“There’s a stink of hell on this train. Even the dog knows it!”
There are defining moments in every horror connoisseur’s life, movies which strike a chord or deliver a particularly memorable scare. Horror Express (1972) haunted me as a child, and I find as an adult that this cult favorite still brings the chills.
Show me a horror classic and I’ll show you a movie with excellent execution, regardless of the plot’s originality. Nothing particularly original happens in Horror Express, but everything is executed so well, from the conception of the beast, to the acting, effects, camera work, and music, that the movie achieves rank as a classic. Horror Express is an example of how a horror movie should be made – attention modern filmmakers.
A horror’s who’s-who comprises the cast for Horror Express, including Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and yeah, Telly Savalas. Who loves ya, baby?
As for the plot, an anthropologist (Lee) discovers an ape-like monster frozen in the ice of Manchuria. Believing the monster might be the Missing Link, he transports the beast by train across Siberia, hoping to bring the Missing Link safely back to Europe. But after the ice thaws…
Cushing portrays Dr. Wells, a slippery fellow who bribes guards to get the monster’s crate onto the train. Wells manages to make a mess of quite a few things in between wooing women. Cushing appears to greatly enjoy his role here, showing his range as a gifted actor.
Utilizing the unique setting of a trans-Siberian express train, Horror Express generates a claustrophobic atmosphere, exploited by the skills of director Eugenio Martin. Dark lighting is effectively employed throughout, enhancing the creepiness of the ambiance.
Even more than The Exorcist, the beast aboard the train made me believe in (and fear) evil. There is something so inherently evil about the monster that it still makes me shudder.
The effects are simple and effective – the monster drains thoughts from people’s minds, leaving them with blank, bleeding eyes. Watching the monster sway from side-to-side, with its victims following like puppets, is both mesmerizing and horrific. One of the most chilling scenes involves the mind melting of Father Pujardov, expertly played by Alberto de Mendoza. It’s one of those visions which sticks in your head long after the movie is over. Father Pujardov is a terrific character, stealing scene after scene, demanding your attention.
Another beautiful touch is a haunting whistled tune that the beast picks up from one of his victims. Hearing the song whistled through the train, knowing it is the monster, is disturbing.
Savalas doesn’t arrive as Captain Kazan until the final act. But once he hits the screen as a Russian Cossack, he delivers a performance so powerful it is almost shocking. Arrogantly swilling vodka and ordering people around, you almost begin to believe Kazan will get the whole situation under control and lock the monster away in a Siberian prison. But things, as you might guess, are not so simple.
Well-written, gory, and flat out scary, Horror Express is a true genre classic from the 1970s. If only they still made movies like this one.
You can get the Blu-ray/DVD combo of Horror Express through Amazon.