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An English anthropologist has discovered a frozen monster in the frozen wastes of Manchuria which he believes may be the Missing Link. He brings the creature back to Europe aboard a trans-Siberian express, but during the trip the monster thaws out and starts to butcher the passengers one by one.
For more about Horror Express and the Horror Express Blu-ray release, see Horror Express Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on November 14, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Telly Savalas
Director: Eugenio Martín
» See full cast & crew
Horror Express Blu-ray Review
Dangers on a Train
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, November 14, 2011
By the 1970s, gothic horror B-movies—popularized in the U.K. by Hammer Horror Productions' Dracula and Frankenstein films, and in the U.S. by Roger Corman's Edger Allan Poe adaptations—were beginning to go out of style. The horror genre was evolving and branching into separate stems, producing violent new social commentaries like Night of the Living Dead and modern psychological thrillers like Rosemary's Baby. Audiences no longer seemed as interested in fusty Victorian-era tales of mouldering graves, fog-enshrouded castles, and corpses reanimated by mad scientists.
But like the undead, gothic horror continued to shamble onward, mostly outside of the Hollywood and British systems. In Italy, Dario Argento transplanted gothic aesthetics to the giallo, and the murderous Knights Templar revenants of Amando de Ossorio's Blind Dead series kept the traditions of the genre alive—so to speak—in Spain. And then there's Spanish director Eugenio Martin's Horror Express, a film so inspired by Hammer Films that—in an ingenious casting coup by producer Bernard Gordon—it features Hammer's two biggest stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, in one of their final movie appearances together. Horror Express has long been a cult favorite for fans of sub-mainstream gothic horror, and for good reason—the two leads are brilliant together, and the general atmosphere of the film is creepy, old-fashioned, sometimes over-the-top fun.
The movie seems to be a combination of two main inspirations, Agatha Christie's train-bound whodunit Murder on the Orient Express, and the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella "Who Goes There?"—the story of a body-hopping alien life form—which was the basis for both the 1951 and 1982 versions of The Thing. Christopher Lee plays Professor Alexander Saxton, an anthropologist who "dabbles in fossils" and has recently discovered a primitive ape/human protobeing—possibly the evolutionary missing link—frozen inside a cave in China's far western hinterlands. Hoping to wow the fellows back at the Royal Geological Society, Saxton packages the thing in a chained-up crate and prepares to board the eastbound Trans-Siberian Express.
Trouble instantly surrounds the two-million-year-old beast. When a thief peeks into the crate at the station, his body is later found nearby, his eyes blinded, bloodied, and looking like egg whites spattered with ketchup. A traveling Raspuntin-ish monk (Alberto de Mendoza) pronounces the death the "work of the devil," but this doesn't stop Saxton from getting the creature stowed safely aboard the train, where we meet several additional characters—a count and his wife (George Rigaud, Silvia Tortosa), a sexy female spy (Helga Liné), and concerned Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña)—who will mostly serve as fodder or suspects as the story progresses and the murders begin. And oh there will be murders. The creature escapes, of course —he seems to have absorbed lock-picking powers from the dead thief—and when the blinded bodies amass it's up to Saxton and his inquisitive fellow countryman Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) to figure out what in the Right Honorable name of science is going on.
And science—albeit shoddy, not even remotely plausible movie science—is the key. Like The Thing, Horror Express is a sci-fi/horror hybrid about an ancient alien body-snatcher that can transfer its consciousness and accumulated knowledge into other beings. And like Hercules Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express, Saxton and Dr. Wells have to use their best deductive skills to determine the alien's origins and murderous methods. Cue the microscopes, autopsies, and tissue samples! They discover that the creature's "visual memory" is contained in the eggy-looking eyeballs of its victims, and when one disembodied cornea yields an image of Earth as seen from space, the two scientists know they're dealing with a being not of this world, one who could feasibly take the form of any of the train's passengers. One of the funniest moments in the film —and there is some intentional humor, along with a few patches of unintended low-budget comedy—is when Inspector Mirov asks whether Saxton or Dr. Wells might, in fact, be the monster. "Monster?" Dr. Wells replies, incredulously. "We're British, you know."
Horror Express' ultra-low budget surprisingly isn't much of a hindrance, so long as you can get past the occasionally mild annoyance that, like most Spanish and Italian movies of the time, all of the voices are dubbed here. (Thankfully, in the English version, Cushing, Lee, and Savalas do all of their own ADR work.) Some of the train miniatures are decidedly unconvincing, but the interior sets are rather plush and the make- up effects—especially the brain autopsy!—work extremely well. Of course, the film gets immense production value just from having Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the lead roles, and it's great to see them as partners since they were usually pitted against one another in their Hammer movies together. The two consummate professionals banter skillfully, and Cushing's sensitive performance is especially wonderful in light of fact that his wife died shortly before production began.
While it's far from scary, the film does have its share of eerie B-movie moments. In its original ape-man form, the alien is kind of goofy in the way that all man-in-a-suit monsters are goofy, but the effects get significantly creepier when the being jumps into human bodies, turning its hosts into automatons with eyes that bulge and glow red whenever the lights are turned out. The most unsettling part is when the out-of-control Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas) boards the train with a squadron of Cassock soldiers, looking for the rebels he believes are actually committing the murders. Kazan's men are all wiped out by the creature, which later resurrects them as lumbering zombies with cataracted eyes. Naturally, you can also expect the Rasputin-like monk character to make an appropriately devilish turn.
Horror Express Blu-ray, Video Quality
Horror Express falls in the public domain, so over the years it's been treated—like Night of the Living Dead—to numerous shoddy VHS and DVD editions. There was a semi-decent DVD release of the movie by Image Entertainment several years ago, but this Blu-ray disc by Severin is now the definitive home video version of the film, for better or worse. The picture here is watchable, and probably the best the film has ever looked on video, but the presentation is seriously flawed. Severin has supposedly gone back to the film's original 35mm negatives for an all-new remaster, resulting in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's one step forwards and two steps back. The source materials aren't perfect, and you'll notice a range of minor print damage—specks and small scratches throughout, some slight color fluctuations and occasional brightness flickering—but the film looks decent considering its age and budget. In terms of clarity, the transfer is more than adequately defined; remastering the movie in high definition has yielded never-before-seen details in facial texture, costuming, and monster make-up. Color is satisfyingly dense and balanced nicely too—from skin tones to the blue Cassock uniforms to the glowing red eyes—and black levels are as deep as they need to be while mostly preserving shadow detail. But it all goes wrong in the last stage of the transfer—the encode itself. Where this disc falters—and falters hard—is in the unholy amount of compression visible here, from buzzing noise to full-on macroblocking. If you've got a smaller screen you might not notice it as much, but on anything larger than a 40" you'll spot errant video errors galore. It's definitely distracting, and it gives the picture a strange digital glitchiness. It's a shame the film's presentation was crippled in the final step.
Horror Express Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The disc includes the Spanish and English versions of the film, but unfortunately both are lossy, the former in Dolby Digital Stereo and the latter in Dolby Digital Mono. The English mix is the default, and it's the one you'll probably want to stick with, since it features the voices of Cushing and Lee. The tracks are listenable, and about what you'd expect for a low-budget horror movie from the early 1970s, but they could definitely sound better with a little love, attention, and digital remastering. John Cacavas' score is truly memorable—it has a whistled theme that'll probably be whistling yourself for days—but the high-end here is a bit brash, and even peaks and crackles occasionally. You'll also hear this in certain sound effects, like wind. The dubbed voices are synced quite well, but you will notice that some of the dialogue has a somewhat muffled, hollow quality. This is almost certainly due to the original recording techniques, and it never gets to the point of unintelligibility, but it is worth noting. You might also hear a quiet hiss from time to time in the background if you listen closely. There are no subtitle options available.
Horror Express Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Horror Express Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I just can't resist any murder mystery or horror film that takes place on a train. (Well, besides Midnight Meat Train.) It's the perfect place for the macabre—confined and claustrophobia-inducing, moving relentlessly forward while the characters are stuck together inside. Horror Express is low-budget, B-movie goodness through and through, with a cleverly written sci-fi monster, a great science vs. faith subplot of sorts, and the always welcome pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the two gothic horror greats. Unfortunately, Severin's Blu-ray treatment of the film is severely compromised by compression, with a lossy audio track and an encode that has more artifacts than an ancient Egyptian tomb. The film is great, but I can't find it in myself to recommend this Blu-ray release.
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Horror Express Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Horror Express Blu-ray (Updated) - October 31, 2011
The cult film distributor Severin Films has revealed that it will release a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Eugenio Martín's Horror Express (1972), starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Alberto de Mendoza, and Silvia Tortosa. Street date is November ...
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