Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Horror Express

This gory Spanish thriller marked the sixteenth time that British horror icons Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing appeared in the same film. It is said that HORROR EXPRESS was made because producer Bernard Gordon owned the model train and the sets built for PANCHO VILLA and needed to do something with them (the miniature effects in HORROR EXPRESS are excellent).

The plot by Julian Zimet and Arnaud d’Usseau, who also wrote PSYCHOMANIA together, is farfetched and the science is dubious, to say the least, but fast-paced direction by Eugenio Martin (PANCHO VILLA) and a thrilling score by John Cacavas (THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA) make HORROR EXPRESS a very entertaining ride. Do I need to mention the expert thesping by the British dynamic duo at the top of the bill and Telly Savalas’ hammy turn as a crude Cossack?

1906 China. Rival scientists Sexton (Lee) and Wells (Cushing) are traveling aboard a Trans-Siberian express train. So is a horrific-looking two-million-year-old iceman from outer space that is killing passengers just by looking at them. Sexton found it frozen in the Manchurian ice and was trying to secretly transport it back to Europe. Lee plays him as an arrogant snob, which is a terrific counterbalance to Cushing’s livelier, more humorous turn as the surgeon Wells.

Of course, a monster needs victims, and Martin has stocked his train with more than enough, including a mad monk (Alberto de Mendoza), a spy (Helga Line), and a gorgeous Russian countess (Silvia Tortosa). In act three, after the creature has plowed its way through most of the cast, Savalas (KOJAK) jumps aboard as Cossack captain Kazan, who not only brings with him an army of monster fodder, but also could care less which humans die, just so long as he can take the creature with them.

Spotted with splashes of blood, HORROR EXPRESS is blessed with a really cool monster that flashes a crimson eye during its attacks. Its victims gasp, bleed from their eyes and nose, and die in terror as their eyes turn white like they’re being boiled. Wells’ autopsy shows their brains have turned completely smooth (“like a baby’s bottom”), because the monster absorbs all its victims’ thoughts. I told you the movie’s science was dubious. At least it gives us wonderful howlers like, “You saw his eyes! One look at them, and you’re dead!”

Clever twists and dark humor abound in HORROR EXPRESS, but it’s hard to imagine the film working without its lead tandem of Lee and Cushing. Usually in movies in which the two share scenes, like Hammer’s Dracula series, they play antagonists, but HORROR EXPRESS allows them to work together as a team, despite their characters’ disparate personalities (Cushing pleading with a cockblocking Lee to find a different berth so he can score with a pretty young woman is delightful). Nice little horror movie filmed in Madrid.

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