Monday, October 1, 2012

Terror Train Movie Review

The story goes that I was three years old when I saw this film and it gave me nightmares and a general inability to go to sleep on my own. I was permitted to watch it because my sister, nine years older than me, was into horror films and my eight year old brother just didn't believe these movies. No one expected I would be so affected by it. I had no memory of it growing up and I never watched it until I decided to include it for this series.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews

Terror Train is just one in a series of late 70s and early 80s slasher films attempting to capitalize on the popularity of the genre, especially after John Carpenter’s great Halloween. But Terror Train, directed by Roger Spittiswoode from an inane script by T. Y. Drake, contains none of the artistry of Halloween and instills almost none of the fear engendered by Michael Myers or the terror of the title. About the only thing it shares in common with its predecessor and inspiration is Jamie Lee Curtis as the shrieking star, a pure and virginal young woman whose chaste behavior is ostensibly what helps her survive. Both films tally up the body count of young people, but they are far less interesting or cinematic here.


Spittswoode is severely limited in terms of possibilities because virtually the entire action takes place on a movie train. The killer is hidden among the passenger, comprised of a group of pre-med undergrads celebrating New Year’s Eve on board a part train rented for the occasion. Halloween had as its setting a suburban American every-neighborhood infiltrated by a stalking madman. Michael Myers could be lurking anywhere, the implication being that we are not always as safe as we think. Where can the killer go on a train? His movement is bi-directional and I’m not convinced that the continuity actually makes any sense.

I’m glad and yet somewhat surprise that Curtis went on to a greater career outside of schlock horror. Her character is given nothing of interest to do or say. Then again, neither are ay of the other actors in the film, the most notable among them being Hart Bochner and the Oscar winner Ben Johnson best known for his roles in John Ford westerns. What is he doing here? His presence must have lent the film some credibility in 1980, but his talents are largely wasted. His character, one of the train’s conductors, does little more than comment on the action of the train itself or the presence of dead bodies. What a wasted of a great character actor.

Overall, the level of suspense is tepid and the shocks are minimal. We know more or less from the start who the killer is and what his motivation is. The only remaining mystery is where he’s hiding and behind what mask. If you can’t solve the pedestrian mystery, you probably fell asleep for a significant part of the film, which honestly wouldn’t be all that surprising.

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