They said it couldn’t be done. A fifth year of 31 Days of Horror? 31 more terror, gore and shower scene-filled movies worth highlighting? But Rejects always say die and never back away from a challenge (unless you count that time Neil Miller was dared to eat nothing but Activia for a full week), so we’ve rounded up the horror fans among us and put together another month’s worth of genre fun. Enjoy!
Three years after a group of frat boys prank a dorky student with disastrous results the class boards a train to celebrate their impending graduation. Any illusion of a wild and fun night is shattered though when a creepy, uninvited madman joins them. That’s right. David Copperfield is on the train. Oh, and there’s also a psychotic killer intent on punching everyone’s ticket. Join Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson and Hart “White Night” Bochner as they climb aboard the… Terror Train!
Jamie Lee Curtis’ presence within the proximity of a psychopath guarantees two things. One, she’s going to be the last one standing. And two, she’s probably going to poke something into his eye. That’s just what happens here when Alana (Curtis) is chased into the luggage car and after a brief tussle where she kicks and sprays the killer into submission she retreats to a wire cage for safety. Director Roger Spottiswoode manages one of his finest suspense scenes here, something he wouldn’t surpass until nine years later when a bloodthirsty canine stalked its human master in his film Turner & Hooch, as Curtis struggles to lock the door before the killer reaches her. The relative safety of the cage is revealed as a farce though when the psycho begins stabbing at her with a long, sharp pole.
Which of course is when Alana stabs him in the eyeball with a six-inch letter spike.
The film starts fairly promising with a fraternity party on the beach and a topless girl in the bedroom, but sadly the party fizzles out and the boobs belong to a slightly decayed corpse. Things pick up later though when a party girl in very high-waisted pants drops them to expose her college-educated breasts and white panties. (Unrelated aside, someone once told me that girls don’t actually say “panties” and instead simply say “underwear.” I’m no longer friends with that terrible, terrible liar.)
There are lots of bodies littering the train, but the film more often than not takes the MPAA-friendly route of only showing the results of a kill instead of the kill itself. To that end we get a couple blades impaled in flesh, a lizard-man has his head smashed into a mirror a throat is slit, a douchey Hart Bochner is decapitated and various detached body parts make appearances too. And of course, there’s also that six-inch letter spike.
The film features a handful of jump scares, but most of the frightening bits come from staging and shot choices. The cage sequence above is well done as the killer methodically shatters the overhead lights one by one casting the car into darkness, and other shots including the masked madman slowly approaching from the dark are effectively done. Scares that could have come from not knowing the identity of the killer are lost though as his identity is pretty damn clear early on. Most men do not make good women…
One of the film’s producer’s says he initially pitched it as Halloween on a train, and while that works in a nutshell it implies a bit more style and atmosphere than director Roger Spottiswoode (Turner & Hooch, Tomorrow Never Dies) is able to deliver. Still, the film works pretty well for a debut. Curtis’ “final girl” is a spunky heroine who knows how to scream, and the addition of veteran actor Ben Johnson as essentially the male lead is an interesting touch. As mentioned above, the biggest issue is that despite the film’s attempts at red herrings the killer’s identity is fairly obvious.
Terror Train is over thirty years old, but while it’s seen a lot of home video incarnations over the decades the best is yet to come. Shout! Factory, by way of its new horror imprint Scream Factory, is releasing a new Blu-ray/DVD Collector’s Edition on October 16th. In addition to new interviews the package include a reversible cover featuring some stellar new artwork.