BluRay/DVD Reviews

HORROR EXPRESS

By • Mar 21st, 2000 •

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Nothing in Eugenio Martin’s Horror Express makes much sense but it keeps the audience on their toes with so many surprising and imaginative plot twists that few viewers will complain. Arnaud D’Usseau and Julian Halevy’s witty script throws what seems like every horror and science fiction idea into their stew including prehistoric monsters, aliens, zombies, and possession; all in a tight eighty-eight minutes. Add the classic horror duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and you have a very charming tale of terror.

In 1906 China, the brilliant, secretive anthropologist Alexander Saxton (Lee) digs up a strange frozen ape-like man who he believes to be a crucial piece of the evolutionary puzzle. With the creature seemingly secure in a crate, Saxton begins the journey back to Europe by train. The violent death of a thief at the train station, his eyes boiled until they are white as snow, is just the first sign that Saxton has made a deadly error. Much to his displeasure, this draws the interest of Dr. Wells (Cushing), a rival anthropologist. However, he is soon glad to have his colleague’s assistance when the revived monster gets loose and starts rampaging through the train frying people’s brains and stealing their intelligence.

Made in 1972, Horror Express comes near the tail end of Cushing and Lee’s amazing run of classic horror films. Although the material is not up to the level of their vintage Hammer work, they both tear into their parts with great gusto. Cushing’s cool intensity is perfect as the ever-curious Dr. Wells, while Lee’s arrogant charm beautifully embodies Saxton, a man who knows he should be more upset than he is over causing several deaths. “A thief and a baggage man,” Saxton muses, clearly unimpressed by society’s loss. Both actors have a field day with the film’s delightful mix of humor and horror, culminating in the unforgettable moment when it is suggested that one of them might be possessed by the monster leading Cushing to protest indignantly “Monster? We’re British you know!”

Except for Telly Savalas, who deliciously chews up the scenery as a crazy Cossack named Captain Kazan, the rest of the cast is little-known and nothing they did here is likely to change that fact. Eugenio Martin’s direction is skillful, especially considering the film’s miniscule budget, but lacks the dazzling style that directors like Dario Argento or Mario Bava have conjured up with similarly paltry resources. Nonetheless, the film is gripping throughout and builds to a chilling finale. Composer John Cacavas contributes a pleasingly thorny music score that is reminiscent of Ennio Morricone or Peter Thomas while retaining its own distinctive flavor.

After years in the limbo of cheap public domain tapes, Horror Express is well-served by Image Entertainment’s DVD release as part of their “Euroshock Collection.” Although there are some scratches near the beginning and end, this transfer has been taken from a good-quality 35mm print source. The image is nicely letterboxed in the movie’s original 1:66 theatrical aspect ratio. Filmographies of Lee and Cushing are the disk’s only extra but the snapper case has an excellent foldout essay by Marc Walkow that includes a touching anecdote about the movie’s legendary stars. As production began in Madrid, Cushing was still distraught over the death of his wife, Helen, and planned to quit the project. With tact and good humor, Lee roused Cushing’s spirits and got him back on his feet; an incident that helped cement their long friendship.

Reasonably priced and artfully presented, this is a DVD that fans of classic horror will want for their collections, and it is an absolute must-have for devotees of the artistry of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

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