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STUDIO SHOUT! Factory
RUNNING TIME 97 minutes
• Interviews with Don Carmody, Daniel Grodnik, Glenn Bydwell, and John Mills-Cockell
• Still Gallery
• TV Spot
• Theatrical Trailer
A bunch of college kids get on a train. Not all of them get off.
Jamie Lee Curtis, David Copperfield, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner
Take an excursion into terror with Jamie Lee Curtis in this classic shocker from director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies). It’s New Year’s Eve, and a group of college coeds have planned a masquerade bash aboard a chartered train. What they didn’t plan on was that a knife-wielding psycho would crash the party and begin slaughtering the guests one by one! Who is this brutal costumed killer? Could it be the mysterious magician (David Copperfield) with a talent for swordplay… a former frat pledge with an axe to grind… or any number of other guests, both invited and uninvited?
I’m one of CHUD’s resident horror nuts, so I gladly accepted the task of reviewing SHOUT! Factory’s new edition of Terror Train. While I feel fluent in the language of horror, I’ve never really been as passionate about the slasher genre. For whatever reason, Halloween, Friday the 13th, or any of their numerous sequels and imitations don’t really do it for me.
To me, the slasher genre always seemed to be the most formulaic. It was the horror genre most often spoofed when I was growing up. By the time I was watching horror flicks, the plague of slasher sequels that swept the 80s was regarded as a cinematic joke. To me, the slasher genre seems to be defined only by its tropes, and never by the films that broke the mold.
So, does Terror Train break that mold? No. It’s an unremarkable slasher with a small cult following. Terror Train has a very slight story, based on executive producer Daniel Grodnik’s idea that you could put Halloween on a train. While it’s not a total ripoff of John Carpenter’s seminal slasher, Terror Train was an obvious cash grab based on the success of Halloween. In a completely shameless move, the producers even cast Jamie Lee Curtis in the lead role. She’s fine in the role, but her character is written as an unlikeable protagonist due to the awful prank she pulls in the opening sequence. Let me put it this way: she’s no Laurie Strode.
Roger Spottiswoode was brought on to direct as a hired gun, and the amount of creative input he had during preproduction is somewhat unclear. This was his first directing gig after editing several films, including Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Spottiswoode’s direction feels somewhat unsteady, but not awful. While I would love to hear what Spottiswoode thinks, he doesn’t seem to like talking about the film. He reportedly refused to record a commentary for this Blu-Ray, and he isn’t present in any of the disc’s featurettes.
The film is an ugly mix of wintry darkness, smoke, hazy neon, and fluorescent glare. The picture was shot in real train cars, making for some very limited options concerning camera placement. Despite being lit and shot by John Alcott (the same guy who did Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon), Terror Train feels stuffy, dingy, and claustrophobic. I suppose that might increase the fright factor for some, but I just wanted to get out of the damn train. The rare exterior shot is a welcome respite from the oppressive train sets.
The only truly unique aspect of Terror Train is the casting of David Copperfield. Yes, the magician. David fucking Copperfield. In a mind-boggling casting decision, he plays a magician. A magician hired by frat boys to perform on a train. I can’t make this shit up, people. His character is an odd, shoehorned addition to the thin screenplay, acting as both red herring and romantic interest (and a magician, of course). The magician wasn’t present in earlier drafts of the screenplay. During preproduction, Copperfield was approached by a producer who simply wanted to incorporate him into the film. Why? I guess the train needed more magic. As it turns out, Copperfield’s haircut, comically oversized collar, and frilly lapels are all the magic Terror Train needs.
Terror Train is nearly 100 minutes long. As a simple slasher, this flick shouldn’t have been longer than 85 minutes. It should be a frantic race to the finish, but instead feels slack and languid. There is hardly any sense of “whodunit” mystery, no apparent finish line, and no sense of impending doom. The various costumes that our killer dons are all silly, yet not silly enough to evoke laughter. The camp value on the film is low. I do, however, admire SHOUT! Factory for giving this film a Blu-Ray treatment it didn’t deserve. Terror Train‘s cult fandom will no doubt be pleased by this release, as will Jamie Lee Curtis fans. This could’ve ended up a forgotten film, so it’s pleasing to see that someone is tending to the dusty cinematic oddities like Terror Train.
This new transfer is, without a doubt, the best Terror Train will ever look. Like I said, it’s an ugly film, but the transfer is extremely color-faithful with deep, dark black levels. It’s pervasively grainy in that cheap 35mm way. The transfer has not been digitally over-sharpened, and no effort was taken to remove small scratches and specks from the print, giving it a grindhouse charm. There are no cigarette burns, no jumpy cuts, no jitter, and no cropping issues. It’s impressive, yet still trashy.
The packaging only advertises DTS Master Audio 2.0 on the Blu-Ray and Dolby Stereo on the DVD, but there’s also a DTS Master 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 hiding in the set. Unfortunately, all the audio sounds like shit. Sure, the dialogue and music levels are consistent, but it all sounds flat and mushy.
The filmmaker interviews are fairly interesting, each featuring a surprising amount of information about all the stages of the filmmaking process. Producer Daniel Grodnik is very honest about the film, as are the rest of the interviewees. Again, I’m surprised with the treatment that Terror Train has been given, but don’t expect the level of care that was given to SHOUT! Factory’s recent Halloween II & III releases. If you’re a Terror Train fan, you should definitely pick this set up. If you’re not a Terror Train fan, Executive Producer Daniel Grodnik sums it up nicely: “People have told me that it’s a classic. I’m not sure that it is. But, y’know, it does have Jamie Lee Curtis.”
Out of a Possible 5 Stars