Saturday, October 6, 2012

El Professore Movie Reviews: Horror Express (aka Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express)

Director: Eugenio Martín
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Alberto De Mendoza, Sylvia Tortosa, Telly Savalas
* * * *
Lensed in Spain on a meager budget, 'Horror Express' has gone on to become a cult favorite via various PD vid releases and constant UHF T.V. airings during the '80s. It's also one of my ten favorite horror movies ever.

Full review after the jump.

Set in China of 1906, the film features British anthropologist, Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) as he boards the Trans-Siberian Express bound for Europe. Saxton has brought along with him a crate containg the frozen remains of a prehistoric humanoid discovered in a Manchurian cave. Believing his frozen 'fosil' to be a missing link, he (and the passengers) get far more than they bargained for when the creature turns out to be not only alive, but dangerous in ways no one could have guessed. As it turns out, the primitive man/beast was merely acting as host to a space creature who was stranded on Earth at the time of the dawn of man. It probes various passengers brains telepathically, searching for a way to go home. Unfortunately by doing this, it literally fries the victims' brains, wiping them clean and killing them in the process. Able to enter it's victims' bodies secretly at will, Dr. Saxton along with his friendly rival Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) must quietly find a way to stop the ancient invader before it's too late.

One of the most deliriously over the top sci fi/horror stories ever told, 'Horror Express' moves at such a fast clip (with it's extremely clever, ever changing plotline) and handled with such assured direction by Eugenio Martin that one doesn't even pick up on the gaps in logic (of which there are several) until well after it's over. There is a constant feeling of menace and dread throughout with the 'brain fry' death scenes being surprisingly graphic and shocking for it's time (it played nearly uncut on T.V. despite it's 'R' rating). The finale where the alien being resurrects the slain Cossak soldiers and then summons it's zombie army to attack the passengers, is as memorable as anything from this period.

The cast (each character being well drawn despite a minimum of exposition) are definately up for the challenge. Lee and Cushing are especially enjoyable together here, perhaps more so than any other time they've ever been paired. This is one of the few times that they've been portrayed as allies and it's fun and refreshing to watch. With Lee being given the stern lead, Cushing is allowed for once to play off of him in an almost whimsical way ("Monsters? We're British, you know?!"). Telly Savalas has little more than a glorified cameo as the rough, militaristic Cossak, but he makes the most of it and manages to steal the final half hour of the film (no mean feat considering the oddball company he has).

'Horror Express is one of the all time greats. Those old enough to remember it's saturated, pre-Cable T.V. airings will have nothing but the fondest affection for it. If you are one of the ones who has yet to come accross this title, my advice is to seek it out immediately. You will not be disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. A great sci-fi/horror movie, almost like a proto-The Thing at times.