Horror Express (1972 UK/Spain)

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Horror Express (1972 UK/Spain)

Post  BoG on Fri Mar 05, 2010 4:23 pm

"There's the stink of hell on this train; even the dog knows it," says a monk. Stars Christopher Lee! Peter Cushing!
Anyone else favor this Spanish sci-fi/horror production which throws a lot of stuff into the mix, topped by a haunting music score?

Written by Arnaud D'Usseau and Julian Halevy (Psychomania/1970). Directed by Eugenio Martin.
The credits are overlaid with an eerie, almost mournful melody (which will return at key points in the film) and an approaching train in the night suggests a straight-up horror story. However, there are definite sci-fi aspects to the story, similar to The Thing concept (based on the famous "Who Goes There" story, remade a decade after this by John Carpenter).
In fact, much of the conflict here, between some of the characters and the general atmosphere, transpires to be between science & religion, during the transitional phase of the early 20th century (this film takes place in 1906).
Most of this story occurs aboard the Trans-Siberian Express and involves a creature which is millions of years old, having passed through various lifeforms as life evolved on Earth. Professor Saxton (Lee) makes the mistake of bringing it aboard the train as an apelike fossil; of course, it's not just a fossil. Soon, people are turning up dead, their eyes boiled and their brains drained - the thing turns its evil red eye on them and gains their information; efficient, no? A priest character rants on about Satan; Saxton calls this "rubbish" - he's right, of course; it's an alien monster, not a supernatural being.
This benefits from the umpteenth pairing of Lee and Cushing; Lee is the arrogant scientist here and Cushing is again a doctor. They had about 15 years behind them at this point, playing together and off each other, and it shows here. Then, Telly Savalas shows up as a power-mad captain of the Cossacks at the 1-hour point and takes over the film for about 15 minutes.
Savalas and the two leads, both playing up their British airs, ham it up, as if they know they're in a crackerjack cheesy horror sci-fi stew, but the film is surprisingly strong in style (claustrophobic mostly), pace (swift) and unexpected plot turns, which may be why it has its share of fans. The train itself, borrowed from another larger production, becomes almost another character, hurtling through the dark and the snow for most of the film. The interior set design is also quite good (one train compartment was thought to be redressed many times for different scenes but I sure never noticed).
The alien creature, as a concept, also touches on a few aspects & possibilities not ventured in The Thing movies. This thing has been around forever and is theoretically capable of curing all our ills with its vast store of knowledge; it itself voices this possibility near the end. Yet, it contents itself with merely the easy kill  - it really, really likes to drain brains. Is that an addictive process?  BoG's Score: 8 out of 10

Trivia Express: At this time, Peter Cushing was grieving over the death of his wife and planned to quit the film on the first day of filming; Christopher Lee convinced Cushing to stay on by reminiscing with him and relating a bunch of anecdotes. Cushing passed away in 1994.
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