Terror Train (1980)
The boys and girls of Sigma Phi. Some will live. Some will die.
Year of Release: 1980
Running Time: 97 minutes (1:37)
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Ben Johnson ... Carne
Jamie Lee Curtis ... Alana
Hart Bochner ... Doc
David Copperfield ... The Magician
Sandee Currie ... Mitchy
Timothy Webber ... Mo
Anthony Sherwood ... Jackson
Howard Busgang ... Ed
Derek McKinnon ... Kenny Hampson
It's New Year's Eve and a group of college co-eds have planned a masquerade bash aboard a chartered train. What they didn't plan 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 with a talent for swordplay... a former frat pledge with an ax to grind... or any number of other guests, both invited and uninvited?
Climb aboard the "Terror Train" for a frightening combination of blood-curdling horror and intriguing mystery.
Terror Train, remindin' us that nothin' puts a man in a romantic mood like a dimly lit, hopelessly cluttered dorm room fulla malfunctioning traffic lights.
An speakin' of surefire cures for a healthy sex drive, I can honestly say that one day in, 2018 has been unequivocally worse than 2017. Now, I realize that *sounds* like hyperbolic crapola, an that you must be thinkin' to yourself: "how in the hell is that even possible?," considerin' we lost both George Romero and Tobe Hooper last year, well, it's real possible under the right (or rather, very, very WRONG) circumstances. Right now I got both doors open tryin' to vent the scent of skanky perfume an vomit, an the moment I opened the front Apollo bolted an now he won't come back in; just keeps rollin' around in the snow, which's somethin' I've been able to relate to pretty easily since I woke up this mornin'. This woulda never happened if we'd just had our New Year's Eve party at Furry Mountain Stuffing like I suggested, but Sadie Bonebreak's snowflake of a girlfriend refuses to set foot in there ever since she saw Cleave Furguson pluckin' the eyeballs out of a deer mount one afternoon, so, of course, everybody ended up crammed into my place. I guess it wasn't *that* many people; just me, Billy Hilliard, Cleave, Sadie, her girlfriend (I'm almost sure 'er name ends with a "dy" sound), Skunky an Juanita Hernandez, Tetnis, Merle Wilcox (he's got a moonshine operation out on Sumac Ridge), Duke Tankersley (although I dunno if Duke even knew he was there), B.J. Wilder, an... Bambi Pankins. I think B.J. musta let slip about the party on league night at The Gutter Bowl, cause I sure's hell didn't invite Bambi, an if I find out Otis Turlinger told 'er about it I may hafta go stuff his face in the deep fryer for violatin' bowler/pin monkey confidentiality. Honestly, I don't really even care that much if Bambi's hangin' around now that she's datin' Edgar Mastrude an gettin' some regular enough so's to not be a threat to me or any of my guests, even though I wouldn'ta let Edgar in even if he hadn't hadda stay late at the Videodome to take Betamax inventory. Guy's a Grade A dickpickle as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, it was actually a pretty good party, at least from the attendees' point of view; had the Atari goin' in the spare room, '80s sex comedies on the TV in the livin' room (normally I'd put on somethin' more festive like The Thing, but I had an unusually high concentration of Normals in the house, an besides that, I didn't wanna show anything that might trigger Duke, cause he ain't been the same since ole Crudfin sank his boat an tried to eat 'im out on Lake Gunkamucka last year), free flowin' firewater, an deep philosophical discussions about the future of the drive-in with guest lecturer Professor Hernandez.
I'm also proud to report that the cops only hadda come by one time for noise ordinance violations, cause apparently it's hard for some folks to sleep over the sound of Pac Pellet munchin' at 110 decibels. The big babies. *I* slept just fine around 2am after hittin' the jug a little too hard, but when I woke up, much to my abject horror, I noticed not *everyone* had gone home by that time. Nuh uh; cause when I came to I found a coupla permanent double-d divots in the right side of my mattress an a note on the nightstand that said "had a grate time, let's just keep this tween us." Frantically, I started runnin' through the guest list in my head eliminatin' the more obvious possibilities; Juanita (Skunky was there the whole time, an sides that she's pushin' 60, Catholic, an don't drink much), Sadie an her girlfriend (unfortunately, regardless of what religious fundies might tell ya, there's just too much incompatible physiological makeup goin' against me here), until I'd whittled the possibilities down to B.J. an Bambi. Now, if it was B.J., an Billy didn't find out about it an pound me into a pile of Hickory Farms sausage (B.J.'s Billy's 4th cousin, thrice removed), I figured I could live with that. I mean, B.J. an I've been friends a long time, so even though things woulda been weird for awhile, I'm sure it woulda all worked out in the end. I tried convincin' myself that's what'd happened for a good ten minutes, but when I looked at the note a second time an noticed the little hearts dottin' all the "i"s, well, that pretty much shattered the illusion. It was Bambi, there's just no two ways about it. I can only hope everybody else'd gone home or gotten too tanked to realize what was goin' on, otherwise I'll never live it down. I got an appointment with Tetnis later this afternoon to see what he can do about all the steel wool gashes I gave myself tryin' to get clean, but Tetnis don't talk much to begin with, an besides that he takes the Hippocratic oath more seriously than most doctors; even if it's generally just to shield himself from any potential litigation that might come up later. I ain't even gonna tell ya some of the places I found lipstick in the shower since I don't wanna ruin anybody's keyboards, but I'll tell ya this much: I haven't felt this foul since the time I lanced that gigantic cyst on Shankles' back an the built-up pressure sent a shower of clottage cheese all over my lap.
There, ya dragged it outta me, you pathetic flock of gossip vultures. You happy now? Prolly ain't doin' your gut buckets any favors is it? Well, now that everyone's packed away a half dozen Dramamine tablets an broken out the ole barf bag, let's get back to the matter at hand - Terror Train; probably the finest railway slasher flick ever filmed in Montreal to feature David Copperfield, Disco, an a man who gets trapped in a set of bed curtains an strangles 'imself into unconsciousness. As you can see, I'm not foolin' around here. I've got my finger on the pulse of America, an it's obvious to me that folks need somethin' *strong* to wash the taste of 2017 outta their mouths, so that's why I'm pullin' out all the stops to getcher year off on the right foot. No need to thank me, just do me a solid an check out this here trio of trivial testimonials, an if you're not completely convinced this movie's gonna be the life of your New Year's Eve party, well, blame Canada. First, assholes cannot possibly have good ideas. That said, if an asshole *does* somehow manage to come up with a good idea, and you go along with it - you'll find that you too have now been branded an asshole. Second, old timey train hallways were not built with the husky gentleman in mind. An third, if this magician had any decency he'da made Disco disappear.
On the plus side, after havin' sat through this one, I guarantee you'll be fully cognizant of the reasons behind our current doctor shortage. Now, until recently, I'm ashamed to admit that I'd lacked the intellectual curiosity to really dig into the causes behind this particular phenomenon, but after watchin' Terror Train, the catalyst has made itself abundantly clear: med students are all rowdy, mischievous, conniving pranksters who do things that leave the average dude no choice but to cut their heads off an stow 'em securely in the overhead compartment. A lotta people out there, they'll make excuses for the shortage; they'll tell ya about the cripplin' student loan debt, the cost of malpractice insurance, or the societal stigma surroundin' the desire to hire a hot/strapping young nurse who can provide a little extracurricular physical therapy in the back office, but the truth is that these smartass kids're always doin' things like coverin' the toilet seat with saran wrap or settin' you up on dates with cadavers. Admittedly, that's still a step up from your average Tinder date, but the fact remains: *nobody* likes these people, an your average life expectancy tends to dip when you room with a varsity linebacker an decide to swap out their apple juice with tinkle, just for the fun of it. The only way I can see around this mess is to just start importin' all our doctors from foreign countries until these domestic turkeys learn to clean up their acts an get with the program, cause you *know* the foreigners're so scared shirtless of bein' sent back to Tehran that you won't ever hafta worry about 'em gettin' a wild hair up their asses an puttin' a rectal thermometer in your mouth an uploadin' the pictures to their Instagram accounts.
The movie begins on New Year's Eve at a medical school where a buncha frat guys're settin' up this dork pledge (Kenny) on a date with Jamie Lee Curtis in a room with enough strobe lights to kill several epileptics, only the geek simply cannot believe that the same buncha guys who paddle his hiney an make 'im wear a giant yarmulke on his head day in an day out might just be settin' 'im up for some humiliation. Needless to say, he's pretty surprised when he parks his butt next to a cadaver an ends up freakin' out so bad that he hoses down his tighty whities, stands up on the bed, an spins around like the Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur until he's so tangled up in the lace bed curtains that he looks like a hobbit in Mirkwood Forest an ends up chokin' 'imself out. Fast forward three years an it's graduation time at the college, an we got a busload of rowdy future obstetricians an horny candy stripers gettin' ready to board a train headin' to their graduation party, but once everyone starts embarkin' the train this simp in a Grouch Marx mask (Ed) gets gored with a sword an moved onto the rail where he's Spamtracked into a puddle of wimp casserole for actin' like a scimitard. I guess no one can help him now, it's in too deep, he's go'n bleed out. Anyway, once everybody gets settled on board, the maniac with the stolen Groucho mask lures another dude (Jackson) into the can with promises of frat house study aids an proceeds to mash his face into the mirror like a crow trapped in a funhouse. Meanwhile, Jamie's P.O.'d at Doc (the head of the loyal order of conformists who looks like Trent Reznor's preppy older brother) after findin' out that the whole train deal was really *his* idea (an not her chunkheaded boyfriend's, as she was led to believe), an so she hasta go watch David Copperfield phase cigarettes through quarters an try to decide whether her relationship is worth salvaging now that she knows 'er boyfriend (Mo) will never be able to fall back on a career as a travel agent. Then the magician starts levitatin' his assistant around the room like Linda Blair in The Exorcist to some weird Disco James Bond music, only while that's goin' on, Ben Johnson (the conductor) finds the man in the can an decides to keep it quiet while he tries figurin' out how anyone smart enough to graduate from medical school could be dumb enough to try snortin' cocaine off a wall mounted mirror. Eventually he decides that it must just be part of some new trend he doesn't understand an gets the brakeman (Charley) to have a look-see, only by the time they get there all the blood's gone an the corpse has been upgraded from mutilated to tipsy, an suffice to say - Ben's tired of all these mugga fuggin' pranks on his mugga fuggin' train. So they dump the drunk off on Doc's girlfriend (Mitchy) an she takes 'im back to 'er room an lets 'im play with 'er luggage rack, cept when he peels a glove offa his Creature from the Black Lagoon costume she can't help but notice his skin tone's pulled a Michael Jackson on 'er an his hands've gotten a whole lot more strangley than usual.
Elsewhere, Doc's given Mo a graduation gift in the form of a bad decision starter kit (a blonde Freshman an a bottle of booze; protection not included), an it ain't long before she's tryin' to get a kiss under the cameltoe an causin' serious allegiance issues for Mo when she unveils the New Year's boobies. Then Ben finds Mitchy's body an grabs the nearest person he can get his hands on (Jamie) to prove he ain't on the fast track to the Alzheimer's Hut an sure enough, Jamie's able to confirm that Mitchy has defaulted on her student loans. In the meantime, Copperfield's started up his act again an keeps disappearin' an reappearin' in a puff of smoke like a ninja with diarrhea, only when he reappears for the final time Mo's been run through with a lance, magic lance, an Doc goes draggin' 'im car to car lookin' for somebody who actually paid attention in class. Then Ben hasta slam on the brakes an send all the passengers flyin' around like upper class crash test dummies an kick everybody off the train so the crew can search door-to-door for any homicidal college Deans who may've snapped after the latest sexual assault statistics made their way to the press. Not surprisingly, outta all these Rhodes Scholars, Jamie's the only one who thinks Kenny mighta turned gonzo an decided to go Revenge of the Nerds on 'em, cept when she tells Doc about 'er diagnosis he just writes 'imself a prescription for booze an introspection an ends up gettin' his throat slit by some Misfits fanatic with black nail polish an a switchblade. Course by this point everybody's startin' to turn into Eskimo Pies waitin' around in the snow, so when he gets the all clear from his fearless band of luggage monkeys, Ben tells everybody to get their hineys back on board before Pat Monahan shows up an starts singin' Drive By. Then Jamie an Ben go lookin' for Doc an find 'im stowed safely in the overhead compartment, only they can't help but notice some joker's been literally contributin' to the doctor shortage when his torso comes spillin' out without its head. It's been obvious since the first five minutes of the movie that Doc never had a good head on his shoulders, but once presented in a more literal capacity, Ben realizes he needs to get his stuff together an go derail the magician an his loco motives before anybody else takes it in the caboose. Meanwhile though, Jamie's been socked away in one of the cars that's no longer in service in case anybody tries rollin' 'er coal, but Jamie's seen this movie before, so she piles up a mound of blankets so that when the creep shows up an tries gorin' 'er through the gams he leaves 'imself wide open for some serious sabrein' of the solar plexus. Unfortunately, that just hacks 'im off, an it ain't long before he's back on his feet an lookin' to cross the first order of business off his list of New Year's resolutions, which is where we'll leave the two of 'em for all the folks out there who may not have gotten around to this one yet an don't want the endin' spoiled.
Alrighty, well, what better way to build upon the the newly blossoming Slasher subgenre than hire Jamie Lee Curtis to oil up her larynx and set her loose on a train where nobody knows who the killer is? That's essentially what they were banking on here, and their investment was both sound and profitable, as Jamie's reputation for being the ultimate scream queen of her day carried another successful project over the finish line. Unfortunately, Jamie only had another two (three if you count the voice over in Halloween III) Horror flicks left in her before she got tired of stayin' at the Motel 6 during shoots and ran off to make indoor bullstuff on us for the next 17 years after the release of Halloween II, though she did eventually remember what brought her to the dance and returned to star in some of the worst Halloween sequels ever made. Still, we can't help but appreciate the heck out of 'er for her part in building up the Horror genre during the late '70s and early '80s into something people really wanted to watch, and equally importantly (given how much money Halloween made in relation to its budget), a genre that young filmmakers wanted to get involved in. Often, these Horror flicks were just an easy way to break into the business given how cheap they were to make and the fact that they almost always made money; provided you could get them into theaters. At the end of the day, all you really had to do was follow the formula created by Halloween (later perfected by Friday the 13th) and you were almost assured a healthy return on your investment, and the guys behind Terror Train did exactly that, while also utilizing an unusual setting. The change of venue has always been one of the easiest ways to differentiate your Slasher flick from its seemingly endless list of contemporaries, because if you choose an interesting setting that has an impact on the plot, it tends to keep things fresh. Kind of a cheap trick, I admit, but one that you come to appreciate after having seen enough ultra low budget flicks that can't even be bothered to go to *that* much effort to be different, but Terror Train has more going for it than just its setting. The IMDB designates it as a Horror/Thriller, but if you can only use two genres to describe it, Horror/Mystery actually makes a lot more sense, because one of its major plot devices is the killer roamin' around the train killing people and then donning their costumes to confuse everyone on board. Admittedly, there is very little mystery about who's doing the killings (or at least a lot less than the writers would like you to believe), but there are details that come to light throughout the course of the movie that help shore up people's motivations, as well as other elements that a half-assed feature wouldn't bother with on the basis that Horror fans will watch anything and care little about inconsistencies or plot holes. All this time spent on little touches does tend to make the movie drag a bit, but that extra effort gives it an air of professionalism that a Friday the 13th movie lacks, even if it's a bit more serious and, consequently, less fun as a result.
In any event, what say we make like that jerk on TV and reveal some of the magician's secrets and see if his show's still worth the full $2. The plot, while a bit slow, exhibits a level of intelligence that ranks it above your average Slasher flick, despite not being clever enough to successfully steer you away from the most likely suspect. It's hard to say whether or not they really even intend for the audience to seriously suspect anyone but the most likely perpetrator, but if you've seen enough of these types of movies, it is possible to be thrown now and then, because sometimes writers will include a plot twist that makes absolutely no sense just to surprise the audience. Really, it's the little details that make this flick a little smarter than your average Slasher, and while it's not utterly entrancing, it's still solid. The acting is pretty good as well, despite a cast that includes just about every cliched character in the book (the dork, the jock, the heel, the slut, the helpful/friendly character actor, and the innocent heroine), with the best performances coming from Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Hart Bochner. I'd never realized how much Ben Johnson and Barry Corbin look alike, and for about half the runtime, I thought it *was* Corbin, but Johnson's usual bang-up job as the grizzled character actor is the performance that really holds the movie together, even if he doesn't have that many lines. He does get the best one in the flick though when he says: "I never saw anybody so dead as that." Johnson's name actually comes before Curtis' in the credits, although I'd consider them about equal in terms of their significance to the plot, and at the end of the day it's Jamie with whom we tend to identify and sympathize. Hart Bochner's decent as the douchebag frat boss, Doc, although they certainly showed some restraint with his character, since these kinds of guys tend to be complete over-the-top dickheads. Copperfield's actually not bad either, considering he wasn't really a trained actor and this was fairly early in his career, and the execution of his illusions comes across rather well.
Here's who matters and why (besides Jamie Lee Curtis and David Copperfield, of course): Ben Johnson (Cherry 2000, The Swarm, The Savage Bees, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Locusts, Mighty Joe Young 1949), Hart Bochner (Supergirl, Carrie 2013, Urban Legends: Final Cut, Mad at the Moon), Sandee Currie (Curtains, Terminal Choice), Timothy Webber (War for the Planet of the Apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Millennium, Matinee, Murder in Space), Anthony Sherwood (The Vindicator, Eternal Evil, Scanners, Death Ship 1980, Agency), Howard Busgang (Killer Party), Steve Michaels (Scanners 1 & 3, Visiting Hours), Greg Swanson (The Shape of Things to Come), Vanity (Neon City), Joy Boushel (The Fly 1986, Quest for Fire, Cursed, Humongous), Victor Knight (Scanners 1 & 2, Happy Birthday to Me, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 1999, Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, Visiting Hours), Donald Lamoreux (Agency, Replikator), Charles Biddle Sr. (Zombie Nightmare), Thom Haverstock (Skullduggery), Roland Nincheri (Scanners, Agency, Visiting Hours, Eternal Evil). Got a coupla decent character actors in this sucker too, so I'll go ahead and run through the list of mainstream credits to give them their due: Ben Johnson (Ben the Lion in The Last Picture Show, Tector Gorch in The Wild Bunch, Mr. Mason in Red Dawn, Geronimo Bill in Radio Flyer, Captain Tanner in The Sugarland Express, Jack Beynon in The Getaway, Marshal Dave Bliss in Hang 'Em High, Chris Calloway in Shane, Sgt. Tyree in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon), Hart Bochner (Harry Ellis in Die Hard, the voice of Arthur Reeves in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), Timothy Webber (Calloway in Cypher), Anthony Sherwood (Jason Locke on Airwolf).
The special effects may be the low point, despite not being bad, exactly. Fact is, there really isn't that much in the way of gore in this flick, as many of the kills happen off screen and don't tend to result in many brutally massacred bodies due to the the killer's style and the nature of his motives. For the most part there's a healthy amount of blood at the scene of each killing, with all of it being of good consistency, but a bit light in color. The best scene, as far as gore is concerned, is without question the shot where Doc's body flops out of the overhead compartment, followed shortly thereafter by his head. The severed head is really just okay, but it's still a pretty good scene because the body's wrapped in a blanket that prevents you from noticing its headlessness, and given that there hasn't been much gore to speak of up to that point, you're not expecting the head to come rollin' out. There's also a composite shot at the end of the flick that shows the demise of the killer, and while it's pretty pitiful by today's standards, it's not bad for 1980. The shooting locations are probably the high point, because not only is the train a unique and interesting setting, but it also happens to be chugging through a remote area of Quebec in the dead of winter. This piles on a lot of claustrophobic atmosphere, both in terms of the train's close quarters, and the expansive wilderness of Canada waiting outside. There's absolutely nowhere to go, and the cinematography of both the interior and exterior sequences is very impressive, particularly since it must have been a real pain in the ass shooting inside what was a real train (despite its not actually being on a track and running during the filming of the interiors, obviously). The soundtrack is alright, although some of the early stuff comes across as being excruciatingly dated, to the point of sounding like something composed in the '60s. And of course, despite being released in 1980, it was shot in 1979, so do be advised that there may be a little Disco fever as well. It's not all bad though, in fact, the rest of the soundtrack bears a striking resemblance to both Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead, both of which relied heavily on string instruments. I should also point out that, while Friday the 13th was released five months before Terror Train, filming was completed on both long before either was released, so there's no reason to believe Terror Train modeled its music after Friday the 13th's. That said, it's not as atmospheric or catchy as the scores from Friday the 13th or The Evil Dead, but that's still good company to be in as far as your sound goes. Overall, Terror Train has better production values than most Slasher titles, but tends to bog down from time to time and comes off a bit too serious; making it a little less entertaining than flicks like Madman or Silent Night, Deadly Night. Still, it's well crafted, extremely atmospheric, and serves as an excellent bridge between the '70s and '80s Slasher subgenre, so definitely check it out.