Saturday, January 1, 2011

Terror Train (1980)

 All aboard!!! Step on up, don't be shy!  Come aboard the Terror Train. Nothing says New Fear's Evil like a masked killer aboard a costume party taken place on a train. Scarring the scream queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis!  It's a New Year ah rising for this Greek party, but who will live to tell about it? Mystery and suspense lurk around every corner of this train. Oh joy! A magician! I wonder if he can show me how to cut a woman into pieces and put her back together again inside out.
  It's New Year's Eve and a fraternity decides to play a prank on their newest pledge Kenny Hampson. The frat's leader Doc insists that Kenny enter the house where Alana is waiting in an upstairs bedroom to have sex with him. Alana hides behind the bed and tells Kenny to come closer. Kenny undresses down to his underwear and pulls back the covers to find a corpse laying there. Kenny freaks out and gets tangled all up in the bed's curtains, screaming his head off, as Doc and his frat brothers burst in laughing at him.
    Three  years have passed and it's New Year's Eve again. The Greek system has planned on one last big college party before everyone graduates. This time, the party is on an overnight train and it is a costume bash.  Everyone is having a blast. That is until the party goers begin to get killed off one by one by a masked killer. This killer keeps changing disguises where nobody knows who he/she is. Could it be Kenny back for bloody revenge? Could it be that mysterious magician that has a nack for sword play and disappearing acts? Or, could some escaped mental patient have just snuck on the train? 
      Train rides can be fun. I remember when my family and I took a train to Florida one time. It was so relaxing and the view is great along the way. But, there's also that dark side to trains just like anything else.  There's butchers who like to slaughter and hang people upside down with hooks so that monsters can eat them underneath the streets of New York City. There's some trains that harvest peoples' organs without permission over in Europe.  There's some weirdo that tries to grope you while eating salad.  There's that daring IMF agent that likes to stand on the roof and blow up helicopters with chewing gum. And who can forget that time when Death caused a subway train to crash?
   TERROR TRAIN is one of those slasher flicks that came out in the early '80s to cash in on the slasher craze that took off after the massive success of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH.   I personally like to refer to these early '80s as the Jamie Lee Curtis era of horror. After HALLOWEEN was a success in 1978, lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis became the horror genre's scream queen.   A lot of her fame in the genre also was the result of her mother, Janet Leigh, playing in Alfred Hitchcock's classic PSYCHO in that infamous shower scene.  Curtis quickly became a popular final girl in the horror community with HALLOWEEN II, John Carpenter's THE FOG which her mother also starred in, PROM NIGHT, and TERROR TRAIN.
     Like most of the slasher films of the '80s, TERROR TRAIN takes place on an international holiday, New Year's Eve.   While most slasher films go right for the gore and over the top kills, TERROR TRAIN goes for the atmosphere and mystery.  The screenplay written by T.Y. Drake is okay. It's your typical slasher with one dimensional characters that get killed. Some of the characters are definitely more interesting than the others.   The main characters that really stick out are the film's protagonist Alana, the asshole frat guy Doc, the Conductor, the Magician, and the killer. Some of the dialogue is kinda dry though, especially by the more one dimensional victims. The film does drag a bit here and there, but not too much.
     Where TERROR TRAIN truly shines is in its suspense, music, and setting.  The killer's identity is obvious in the first ten minutes as well as his motivation.  This is not a slasher where the big mystery is who is behind this, but where this person is because they keep changing costumes throughout the whole movie. They could be anywhere on the train.  I loved that the victims are stuck on a train with no escape from this psycho. That right there makes the film truly creepy as well as not knowing where the killer is lurking. 
     The killer's costumes are pretty creepy. My favorite is when the killer is wearing the Groucho mask. This guy made Groucho look so fucking creepy!  The CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON outfit was cool as well.  There's one costume though that shocked the hell out of me because it was right in front of my face the entire time and yet I didn't notice till the end.  
  The direction by Roger Spottiswoode was really good. I absolutely loved the way the movie was shot and lit. It reminded me a lot of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, especially when we see a shadow of the killer holding an axe.   There's a really freaky scene where the killer is disguised as one of the guy's girlfriend and has his finger nails painted and wearing a black dress. I find guys who dress up like women and kill people very creepy.  Kinda reminded me of when Norman dressed like his mother in PSYCHO and that one episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT where the guy dressed up as his ex wife.
  There wasn't a whole lot of gore, but I like the deaths nonetheless. We get a stabbing with a sword quite a few times, a decapitation with an obviously fake head,  a slit throat, a severed hand, a stabbing, and some guy gets his face ran through a bathroom mirror.
 The acting was decent. Jamie Lee Curtis was really good as Alana. This is definitely Curtis' best horror film aside from HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II.  Hart Bochner was great at playing an asshole as usual as Doc. I just couldn't wait to see this guy bite it. Bochner is great at playing douchebags in such films as BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM, DIE HARD, and URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT.  David Copperfield was great as the Magician. I have to say that this is some of the best and most convincing magician work that I've ever seen. Ben Johnson was really likeable as the Conductor. Sandee Currie was pretty sexy as Alana's best friend Mitchy.  And Derek McKinnon was creepy as hell as the movie's killer, Kenny Hampson. Holy shit, this guy was like if little Stuart Minkus grew up to be Jeffrey Dahmer!
Overall, TERROR TRAIN is a pretty good early '80s slasher film.  I definitely recommend checking this one out. Although, you may not look at magicians, magician's assistants, costume parties, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, or Groucho  the same way again!  Happy New Year everyone!
    Want to see a magic trick? I'm going to make this pencil disappear. BAM! It's gone. HEHEHEHEHAHAHAHA!!!

1 comment:

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Definitely one of the better slasher films of the early era. I really enjoyed the mystery and atmosphere of this one. The fact that the killer is right in your face the entire time caught me off guard. I really dug how they played with that. I think this film is pretty underrated compared to other slashers - and a lot better than most of them as well. Great review!