directed by Eugenio MartÃn
starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Telly Savalas
Forever a staple of cheap VHS and DVD megapacks, Horror Express screams onto Blu-Ray with a disc from Arrow Video that finally gives the film its due. Despite the British horror superstars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee the film is actually a Spanish production which also boasts American screenwriters and American actor Telly Savalas. Nothing about Horror Express feels like an early seventies Spanish horror. The origin of the film is quintessential low-budget lore. The producers had a train set and miniatures leftover from Pancho Villa. So they fashioned a story that could take advantage of being set on a train. The claustrophobia and isolation of the train mixed with the international elegance of the surroundings help make the film into a mix of Murder on the Orient Express and The Thing, and that’s a good thing.
Horror Express is a genre-blending film mixing horror, science fiction, adventure, and even Agatha Christie/Margery Allingham-style mystery. It tells the tale of the repercussions of a doomed scientific expedition led by Professor Saxton (Christopher Lee) discovering a missing link in the ice of Siberia. He is transporting the creature on board the Trans-Siberian Express. Also on the train are a geologist Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), a Rasputin-esque monk Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza), and Countess Irina Petrovski (Silvia Tortosa). The supposedly dead creature is actually an alien life form possessing the body of the yeti. The creature comes back to life and as he kills, he is also able to absorb memories of his victim. When his first victim is a thief, the monster develops lock picking skills. The monster is not just a rampaging beast, but a highly cunning adversary. . As it takes over a new host it absorbs all the host’s memories so it actually becomes the person virtually undetectable, and using their knowledge to move the plot forward. Director Eugenio MartÃn is smart in letting the audience know more than the characters so the tension is heightened. As the body count rises, the Russian authorities show up led by the Cossack Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas) who is convinced the issue is decidedly not supernatural. His ruthlessness serves to further complicate the situation and threatens to doom everyone. Savalas injects a great deal of energy into the film’s final act and adds a human threat to the alien menace. Then just to up the stakes the alien resurrects its earlier victims for climax with a mass zombie attack on a runaway train.
After decades of VHS, TV, and bargain bin DVD garbage transfers, this restoration from the original camera negative not only looks beautiful, it actually raises the prestige of Horror Express greatly. What was for so long passed off as Z grade garbage is actually a creative, well-made piece of genre filmmaking. The Arrow Video Blu-Ray also contains a slew of welcomed extras. The highlight of the release is the commentary track from the dynamic duo of horror commentaries Kim Newman and Alan Jones. The pair has the great ability to mix discussing on screen action, giving background and biographical information, and critiquing the film just through their breezy conversational style. It never feels like a lecture or the recitation of facts. They compare the film to contemporary Doctor Who serials, the stylistic differences in this film to other Euro-horror product of the era, and the chemistry of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, even comparing them to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Steve Haberman pops up for an all too short examination of the film with a featurette called Ticket to Die. Night Train to Nowhere is a interview with film maker Ted Newsome reminiscing about his friend, Horror Express producer Bernard Gordon who was a writer blacklisted by the Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. Newsome also regales with some great behind the scenes stories about Gordon, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing.