Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing Written by: Arnaud d'Usseau, Julian Zimet Directed By: Eugenio Martin
One of the toughest things about watching "older" movies is trying to put it in perspective with what you expect in a movie in modern times. With the special effects we have today, CGI and the level of gore that (and nudity) that is acceptable today, older horror movies from the early 70's must look dull to younger people. Fortunately....or unfortunately, I can't make up my mind which....I'm old enough to remember when films like this one were shown on Saturday afternoon "horror hour" shows, like Dr. Shock and the like. I'm not a film historian, and I've said it before, I'm not a professional critic. But I know that you can't compile a list of Horror film icons without including Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Christopher Lee's Dracula was the one I feared as kid after watching those Saturday afternoon shows. Peter Cushing was the Dr. Frankenstein that unleashed horror with his experiments. The fact that both men are excellent actors with distinguished careers is a plus also. nowadays any shmoe can be in a horror movie and it'll probably be quickly forgotten.
Horror Express kind of reminded me of Alien. A lot of movies have used that formula blatantly since Alien became a hit. Trap some people in a location they can't easily escape from, toss a monster in there and watch the ensuing chaos. Only there's no spaceship in horror express....its a train. Sometime back in what looks like the late 19th or early 20th century, Prof. Alex Saxton, a typical stuffy British scientist, discovers the fossilized remains of an ape man in Manchuria. Jealously guarding his find he arranges to have it transported back to England via the Trans-Siberian Express train. Its there that he runs into his rival, Dr. Wells. Wells, by contrast to Saxton seems like a pretty nice guy. Saxton for the most part is a dick. Arrogant in that way that Brits probably were arrogant at that point in time. You know, the old "Proper, stiff upper lip and a stick up my ass" attitude. Don't be upset, Brits....there's an ugly American at one point in the movie that loudly exclaims "I'm an American and I'm not accustomed to being handled by foreigners!". (Uh, if you're in their country, that makes you the foreigner, babe.)
Anyway it doesn't take long for trouble to start once the train leaves the station. The fossilized creature somehow returns to life and begins killing people. The victims are found with their eyes completely white. An autopsy done by Dr. wells reveals in the best pseudo scientific way, that their memories were sucked right out of them. A Russian police inspector and his men search the train for the monster and after a few of them get killed actually manage to kill the beast. sort of. The creature secretly has possessed the inspector, and to insure its own safety it knows it has to kill Wells, Saxton, and another passenger Countess Petrovski. They've learned (in another pseudoscientific way) that the creature came from space and has been on Earth for millions of years. hahaha. they learn this by looking at some fluid from the monster's eye. They can see images of dinosaurs and Earth from space like looking through a View master or something! (If you don't know what a view master is ask someone that was a kid in the 70's) Well, since Saxton and Wells are the "heroes"....and the Countess is hot and not a bitch, you know they ain't gonna die. But some priest guy ends up being the next host for the alien, which quite frankly I could see coming from the start of the movie. I can't remember the guys name, so we'll call him Rasputin. Trust me when you see him onscreen you're gonna think of Rasputin anyway. The monster reveals to Saxton that he was accidentally left on Earth in the distant past and has survived by existing in organisms since then. It gets a bit confusing to me by the movies end...the alien is destroyed by letting the train go over a cliff and I don't see how that happened. (Who builds train tracks that go off of a cliff? And how did the guys at the station get a message to realign the tracks so the train would go that way? I don't get it, but it doesn't matter really.....I'm perfectly willing to accept that I may have missed something.)
There are a few things that I didn't get...Telly Savalas makes an appearance as Captain of some soldiers, but why he knows there's something wrong on the train, or how is something I didn't get. Still, Savalas is in the movie for such a short time I didn't dwell on it. It may only be that I have a crappy copy of the movie, but a lot of scenes were so dark it was hard to make out what was going on. Ands to be honest, none of the characters were infused with enough personality to make me really care about them. If anyone else but Cushing and Lee were the leads I never would have finished this film. The two men have enough screen presence and charisma to carry the movie despite the small amount of character traits their roles were given.
It wasn't the best movie either Lee or Cushing have ever been seen in, but it wasn't a total waste either. It may just be the copy I have, but the sound wasn't all that good and the picture seems to have aged badly (before it was transferred to DVD obviously.)
Best Lines: “Ah, yes, England....Queen Victoria, crumpets, Shakespeare."- The countess reveals what she knows of England.
Are you kidding me?
1.) How could the ape-man monster walk around that train unobserved? Its too cramped to remain out of sight for too long! Its not a matter of stealth,, its a matter of there's no place to really hide! Oh well, I guess I'll just have to accept this bit.
2.) The Inspector says he doesn't want to frighten the passengers yet he comes into the dining car to tell Dr. wells there's been another murder in front of other people! when someone comments on it he says to "Keep their noses out of it". What a moron! The cats outta the bag now!
3.) The countess browbeats Saxton for not feeling too bad about the people that have died so far, and Saxton looks a bit repentant and says he knows he doesn't care as much as he should. Are we supposed to be saying to ourselves "Yeah, Saxton...stop being an asshole!"? I find that ironic because people get killed all around all day, every day (just watch the news) and most of us never give it a second thought.
4.) Is that a uniform or a robe Telly Savalas is wearing? Looks kinda girly to me.
Nudity and Sex: None
Though the train is supposed to be in motion you can see that its not by looking out of the windows.
Why was Telly Savalas sleeping on the floor at the
railway station if he's such a big wig? and what's with the girl down there with
him. Don't tell me he was humping her with those two old conductor guys only
give feet away! EEEEW!
If the alien is so concerned with its own survival why didn't it just order the train to stop in the guise of the Inspector, get off and simply disappear. I guess alien doesn't always mean superior intellect.
The Final Judgment: If you're not a film buff, Lee or Cushing fan or a Hammer enthusiast (Hammer didn't make this movie though) You'll probably not like this movie. Its not that its bad, I'm sure in 1973 it was a little frightening, but its not a whiz bang roller coaster of horror. Still, it can found relatively cheap (4 bucks is what I paid for my copy) and it can be interesting at some parts. Admittedly only the presence of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas make this movie even remotely known. The Inferno gives it two Halloween punkins. I know some would consider this movie a classic, but it can slow down at points and you have to just slog through it.