Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Produced by Harold Greenburg
Written by T.Y. Drake
Director of Photograpy John Alcott
Music by John Mills-Cockell
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, Ben Johnson, David Copperfield
1980/97 mins/ColorDolby Stereo
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD
When we look back on the slasher film craze which followed the success of HALLOWEEN, it's easy to understand why so many of these killer on the loose films flooded cinemas in the late 70s and early 80s (and it could be argued that we're still seeing them today). But, what's amazing to discover is how quickly the explosion of this genre took place and how rapidly the rules for the films were established. Most of these films followed a particular pattern and simply filled in the blanks -- and this is what killed the genre, the cookie-cutter nature of the films. The Canadian-lensed TERROR TRAIN contains many of these ingredients, with its most prominent asset being its star, Jamie Lee Curtis.
As TERROR TRAIN opens, we witness a fraternity prank, orchestrated by Doc (Hart Bochner) and Mo (Timothy Webber) and involving Alana (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Mitchy (Sandee Currie) go horribly wrong, leaving the intended victim a screaming mess. The story then jumps ahead three years. The graduating members of the Sigma Phi fraternity are throwing a costume party aboard a train. As the party gets underway, a killer, who borrows masks from the victims, begins to stalk the party-goers, killing several of them. The killer seems to be targeting specific people, most notably those involved with the botched fraternity prank. Is it the victim of the prank come back for revenge? Is it one of the group members? Is it the enigmatic magician (David Copperfield) that no one remembers inviting to the party? The resourceful Alana enlists kindly train conductor Carne (Ben Johnson) to help discover the identity of the killer.
Arriving in October, 1980, TERROR TRAIN was certainly among the first wave of HALLOWEEN imitators to come along, and as noted above, contains some of the requisite ingredients found in the genre. As noted above, Jamie Lee Curtis was probably the biggest selling point for TERROR TRAIN, as she'd appeared in HALLOWEEN and starred in THE FOG and PROM NIGHT since then, as she was on her way to becoming a new "screen queen". The movie offers a unique location in the moving train and has the requisite masked killer.
But, the above list are the only things that TERROR TRAIN does correctly. The rest of the film is a mixed-bag from director Roger Spottisoode, who would go on to direct some high-profile films (this doesn't include STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT). The murders themselves are not very creative and offer very little gore. There is basically no T&A in the film (that's a must for these movies!). In most slashers, we either knew exactly who the killer was (ala HALLOWEEN) or else the film was a whodunit (like FRIDAY THE 13TH). TERROR TRAIN can't commit on either side of this question, as we are pretty much told who the killer is (or should be), but then the characters must decide if that person is on the train. The idea that the killer takes masks from others is OK, but the masks themselves are never interesting. As this was Spottiwoode's first film, he clearly didn't have a sense of pacing, as the movie drags at times, and is often only an excuse for Copperfield to show off his talent. The movie offers very little suspense, and finally, it commits one of the cardinal sins of 80s films -- it shows people who we don't know supposedly having a good time dancing to cheesy anonymous 80s music. I remember liking TERROR TRAIN when I first saw it some 24 years ago, but that probably has something to do with the fact that I was at an age where I was lucky to see any horror film. Seeing the film today, TERROR TRAIN comes off as a boring copy-cat that has some potential, but is easily derailed.
TERROR TRAIN chug-chugs onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the full-frame and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Like the film, the transfer has pros and cons. The image is sharp, but isn't always that clear, as it shows a very light sheen of grain throughout the film. Also, the transfer is somewhat dark and drab, making the colors seem dull and the darker scenes seem overly dark. The image shows some minor defects from the source print, such as black dots and very minor scratches. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital stereo audio track which is well-balanced, offering clear dialogue, sound effects, and musical cues. The only extra on the disc is a trailer for TERROR TRAIN, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1 (and is 16 x 9) and runs nearly 3 minutes!
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©
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