Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
Scream! Factory continues to bring the heat with their Blu-rays of horror films that have never been given the package they deserve. This time it’s a Blu-ray/DVD combo of 1980’s Terror Train, the Roger Spottiswoode post-Halloween slasher that’s light on slash and high on class. It’s one of the more successful films of the era, but for some reason Spottiswoode isn’t happy with it. That may be why his input on this package is absent (maybe he was too busy recording commentary for Turner and Hooch). I don’t know what his deal is. Terror Train is a fun, stylish little revenge flick with a capable cast and creepy killer. And goddamn, that Groucho mask…
A group of frat boys pull a ghoulish prank on a virgin pledge that involves a female corpse and the siren call of Jamie Lee Curtis. The frat is led by a douchebag with the subtle name of Doc Manley (Hart Bochner). Bochner’s known best for playing another famous douche: Ellis in Die Hard. So you know he’s good at this sort of role. The pledge’s name is Kenny (Derek McKinnon) and he looks the baby of DJ Qualls and Gollum. When the wicked nature of the prank is revealed Kenny looses his mind and starts wildly spinning around, tangling himself up in some drapes. It’s a nightmarish scene that’s nicely mirrored at the end of the film.
Jump to three years later and the frat is throwing a costume party on a train. There’s nothing worse than being surrounded by obnoxious, drunk frat boys, but on a train it’s worse because you can’t escape them. That’s the whole idea that makes thrillers set on trains so effective. They’re cramped. They’re moving. And you can’t escape without leaping from the train and breaking your neck. Hitchcock knew this and utilized trains often. Danny DeVito knew this and threw momma from it.
So the frat boys and their girlfriends are having a good time on this train, watching David Copperfield do some magic, when people start winding up dead. They can’t figure out who the killer is because he keeps swapping costumes with the people he kills. It could be anyone! His first guise is that super creepy Groucho mask that you probably remember from the poster. It takes everyone far too long to figure out that the victims were all involved in the prank that sent Kenny to the loony bin three years earlier. You see where this is going.
The twist at the end is one you’ve seen before but it’s not convoluted and it does make perfect sense here. I was genuinely skeeved out by it. It works because you’re expecting it, in a weird sort of way. The idea behind Terror Train was to make “Halloween on a train.” Like Halloween, it’s light on gore and while it doesn’t come close to grazing the genius of Carpenter’s classic, it does present its own blend of suspenseful horror. It’s really fun and moody with a choking, claustrophobic feel to it. And fans of the film will definitely be pleased with Scream! Factory’s Blu-ray.
Scream! Factory presents Terror Train in 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p with DTS Master Audio Stereo 5.1. This movie is dark so there’s no real vibrancy to compliment. The film was lit with Christmas lights, for chrissakes. The black levels look great and the only noticeable instance of scratches, specks, etc. is a flurry of them during the opening – after that they die down considerably. The sound is suitable, particularly when the train’s a rumblin’ down the tracks.
DESTINATION DEATH (12:08): An interview with producer Daniel Grodnik. He discusses the origins of the film, which boils down to “cash-in on Halloween’s success.”
RIDING THE RAILS (13:25): An interview with producer Don Carmody. He discusses the pros and cons of shooting on a real train and goes into what film production was like in Canada at the time.
ALL ABOARD! (11:00): An interview with production designer Glenn Bydwell. This is the most insightful interview of the bunch. He talks about how hectic and wild the shoot was. He also discusses the difficulties of shooting on an actual steam train.
MUSIC FOR MURDER (8:10): An interview with composer John Mills-Cockell. He explains how he had never done a horror film before and that the filmmakers weren’t happy with the first score he presented them., so he had to go back and make it spookier.
TRAILER, TV SPOT, and STILL GALLERY
REVERSIBLE COVERT ART