HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Thursday, November 3, 2011

HORROR EXPRESS -- DVD review by porfle

Growing up with Forry Ackerman's "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine, I tended to drool over all the tantalizing stories and pics about cool-looking horror films that, for one reason or another, I never got to see over the years.  One of those was the Spanish shocker HORROR EXPRESS (1972), which, thanks to the new Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Severin Films, I've finally gotten to experience in all its 70s-Gothic glory.

Fans of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing should be ecstatic about this pairing of the two horror superstars as reluctant allies against a deadly supernatural force aboard the Trans-Siberian Express.  It's 1906, and stuffy Professor Alexander Saxton (Lee) has discovered the missing link in an icy cave in Manchuria.  Transporting it West by train, he runs into an old rival, Dr. Wells (Cushing), and his diminutive assistant Miss Jones (Alice Reinhart).  The prehistoric creature returns to life and escapes from its crate, causing a reign of terror aboard the train which Saxton and Wells must join forces to stop.

The horrific fun gets under way right there in the station when a thief breaks into the crate, gets a load of it contents, and drops dead, his eyes a blank white.  The baggage man meets the same fate during the monster's escape, as do several other passengers in a series of lively death scenes.  Julio Peña of THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN plays the increasingly irked Inspector Mirov, who suspects Saxon himself of foul play until he meets the creature face to face.  At that point, what started out as a simple horror-adventure yarn suddenly turns sci-fi when we discover that an alien entity capable of transferring from one body to another is behind it all.

This new wrinkle, reminiscent of John Campbell's "Who Goes There?" and its subsequent screen adaptation THE THING, adds a whole new element of suspenseful horror to the story as the being's victims either become possessed or have their brains sucked dry.  More weird science comes into play when Saxon and Wells do an autopsy on the missing link and discover that his optic fluid contains images of everything it has seen, including a view of planet Earth from outer space. 

Speaking of autopsies, the film features a couple which were fairly strong stuff back in '72 with graphic images of pop-top skulls and exposed brains.  Other makeup effects are good, including the glowing red eyeballs of the being's hosts and the blank, bleeding ones of its victims.  The reanimated ape creature sports a nice body suit with appropriately hideous facial features that have been partially decayed over time. 

Just when the story has already gone in a number of unexpected directions, Telly Savalas arrives as Captain Kazan to awesome things up even more.  Kazan and his fellow Kossacks barge their way onto the train and start terrorizing everyone, with Savalas having a scenery-chewing field day in the role.  All hell breaks loose after Kazan inadvertently forces the entity's hand and sets the film's chaotic and zombie-packed finale into high gear--Lee hacks his way through the living dead with a sword, Cushing struggles to unhook a baggage car full of civilians from the speeding train as it heads toward a cliff, and Telly goes all bloody-blank-eyes on us.  It just doesn't get any better than this.

Director Eugenio Martin adds a number of clever directorial touches to this handsomely mounted production, which is undermined only by some bad dubbing and awkward handheld camerawork.  In addition to the full-size antique locomotive, a very cool model train (left over from Savalas' PANCHO VILLA) chugs through beautiful miniature Siberian landscapes with numerous cutaways adding to the forward momentum of the film's pace.  An unusual musical score by John Cacavas is alternately atmospheric and cheesy.

Heading an outstanding cast, Peter Cushing's wryly humorous Dr. Wells is a fine counterpoint to Christopher Lee's stuffy Professor Saxton and it's fun to watch them play off each other.  One of the choicest bits of humor comes when Inspector Mirov remarks to them, "What if one of you is the monster?", to which an indignant Cushing responds, "Monster?  We're British, you know!" 

Gorgeous Silvia Tortosa (WHEN THE SCREAMING STOPS) is captivating as Countess Irina Petrovski, whose traveling companion is a mad monk named Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza).  Resembling a cross between Jesus and Rasputin, Pujardov is the stereotypical "crazed religious fanatic" whose allegiance to the entity gives the actor a chance to go way over the top.  Also on hand are a number of Spanish character actors familiar to Spaghetti Western fans. 

The DVD from Severin Films is in 16x9 widescreen with English and Spanish Dolby Digital Mono soundtracks.  No subtitles.  In place of a commentary track there's an 80-minute audio interview with Peter Cushing from 1973 which should delight his fans.  (Cushing reveals during the audience Q and A that he got into acting mainly due to his love of Tom Mix westerns.)  We also get an introduction by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, new interviews with director Eugenio Martin and composer John Cacavas, the film's trailer, and "Notes from the Blacklist: Producer Bernard Gordon Discusses the McCarthy Era."

Whether you're an old fan or just seeing it for the first time like me, HORROR EXPRESS is a delightfully entertaining old-school horror/sci-fi romp that's bursting at the seams with ridiculous fun.  They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD combo at

No comments: