BLU-RAY REVIEW: HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

Horror ExpressI have seen so many craptastic versions of HORROR EXPRESS being played on television transferred from the worst prints imaginable and only to find copies of this film on dvd in the bargain bin at a supermarket or at the local video of even poorer quality. As a naive youngster, I just thought the film got a shoddy treatment because it was a stinker or because the film sucked. Now, having seen it as a semi-mature adult many years later, I had no idea how incredibly fantastic and incredible this film was, and is!

The boys over at Severin put on Blu-ray and DVD a brand new “HD transfer from vault elements recently unearthed in a Mongolian film depot”.  I am sorry, but when I initially read the aforementioned quote, I started cracking up and thought it was a clever ad ruse concocted from David and John at Severin Films. I thought it just sounded so fantastic and mysterious, but I thought about it for a second and realized a new print of METROPOLIS was found in some closet in some odd location, so why couldn’t a print of HORROR EXPRESS have been discovered in some film depot in Mongolia.

Within five minutes, I was grinning from cheek-to-cheek because watching HORROR EXPRESS in high-def was freakin’ cool! The print is beyond marvelous and the sound was incredible on it. One of the high points of the film was the amazingly memorable music composed and conducted by John Cacavas. The eerie and ominous whistle that is the main driving theme throughout the whole film is used throughout the whole film and I love waiting to hear the part in the film. It is sort of like when I watched Fulci’s THE PSYCHIC or even Carpenter’s THE THING or HALLOWEEN. A theme song that is consistently used during key scenes for suspense or impending doom sometimes can become a character within the movie itself and as long as the theme song is not overtly annoying on the ears, it can really ad another dimension to the movie.

Aside from the wonderful transfer, excellent soundtrack and remarkable audio throughout the film, one has the pleasure of watching two phenomenal actors on the screen together: Peter Cushing (HORROR OF DRACULA) and Christopher Lee (THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA). The two gave a most memorable performance, Cushing portraying Dr. Wells and Lee playing the character of Professor Sir Alexander Saxton whom is in the process of transporting a “fossil” discovered during an expedition, a frozen “missing link”, that thaws during the trip. Dr. Wells (Cushing) is very interested in Saxton’s (Lee) discovery but Saxton is keeping it chained and locked up in a wooden box. In fact, everyone wants to get a peek at it or steal it, as one thief tries to take it but ends up dead—his eyes turned white and blood running from his eyes, nose, and mouth.

After the train starts off through the Siberian mountains or wherever in Asia they are exactly, more victims turn up dead, each suffering the same symptoms and way of dying. We learn that the creature (somewhat resembling a cross between a Morlock from H.G. Wells THE TIME MACHINE  and some sort of wookie or sasquatch. I can’t really put my finger on it. Regardless, this creature lurks around in the dark and when passengers catch a glimpse of it, straining their eyes to get a better glimpse, the creature’s one eye starts to glow red and shortly after claims its victim by stealing their knowledge and wiping their brain clean.

The concept for the film, directed by Eugenio Martin (HUNT THE MAN DOWN) with a screenplay by blacklisted screenwriters Arnaud D’Usseau and Julian Halevy (PSYCHOMANIA), nails it and manages to create a story that has all of the fun elements that make a great film: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction, Horror, and a dash of humor and comedy.

When the mad monk in the film, who looks strikingly like Christopher Lee from RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK, stirs things up from the start by making statements about the strange cargo being full of evil with lines of dialogue like this:

There’s the stink of Hell on this train! Even the dog knows it!” or even proclaiming immediately after the thief tries to steal the “fossil” before the crate even gets on the train, looking down at the dead body:

Where there is God, there is always a place for the cross, even on this stone floor.” The monk proceeds to make a cross with some chalk he happens to be carrying around with him.

But Satan is evil and where evil lives, there is no cross.” The monk than proceeds to make the sign of the cross on the tarp of the crate and nothing appears! The campy factor in the film is great, but it really works in the film’s favor and pops up at appropriate times.

As always, the chemistry between Lee and Cushing is evident even though Cushing recently lost his wife before making this film and in the special features portion of the film and the intro by Fangoria’s editor-in-chief Chris Alexander talk a bit about it. Also of note is some eye-candy in the film: actresses Silvia Tortosa as Countess Irina Petrovsky and Helga Line playing a spy named Natasha. If that is not enough names to throw at ya, how about a wonderful character played by Telly Savalas (Kojak) playing the boisterous role of Captain Kazan! This film really has it all!

I was kind of surprised at some of the gore that was in the film, especially a very nasty eyeball scene (the eye had to be real and not fake!) involving a scalpel and a brain surgery segment that I felt was pretty gnarly for the year and the film.

The special features on the disc are totally awesome and equally as fun as the film itself! They are as following:

-The intro by Fangoria’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Alexander
This intro was cool, but nothing too special. Chris is just reppin’ Fango, that’s all!

-Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express: New Interview with Director Eugenio Martin
Very interesting interview with the director and he tells what really happened when Cushing did not want to do the film due to the recent death of his wife, as well as other interesting bits of information on the movie and the many different styles of certain actors. Runs 14 min. long.

-Notes From the Blacklist: Producer Bernard Gordon discusses the McCarthy Era
Funny thing, the story behind the blacklisting was a bit of Hollywood’s ugly history and such a shame so many great creative minds were shunned from making movies and getting work in Hollywood. I found this extra feature to be the most interesting even though it really did not have a lot to do with HORROR EXPRESS. Runs just over 30 min. long.

-1973 Audio interview with Peter Cushing
I loved hearing Cushing talk and answer interview questions. His voice is so cool and he answers the questions without any faltering, as if his answers were memorized from a script. The movie plays during the interview for background visuals. The interview runs almost 90 minutes. It is indeed a great treat to hear Cushing being interviewed and talking about his early years as an actor up until this film and everything in between.

Telly and Me: New Interview with Composer John Cacavas
Although brief (less than 10 min.), I really enjoyed listening to Cacavas telling his stories of working with Telly Savalas. It also paints a very loveable and likeable portrait of Savalas.

Throw in some trailers and this wraps up the special features. Severin also does a wonderful job with its special features. I look forward to the extras as much as the films themselves. I highly recommend picking up the Blu-ray/DVD combo of HORROR EXPRESS. The film is a gem filled with wonderful performances, a magnificent soundtrack, a much cleaned up print and restored HD print and although the audio was only 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono, it sill sounded really good and I was impressed with the overall treatment of the whole film. I highly recommend picking this one up for any horror fan’s collection!

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