|Review||Terror Train (1980)||Director||Roger Spottiswoode|
|Cast||Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, Sandee Currie, Derek McKinnon, Timothy Webber and David Copperfield|
“It wasn’t just a prank! Doc, he was sick” – Alana
It’s New Years Eve and a group of college co-eds have planned a masquerade bash aboard a chartered train. What they didn’t plan on was someone crashing the party and begin slaughtering the guests one by one. Alana (Curtis) and Doc (Hartner) are a couple of the college co-eds who took part in a vicious prank three years earlier which left the victim, Kenny (McKinnon), institutionalized. Could it be that Kenny has returned with vengeance in mind?
– There are some very minor spoilers in the review
“Terror Train” is excellent. It has everything that a slasher film fan could want in spades and delivers it with a straightforward narrative that’s blissfully free of absurd red herrings that make no sense. That said it does present a possibly implausible revelation but it actually ends up being a clever mislead in a film noted for it’s twist free nature. The script for “Terror Train” is pretty good.
The setting aboard an excursion train is terrific. Narrow spaces are utilized well and the technical aspects, i.e. lighting and photography, are very well handled. It was photographed by the late John Alcott (“A Clockwork Orange” – 1971) and the look of “Terror Train” is very good and atmospheric. Director Spottiswoode (“Shoot to Kill” – 1988, “Turner & Hooch” – 1989, “The 6th Day” – 2000) has had a very good directorial career and it all started with this film. Although he never did a horror film after this he certainly had the flair for brutal set-pieces and maintaining suspense. A favourite scene here is when Doc is in his cabin hiding and he begins to suspect he’s not alone. It’s a really tight space but the scene is great as his anxiety mounts and he begins frantically searching the cabin; tight editing, music cues and a claustrophobic feel turn a potentially flat scene into a great set-piece.
The film is pretty entertaining also with a lively crowd aboard the train and some dramatic undercurrents between Alana and Mo (Webber) that’s amplified and orchestrated by Doc. Mitchy (Currie) also has a decent introduction as Alana’s closest friend and they share together a guilty conscience of having been part of the nasty prank three years earlier. Train conductor Carne (Johnson) is a fun character to watch as he relays his plans outside of his train responsibilities to his not so interested colleagues and finally there are some terrific magic sequences with Copperfield as he’s entertaining the crowd. In the backdrop is the killer who’s novelty here is the switching of disguises as he dons the costume of his latest kill.
The kills don’t go overboard in implausibility but they are pretty brutal. Although there’s no mention of it being drastically cut there are several scenes here that are edited very abruptly and show signs of being altered in post. But this is a fairly nasty film with a particularly brutal showdown with Curtis in the end and this killer really means business. Thanks to it’s straightforward nature there really isn’t much to nit pick at the screenplay apart from minor instances inherent with every slasher film. The ultimate revelation of the killer, while being completely predictable, is still a well pulled off piece of work that’s cleverly inserted to the storyline.
The cast is very decent as well. Johnson brings with him an air of sophistication and makes the most out of a cardboard character. It’s no wonder he’s the actor who won the supporting Oscar for the shortest screen time performance in “The Last Picture Show” (1971) as he displays here with ease how to make something out of little with good delivery of (admittedly pretty decent) lines and only a few interactions with people. Curtis is terrific here at the height of her first horror phase and delivers whether her character is in constant panic and danger or when dramatic touches are needed. Simply a great actress who displayed even further how good she was in the coming years. I’ve always been a fan of Bochner and he’s really good here as the film’s main asshole. He still manages to make Doc a bit more then just a one-dimensional prick and that’s solely down to his acting chops. McKinney is also very memorable in his part.
“Terror Train” is a great slasher film and is highly recommended.