Horror Express (1972)

Horror Express (1972)

Can it be stopped?

Professor Saxton has just found what he claims to be the missing link in human evolution and brings his find aboard the Trans-Siberian Express in order to ship it back to the west. Dr. Wells, a rival scientist, is sceptical and pays a baggage boy to drill a hole in the crate to see what it is. But no one knows that the creature is actually still alive and, by looking into the eyes of its victims, it can boil the brain and absorb their intelligence. What will everyone do with this beast running loose on the train?

 

Horror Express was made a time when Hammer still had a strangle-hold upon the horror market, with their period horrors featuring Frankenstein and Dracula still proving dependable, if somewhat repetitive, outings. This Spanish-British co-production was the third film that director Eugenio Martin had been contracted to make. So using expensive sets from Pancho Villa (notably the train and large sections of track), Horror Express was penned – sort of a scarier version of Agatha Christie’s famous Murder on the Orient Express, only this time with some sort of Yeti-like creature doing the killing. And when you add the two greatest horror stars of their generation, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, to proceedings, the end result is one of the best films of their pairing: Horror Express, a classic low budget horror which is every bit as weird and wonderful as its premise sounds.

A mixture of all manner of classic horror staples, Horror Express throws in stuff from zombies to brain-sucking monsters and religious hokum. There are plot holes a mile wild which are shoved aside, random occurrences which are just simply glossed over and a general sense that the film is heading in one direction whether everything makes sense or not. The isolation scenario is well-used and is a bit reminiscent of The Thing From Another World at times. The cramped hallways of the carriages are used frequently to create a bit of claustrophobia and the feeling that there is no way out even though it’s only a train. Dimly lit baggage cars and dingy lounges add to the notion that something loose on this train would be impossible to locate. For such a confined setting, the film does an admirable job of making it seem like the worst place in the world to be.

The monster itself isn’t around for long before it swaps bodies, which is probably a blessing because it doesn’t look too convincing in its normal Yeti-like form. However the damage it can do is pretty horrific and memorable with the images of its victims’ white, bleeding eyes being one that you certainly won’t forget after viewing. Nor will you forget about cutting someone’s skull open to see their brain as so ably demonstrated by Cushing in this film (a nod to Frankenstein perhaps). The gore factor is pretty high at times, though never over-indulgent, which adds to the 70s cheese of the film. The film is never about cheap thrills and though there are odd traces of camp lingering, the film never once strays into ridiculousness.

As so often in these horror efforts, it’s the stars of the film that make proceedings more viewable than they deserve to be and when you get the two best that the genre has to offer, even the most trite and absurd scripts could sound like Oscar-winning material – and above all, believable. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are marvellous here. The two men share such a chemistry when they’re on screen and it is clear to see that they were very good friends off screen too. Cushing’s wife died shortly before film started and it was Lee’s personal intervention which made Cushing agree to film (Cushing himself had stated that he was just killing time after her death until they would meet again – a tragic statement if ever I heard one). But despite looking a little frail, Cushing being the pro that he was manages to turn in another excellent performance. Lee is his usual bullish self as the more pompous of the two scientists. Through the course of the film, they manage to make the premise sound life-threatening, talking up the danger to everyone and treating the situation with the utmost respect and horror.

Telly Savalas pops up later on in the film and adds some boisterous, energetic demeanour to the film as a rogue Cossask commander who boards the train and arrests everyone. Also of worthy mention is Silvia Tortosa who plays Irina Petrovski – she’s a hottie and adds some glamour to proceedings.

 

Horror Express is a classic dosage of Euro-horror from the 70s: a solid mix of the Gothic Hammer approach with its more liberal Spanish trappings. You can’t go wrong with the two best actors that the genre has ever produced going up against a brain-sucking Yeti on a Trans-Siberian train!

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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