours. A good story, and a decent movie. It is nice to see these familiar faces back again and working well together.
NOVEMBER 7 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985)
Directed by: John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, Gregg C. Tallas
Starring: Ferdy Mayne, Tony Giorgio, Earl Washington, Byron Yordan, John Phillip Law, Richard Moll, Sharon Ratcliff, J. Martin Sellers, Merideth Haze, Rick Barnes, Cameron Mitchell, Faith Clift, Robert Bristol, Maurice Grandmaison
God and Satan are sitting on a train. That’s the setup for the huge joke that is Night Train to Terror, an incompetent three-story horror anthology that really doesn’t have a point to make other than offering up disjointed sequences of gore, boobs, and frightfully bad claymation trying to pass for special effects. The opening of the film instantly dates it – a bad 80s rock video insidiously inserts itself as Flashdance rejects take over a train car, wearing sweatbands, star studded black belts, and bright colored leggings, with the lead (Byron Yordan – one of writer Philip Yordan’s sons, maybe?) singing “Daddy’s in the living room/sorting through the news/Mama’s at the shopping mall/buying new shoes/Everybody’s got something to do/Everybody but you!” It’s like the audience is being mocked mercilessly for having nothing to do but watch horrible movies (guilty!) It’s part of the movie’s framing device, but the tonal shift is so jarring as to be surreal. In the meantime, God (Ferdy Mayne) and Satan (Tony Giorgio) sit at a table conversing (the exposition is basically a Cliffs Notes version of the Bible), as Satan again reminds God why he’s so cool: “I offer adultery, alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, greed, rape, murder, war… all the fun things!” The two have taken up what appears to be a daily meeting over the fate of various souls (it’s the 80s, so there are no Powerpoint slides/Flash presentations yet). While they sit there, a magical train-car window then shows us three horror stories – one original, edited from a then-unfinished film, and two others stolen from 80s bombs at the time, mostly directed by John Carr and written by Philip Yordan, naturally.
The first entry is entitled “The Case Of Harry Billings”, which is actually a composite of juicy bits from a movie called Scream Your Head Off, unreleased at the time. It has since been seen on VHS, but nobody seems to have noticed. (Trivia: John Carr would mess with it again, at a later date, releasing it as Marilyn: Alive and Behind Bars, but again, nobody would notice.) Anyway, the segment stars John Phillip Law as Harry Billings, a womanizing type who is kidnapped, given shock treatment, and turned into a stooge who seduces beautiful women, drugs them, then brings them to a sinister asylum where they are tortured and killed. Their body parts are then shipped off to various medical schools. See, it’s sex and violence in the name of Science! Co-starring Night Court‘s Richart Moll as a crazed orderly, it’s haphazardly edited, which probably works in its favor, simulating a drug-fueled dream filled with images of tied up nude women and body parts. The best bit is a Grand Guignol style trip through a freezer filled with amputated limbs and chopped off heads, while a poor woman screams in the background. Otherwise, it’s nonsense, but I did get a chuckle out of a lobotomized doctor shaking his head back and forth, performing surgery on a lady villain who made him that way. It’s ironic, see, and also dumb, but the segment did make me interested in seeing the finished product, which I may try to do one day when everybody has something to do, everybody but me. (More Trivia: you might remember John Philip Law from the immortal Space Mutiny. His performance is about on the same level as that film. Take that however you like.)
The middle section of Night Train to Terror starts off with an evil train conductor smiling at the camera when asked by the 80s rock band rejects why their train might be delayed getting to Vegas. It’s the kind of forced smile that screams “get me out of this shitty movie!” After that, God and Satan take a look at scenes ripped from Death Wish Club, which concerns a man getting revenge on the girl who left him and her new lover by forcing them to play death games along with members of a secret club. Some of the games include: standing still while a cheesy looking bug flies around, eventually biting an unsuspecting kid in the woods and causing his face to explode. There’s the random electrocution game, Russian Roulette-like, which results in a guy getting fried, well done. Finally, there’s the wrecking ball bit, where it flies around before crushing somebody’s head. That’s basically it – a string of set-pieces for the amusement of deities who decide the fate of souls in the manner that one decides whether to eat the meat or fish for dinner.
The final sequence is the longest – it’s an edited down version of 1980′s Cataclysm, starring Richard Moll (this movie might be considered his own personal hell) and Cameron Mitchell (also seen in Space Mutiny!) This segment is all over the map, featuring Robert Bristol as a demon (with goat legs) who battles people chosen by God to take him down. (They fail miserably). Moll is amusing as an atheist who writes a book called “God is Dead”; he’s eventually turned into a fake dummy which is then torched and sent to hell. A monk resembling the one from Horror Express (was that an accidental homage?) is turned into claymation before being killed by a giant claymation insect. There’s some gore involving heart-removal procedures and then Bristol’s character gets the last laugh, although due to the choppy editing we are not sure how or why. Again, God and Satan deliberate, where Satan laughs about how his man wins, God says that he let him win, and I ask why the hell would he do that? The man who plays God in this film plays it just like Merlin from Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, and just like in that film, I wonder why a powerful being would let so many supernaturally evil things just roam free on Earth.
The ending of Night Train to Terror results in a spectacular wreck (well, it’s implied) and the death of the rock band. But God has mercy on their souls, and we see the train continue on a magic track into the stars while the ditty “Everybody but You” plays on and on. The movie is the ultimate in Z-grade anthologies that don’t make any sense but in retrospect I wonder if they were meant to. It’s inept and horribly edited, but it does feature enough blood, boobs, B actors, and bad 80s music to make it somewhat worth watching – like a train wreck. Train wreck, get it?? I would approach the film with the same frame of mind I would approach those flicks made for parties that just feature all the gore scenes from various horror flicks, like Terror in the Aisles and Terror on Tape. I think in this movie, Satan probably gets all of the best lines (“They’re musicians… I usually get most of them anyway”). I also think that, after watching God and Satan staring at bad horror movies and talking about them, they should immediately pick up the torch left from Siskel and Ebert.
- Bill Gordon
NOVEMBER 7 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1975)
Director: Aldo Lado (1975)
Starring: Flavio Bucci, Irene Miracle
Find it: IMDB, Amazon
I've seen a lot of Last House On The Left ripoffs in my time, but The Night Train Murders is perhaps the ripoffiest. That it was acquired by the 'Shameless' DVD label is quite apt, since shameless is the only word to describe its constant thieving. It basically is Last House On The Left. Only on a train, which completely makes it okay. Even the tagline (YOU CAN TELL YOURSELF IT'S ONLY A MOVIE*) is stolen from Wes Craven's infamous video nasty. Most of the time, it doesn't even try. Which is understandable. Because making a movie is hard enough, without having to think up an original story too.
To repeat much of the plot is pointless, since it's Last House On The Left. I suppose this movie being set during Christmas is different. But a Friday the 13th ripoff entitled Saturday the 15th would still be a Friday the 13th ripoff. My point being, I've seen The Last House On The Left, so I could have done without seeing this.
The preamble to the atrocities is boring and goes on for too long. Well, unless you like watching people do boring Christmas shopping and have boring Christmas parties. And then the atrocities themselves are boring and go on for too long. The parents' revenge is boring but doesn't go on for nearly long enough. There's not even a chainsaw, David Hess nor a microwave. The train toss is passable enough, with the lovely young things running afoul of two junkies and their evil ho friend. As you knew was going to happen from the very start of the thing, the girls are raped and murdered. A random commuter joins in for some of the rape.
One of the girls is then violated with a knife, which is icky but fairly original. She dies, as you do, from blood loss/shock. Her friend jumps from the moving train. It's entirely inappropriate, but I did laugh when the second body was thrown out of the window. And Poirot thought that The Orient Express was bad. I'll stick with The Polar Express, thanks. The rest of the movie is no laughing matter either. Firstly because the subject matter is so ugly, secondly because it's a dull film, and thirdly because it's shit. The highlight being that one of the actors has a fascinatingly ugly face.
I'm not a fan of rape/revenge movies even when done well. And The Night Train Murders certainly isn't done well.
NOVEMBER 7 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985)
I have just finished watching Night Train to Terror, a low-budget 80's horror flick, and I find myself in the uncommon position where I now have to write a review and I have no idea what I should say. No, this isn't a case of writer's block, I assure you… after all, I'm doing a good job wasting space by writing up this fluff, right? Rather, I doubt most viewers would know what the hell to say after witnessing the… err… movie (?) known as Night Train to Terror.
Well, since I can confidently say fans of obscure horror films are unlikely to have seen anything quite like this, I'll give try to scrape something up in the Feature Attraction.
What I have to say tonight may cause you pain. It may disillusion you. It may even make you hate me. – James Hansen
What caught my attention about Night Train to Terror initially was the fact it was an anthology. I have to admit I very much enjoy collections like Creepshow, so when I stumble across other 80's horror films of that nature it's almost a no-brainer that I'll give them a shot.
Man was I stupid.
I could just feel my brain cells packing up shop and heading to a better neighborhood as I watched this flick. In fact if I watch one or two more movies of this ilk, it's quite possible I'll be reduced to a drooling village idiot. Trust me film fans, movies like Night Train to Terror are dangerous to your mental health.
But despite what I said above, I… ummm… kinda enjoyed parts of this film, though whether that is because the film has a unique charm or because I burned away one brain cell too many, I couldn't say.
As the film opens we're subjected to a Flashdance-inspired band performing in the gaudiest of 80's fashion on a train that's speeding towards a horrific accident. Aside from the partying band and dancers on one car, the only other occupants on the train are the creepy conductor, God and Satan. Getting weird, you say? You haven't seen anything yet…
God and Satan are sitting across from each other at a glowing table and debating the fates of some individuals upon their passing. Both look upon instances where a person may have committed horrible crimes or sins and must decide whether they were significant enough to be condemned to Hell, or whether they can be forgiven and go to Heaven. This is where the anthology comes in: each of the three scenarios are what the two must look upon and debate.
Scream Your Head Off
Harry Billings (John Phillip Law) loves booze, fast cars and beautiful women, which he proves during the vignette's opening when he accidentally drives his car and his newly married wife off a cliff into the sea below. Although his wife drowned to death, Harry survived, but rather than wake up in a general hospital he wakes up in the midst of a sanitarium.
While there, he is drugged and hypnotized so that he will seek out beautiful women, knock them out and bring them back to the sanitarium, at which point a psycho orderly named Otto (Richard Moll) straps them to a table, strips them and carves them up. Apparently Otto and his employers make a living by selling body parts to medical schools. I don't know why they only deal with parts belonging to comely women – I suppose it's just a good way to toss in a great deal of gratuitous nudity for horror fans.
Anyhow, eventually Harry snaps out of his haze and becomes determined to free the captive women and seek out revenge against those who are running this hellish institution.
The band starts playing their maddeningly cheesy song again for no particular reason. God and Satan debate some about the previous case and move on to the next…
Death Wish Club
Gretta Connors (Meredith Haze) is a young musician from a small town that heads to the big city to seek out a career as an actress. While working at a carnival she meets up with George Youngmeyer (J. Martin Sellers), a rich individual that plays upon her desires and makes her a porn actress.
One day Glenn Marshall (Rick Barnes) is partying at his fraternity when he notices one of Gretta's movies. He's instantly smitten and makes it his goal to meet her, which he finally does at a club owned by George Youngmeyer. The two hit it off great and enjoy many romantic liaisons, but Youngmeyer is a very jealous individual and wants to see the two of them pay.
It just so happens that Youngmeyer is the head of a club called the Death Club, where a group of individuals experience the thrills of toying with death by paying Russian-roulette style games. Gretta is also a member, and she introduces this world to Glenn, but after he witnesses just how crazy and dangerous these games are he wants out. Youngmeyer, of course, has other plans…
Flashdance Interlude… Again!
Yep, the gaudily dressed crew starts yet another round of its mind numbing new wave song Dance With Me. The song has nothing to do with the movie, but why let that get in the way? God and Satan debate the previous case, make remarks about the band, and move on to the final case.
Claire Hansen (Faith Clift) is a devout Catholic and a respected surgeon. Her husband James (Richard Moll) is an author who was written a controversial book entitled God is Dead, a book that his wife doesn't want him to publish.
She has a nightmare about a Nazi who commits atrocious crimes, and soon comes to find out that he lives in America today… and hasn't aged a day. She comes to discover he is actually a demon, and sets out to destroy him. Since this vignette was by far the worst of the three… not much more needs to be said about this one.
Flashdance – The Return
You didn't think the three previous performances of Dance With Me were enough, did you? I hope not, because we're subjected to yet another rendition of the same song before the movie concludes.
The three vignettes were at one time complete movies that have been edited of nearly all content beyond the nudity and gore, so the first two fly by at a breathtaking, and sometimes almost confusing, pace. The third was so dull and prolonged that even its vignette form dragged on.
Somehow it all works, because none of these films are the type I would want to see in their full form anyways, yet in their edited form the first two are oddly interesting. In fact were it not for the horrible final vignette, the quirky film might have scored decently (though by no means great), but placing Cataclysm after the first two intriguing horror tales ultimately ends the movie on a negative note.
Night Train to Terror is a schizophrenic and disjointed movie that will twist your mind worse than LSD. None of it really fits together well, yet it's sooo "out there" that you're almost compelled to watch. It hits that "so bad it's funny" level that many B-movie fans seek.
I cannot recommend this film for any serious moviegoers, but horror fans that enjoy digging up obscure 80's shlock probably owe it to themselves to check this one out.
Movie rating: 4 stars