All Aboard the HORROR EXPRESS
Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Silvia Tortosa, Telly Savalas, Julio Pena, Alberto de Mendoza, Helga Line. Directed by Gene Martin (Eugenio Martin). (1972/90 min).
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM ARROW FILMS
Equal parts horror, mystery and sci-fi (with just a dash of a disaster movie), Horror Express is a genre mash-up that's hard to resist.
In 1906, Professor Sexton (Christopher Lee) is an arrogant anthropologist loads his latest prize –– a crate containing a humanoid fossil –– on a train to Moscow. Also on-board is Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), a congenial rival who's understandably curious about what's in the crate, though Sexton is fiecely protective of it. But something's not quite right –– or dead –– with the professor's cargo. The beast escapes and begins killing passengers by draining the life out of them with its hellish red eye.
But even after it's shot dead, murders continue in the same gruesome fashion. A loony priest thinks it's the work of Satan and switches sides faster than Lebron James changes team jerseys, but an icky eyeball autopsy by Wells reveals something otherworldly... a malevolent, disembodied alien capable of moving from one host to another, absorbing the victims' knowledge and physical abilities. Later, a team of Russian Cossacks –– led by flamboyantly-cocky Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas) –– boards the train to root-out who they think is a good old-fashioned murderer.
If the plot synopsis sparks a bit of deja vu, that's because Horror Express plays a lot like a dry run for John Carpenter's version of The Thing and sometimes appears to draw inspiration from the same source material, John W. Campbell's novella, Who Goes There? In fact, it's more conceptually-faithful to the original story than the classic 1951 adaptation.
In addition to the pleasure of watching to of horror's greatest icons at work –– as protagonists! –– there's also an endearing quirkiness to Horror Express that renders it wonderfully entertaining. The plot grows increasingly outlandish as it develops, eventually throwing zombies and a train wreck into the mix, yet never quite crosses the line into ridiculousness. Though told with a fairly straight-face, an off-kilter sense of humor bubbles just underneath, finally breaking the surface when Savalas shows up late to briefly steal the entire movie.
With an atmospheric aesthetic straight out of a Hammer film, Horror Express is fast-paced, crazy fun. While never particularly scary, it's cleverly written and stylishly directed. Somewhat neglected and overlooked through the years, the film is certainly worth discovering –– or re-discovering –– by 70s-era horror fans. This new Blu-ray from Arrow is also a significant overall improvement over Severin Films' 2011 release. In addition to a great 2K restoration, a comprehensive batch of new and vintage bonus features are included.