“Everybody’s got something to do, everybody but you!”
…which explains why you’re wasting an hour and a half watching the cheesy public domain staple Night Train to Terror.
It says a lot when the most entertaining scenes of an ostensible horror portmanteau homage to the films of Amicus (and telefilms of Dan Curtis, for that matter) has its most entertaining sequences revolving around a terrible 80’s synthpop track, mimed by dancer types of questionable orientation (check out that lead singer, is he cruising us?), bedecked in headbands and sloppy loose fitting takes on the usually far more aesthetic fashion trend of aerobics clothes.
As these clowns camp it up for the camera, Uncle Ben steps off the rice box to wander through the midst of them, bored and clearly unimpressed by their effusive antics.
Cut to “God” and “satan”, in a leatherette seated “train compartment” marked by a lightbox and movie screen playing the world’s crappiest homemade “starfield” effect. A completely different porter (whose hat says “conductor”) tells us these two clowns called for him…so who the hell was Uncle Ben a few seconds ago?
God features the world’s worst beard (it looks like it came right out of a bag of craft store stuffing) and huge pop eyes; the devil, who looks like a low rent Cameron Mitchell (albeit one afflicted with huge lips and horse teeth) dresses at the Dracula costume shop.
“My way is much more fun,” the evil one informs us, “I offer adultery… alcohol… tobacco… cocaine (his eyes light up and we get a hand gesture and dramatic pause for ths one, he must have really loved the sniffy!)…greed, rape, murder, war, all the fun things,” the latter half of which prove once and for all that satan is indeed a right winger (Bible thumping conservative politico types take note – time to admit your true alignment to the world, or at least those to whom it isn’t already dead obvious).
The world’s most disjointed ostensible narrative ensues. From what I can figure out (seriously, it makes that little sense, and is even less cohesive than it sounds), some guy named Harry is drunk driving and pulls a Chappaquidick, driving off the bridge and killing his wife.
Suddenly he’s in the nuthouse, getting electro shock therapy naked (?), there’s an asylum orderly going around killing folks and our “hero” is hitting up dive bars and the sort of midwestern church that has a huge pentagram in the window (!) to pick up homely blondes, strap them to beds with their tops off, and presumably kill them.
But even though he makes a comment about going after blondes (and his first two “victims” are such), suddenly he starts going after brunettes as well. Wait…huh? His old bag of a doctor alternates injections with romance novel monologues before jumping his bones. Oh, wait, is the orderly killing these girls, or is it our hero? And who are all these random old folks getting doped up and brought to the nuthouse for lobotomies and winding up as heads in jars or what have you? I’m confused. This movie sucks, that’s all I know.
To call this a bottom end slasher would be a disservice to the likes of Splatter University, Girls School Screamers and Shadows Run Black, much less something more entertaining like Evil Laugh. This is the sort of film you can’t believe even got financed, much less released in the days before SOV and low cost digital camera productions. And is that one killer orderly Richard “Bull” Moll, from Night Court, but with hair? Then the “story” (and I use the term with extreme looseness) ends! Whaaa?
“They’re musicians. I usually get most of them anyway.”
Our ersatz deity and Cameron Mitchell debate away between vignettes about whose souls go where. They talk imaginary Catholic bullshit like “purgatory” and our drunken screenwriter displays a quite Manichean metaphysical viewpoint – is satan a creation and fallen angel servant gone bad, or somehow an equal and opposite force? Sheesh, guys, if you’re going to play in this ballfield, at least pull the damn rulebook out and read it first…
Another round of – you guessed it – the exact same song airs, and this time Uncle Ben shows himself to be a red-eyed diabetic when he turns to the camera and smiles (after one of the dancers asks where the bathroom is or something…yeah, this film is THAT bad, you start to fudge the details after a bit). Then it’s off to our next absurd “story”.
“And now, the case of Greta Connors…I reeeaaally want her.”
Well, when she’s played by one Merideth (Megadeth?) Haze, you can almost understand the devil’s excitement. A bit of a dim bulb, who goes from carnival popcorn salesgirl to prostituting herself to porn starlet within about a minute and a half of literal screentime, she’s still somewhat of a Caroline Munro/Katarina Leigh Waters type, and worth seeing in various states of lingerie and undress (check out that merry widow ensemble in the kid’s playroom scene).
“I just don’t want you getting bored here.”
“You just keep getting it up.”
In no time flat, Haze manages to find “young love” from a fan of one of her backroom smokers…hold on, think about this for a second. A guy gets hot for a porn star, he gets to meet up with her, and they have a “sweet teenage romance”.
So according to this film, all you obese slobs out there who only leave the basement of your parent’s house to rent another round of adult oriented entertainment and haven’t bathed or changed your clothes in a few days, you too can have a storybook courtship with Darian Caine or Jenna Jameson or whatever skank is popular for being cheap these days! Young love…first love…
Anyway, the guy she sold herself to in the first place invites the two of them to “the Death Club…an evil society run by (that guy Haze sold herself to earlier)” where they pull a Jean Rollin Vampire Nue and a cheap claymation bee flies around the room. Who will get the fatal sting? Who cares?
Holy crap, is that really an Aubrey Beardsley hanging on the wall? Haze looks pretty excited about the prospect of someone dying. There’s also an Andre Cymone/Dez Dickerson type with a glitter bandana named “Prince Flubutu” who pretty much makes the scene just by being there dressed like that.
The bug gets loose and kills some guy making out in the park, which happens for no apparent reason, as we wind up with yet another round of “the Death Club” where a goofy faced computer delivers an electric chair special to a more conservatively bedecked Flubutu (his parting line? “Excuse me while I smoke!” The others get a big laugh out of this).
Then we get some even more half-assed kung fu than was on display in Leo Fong’s Low Blow, and a variation on H.G. Lewis’ boulder drop from 2000 Maniacs, before the story once again stops short midway through the ostensible narrative*. The conductor tells us Haze and her fanboy beau lived happily ever after. Isn’t that swell?
* as it happens, this sequence was actually edited down from an entirely separate and far more cohesive film by a completely different director. This little tidbit is proved by the DVD bonus feature, “Gretta”, which isn’t bad at all and features Haze’s natural Brit (or is that Afrikaans?) accent. Why this was choppped down and included in the newer and lesser feature is beyond me, though I understand from one of the commentary bits that it was unreleased due to shady over-financing, Producers style…
“Don’t push me. I’ll open the gates of hell!”
Cue the “rock band” performing that same damn song again and one of them actually breakdancing. Well, it’s not exactly hell (that’d be something far more modern day musically and culturally, I assure you), but not my idea of a talent show either.
Now we get a WWII set piece, which actually DOES star Cameron Mitchell (not his weird lookalike who plays satan, mind – this is the real deal, phoning it in unashamedly and even pretending to be Peter Falk at one point).
The world’s sorriest take on Simon Wiesenthal freaks out in a senile way when he discovers his Gestapo tormentor…well, OK, we never actually get to see the two of them together in the ridiculous flashback, but we’ll give them that much…still young and working as a particularly nasty celebutard theater or opera critic by the name of “Olivier” (and one notable enough to get televised coverage and travel with an entourage, mind – who is this guy, Truman Capote? Gore Vidal, maybe?)
After a pointless screaming match between Herr Wiesenthal and Mitchell, the former heads off to the man’s house with a luger, only to get blown away by a rubber devil head and a gruesome squib effect. Mitchell takes up the cause, and discovers some predictable Omen-style clues as to the man’s identity. Did I mention this antichrist analogue looks a bit like a Hardy Boys-era Shaun Cassidy?
At least this story features some excellent architecture and aesthetics (the front of the opera house/theater, that Frank Lloyd Wright job Dr. Hanson works out of, Olivier’s stately spread). There’s bits of Horror Express (check out the entire Peppini schtick, from look to accent to lines, not to mention the red glowing eyed zombies), Holocaust 2000 and its US progenitor, the aforementioned Omen.
Yeah, it still sucks, but compared to the rest of the film, this whole sequence, while poorly filmed, filled with looped scenes (how many times did they need to repeat that “sieg heil” bit?), bad cinematography, cop show feel, comedic bits and crap acting, is pure genius. And the cooing harmony vocals on that disco song at the club are pretty damn sweet…
In the end, the train crashes (an effect we don’t get to see) and our dance troupe…I mean aerobics class…damn, I meant “rock band” finally gets their just reward for their efforts throughout. That Carl Sagan type author in the last sequence was wrong, there IS a God!
Like many of us, I’d seen this one before, in one of those crappy nigh-PD Troma box sets, and was wholly unimpressed. While the picture’s obviously been cleaned up a bit by the cinephile restoration obsessives at Vinegar Syndrome, my opinion hasn’t changed all that much – it may look nicer, but it’s still the low rent turkey it always was.
An argument can be made for the final scenario almost saving the picture from its otherwise glaring failings, and admittedly, had this sequence, already the film’s lengthiest, been extended to feature length, my take on it may have been quite different – it could have been another Forever Evil, at the very least. But the incomprehensible atrocity that is the opening slasher sequence and the stupid vignette that makes up the second (to say nothing of the ridiculous train sequences and the sub-Fame “rock band”) consign this one to the WTF category, if not the celluloid trash heap.
While I’ll be the first to say how much I appreciate all Vinegar Syndrome’s restorations and reappraisals of long lost, unreleased and underappreciated films of days gone by and am glad to report that they certainly tried what they could here, I can’t exactly give this one a thumbs up.
If you’re a huge 80’s trash film devotee, or really, really drunk, you may absolutely love Night Train to Terror – this is certainly the definitive edition for those so inclined. There’s also something to be said for the imperfect yet far superior bonus feature Gretta, which was eviscerated and reworked for the absurd middle sequence of Night Train.
But in the end, the main feature’s intrinsic failings weigh down any post production attempts to salvage and elevate it to a place of honor and good standing in the annals of cult cinema.
It really all comes down to one simple, yet time tested dictum.
It’s hard to polish a turd.