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Terror Train (1980)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/16/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/5/2012
In 1978, John Carpenter'sHalloween did two things (besides scare the pants off of a generation of movie-goers). First of all, it kicked off a run of movies featuring killers which came to be known as the "slasher cycle". (Yes, completists, Halloween didn't invent the slasher movies, but it certainly made the sub-genre en vogue.) Secondly, Halloween introduced the world to a young actress named Jamie Lee Curtis, who would eventually become known as a "Scream Queen". Following Halloween, Curtis would appear in no less than five horror movies in the next three years, including the inevitable Halloween II. One of those films, Terror Train, has now come to Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory's "Scream Factory" imprint.
Terror Train takes place on a cold winter's night when a group of college students are having their annual New Year's Eve party. The party organizers have booked passage on an old steam train which is rented out for events. This is a costume party and everyone is wearing masks. In addition, a magician (David Copperfield) will be performing. Alana (Jamie Lee Curtis) is excited to be attending the party with her boyfriend, Mo (Timothy Webber), and her best friend, Mitchy (Sandee Currie), who is with her boyfriend, Doc (Hart Bochner). The party is going great until the first dead body is discovered. The conductor, Carne (Ben Johnson), but there's not much to be done, as the train is out in the middle of nowhere. Things are complicated by the fact that the killer keeps changing their mask, making it easier to blend into the crowd. Who is the murderer and does it have anything to do with a prank from the past which went awry.
As noted above, Halloween kicked off the slasher cycle, spawning dozens (hundreds?) of imitators. But, something which is rarely discussed is how most of these movies actually differed from Carpenter's film in one key area. In Halloween, we knew from the outset that Michael Myers was the killer. However, most of the subsequent slasher movies are murder-mysteries, where the killer is masked and their identity and motive are revealed in the final reel. Terror Train certainly falls into that category and, in many respects, the movie has more in common with something like Murder on the Orient Express than Halloween. (And it's actually more reminiscent of Prom Night...but on wheels.) The movie has a somewhat old fashioned (even for the time) feel and plays like Animal House meets a killer on a train, but even that gives the plot too much credence, as Terror Train is surprising short on story. We get a pre-credit sequence (a staple of the slasher genre), we meet the characters, some murders occur, Jamie Lee Curtis fights the killer, and the movie ends. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not far from the truth. We get little in the way of character development and there are no subplots here. It's all pretty straight-forward.
This may make Terror Train sound exciting, but it really isn't. (It took four tries to watch the movie all the way through, as I kept falling asleep.) While the first murder happens relatively quickly, it takes a while for anything else to happen and we get a lot of dialogue with the train crew. For this time in the genre, the murders are relatively tame and we get little blood here. (This opened about four months after Friday the 13th, so audiences at the time were probably disappointed in the lack of gore.) The pace isn't helped by the inclusion of David Copperfield in the cast. By that point, he was known for his magic, having done some prime-time specials, so I guess the producer thought that the audience would expect magic if Copperfield was on-screen. So, the story (what little that there is) will come to a screeching halt in order for Copperfield to do an illusion. The result is a movie which isn't scary or even creepy, and there's little sense of suspense as the story keeps starting and stopping.
I originally saw Terror Train in the 80s and, as the movie has become relatively obscure, I hadn't seen it in its entirety since. At first, I couldn't remember who the killer was, but I did spot them before the unmasking. (Simply look for the character who just doesn't look quite right.) Still, even the mystery isn't enough to keep this train moving. Looking back, the movie is interesting for only a few reasons. The first, obviously, is the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis, as she solidifies her "scream queen" status, and she certainly can scream. Also of interest is the presence of Hart Bochner, who you most likely know better as the sleazy Ellis from Die Hard and possibly as the director of the criminally underrated PCU. Other than that (and the still of the killer wearing what appears to be a monk's robe and old witch mask which accompanies any discussion of this movie), Terror Train is definitely a second-tier slasher.
Terror Train has a big guy with glasses who looks at least 10 years older than his peers on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. I can't say for sure, but this looks like a theatrical print, as it contains some obvious white spots and scratches -- it's definitely from a print which has seen better days. The image also shows some grain. The picture is also a bit dark at times, and while some colors look good, others are slightly muted. The level of detail is OK, but the picture looks flat. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.1 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track has some power to it, but it remains isolated in the front and center channels for the most part. When the train leaves the station and during the party scenes, we get some surround sound effects, but they are weak at best, and I didn't hear much in the way of subwoofer. This often feels like stereo at best.
The Terror Train Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extras. "Destination Death" (12 minutes) is an interview with Executive Producer Daniel Grodnick, who discusses how Terror Train came together and how the movie was made. Production Executive Don Carmody talks about his involvement in the movie in "Riding the Rails" (13 minutes), specifically the logistical issues of shooting scenes on and around a train. He also talks about his history of working with David Cronenberg. "All Aboard!" (11 minutes) has Production Designer Glenn Bydwell talk about his education and how he got into movies, which led to his work on Terror Train. He then reveals how the movement of the train was simulated and how chose the look of the interiors. "Music for Murder" (8 minutes) is an interview with Composer John Mill-Cockell who sheds light on his approach to the film's score. We get the TRAILER for the film, a TV SPOT, and the extras are rounded out by a STILL GALLERY.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2012.