Monday, February 9, 2009

Terror Train (1980)

Reviewed By: Billy

When I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with seeing Terror Train. I loved the idea of it…a slasher movie set aboard a train! It sounded awesome; kind of like Prom Night on the Orient Express, which was pretty much this 10-year-old’s dream movie. Finally, during a sleepover with a friend, I got my parents to rent it for me. And I found out I was right…it pretty much is Prom Night on the Orient Express, which means Jamie Lee Curtis, disco music, and tons of ugly people in an overblown movie that, at times, plods along at the pace of an Amish horse and buggy.

Not that this movie is an entire Train-wreck (sorry…you knew it was coming…) – there are some enjoyable elements, such as magician David Copperfield in a pageboy hairdo and the caked-on makeup of a German cabaret performer (see picture). But there’s one and only one reason this movie has defied the odds and remained in circulation on VHS and DVD over the years: it’s the third and final film in the Jamie Lee horror trilogy, following Halloween and Prom Night. Personally, I enjoyed this one much more than I enjoyed either of those movies, but that has nothing to do with Jamie Lee and everything to do with David Copperfield looking like a skeletal Liza Minnelli.

So the plot here is pretty easy to summarize: nerd gets traumatized during a frat prank; nerd comes back for revenge. This, of course, is the same plot used in dozens of slasher movies; the only new element here is that it all happens aboard a locomotive. Jamie Lee is the popular sorority girl (remember: it’s just a movie) with a heart of gold – she was there when the aforementioned prank took place, but not really part of it…so, of course, it’ll be OK when everyone else dies and she doesn’t. Ben Johnson plays the befuddled train conductor who keeps finding dead bodies, but isn’t really sure if there’s a killing spree going on. If this was the Orient Express, and Benny-boy had been there instead of Hercule Poirot, well, let’s just say Agatha Christie would be rolling in her grave.

Because the filmmakers clearly realized early on that setting the movie on a train would be, well, limiting – they decided to put a magician on board with all the college kids. Thus, we get large chunks of time filled with David Copperfield waving his abnormally large fingers around and doing sleight-of-hand tricks. In case I didn’t mention this already, David looks absolutely stunning in a very feminine pageboy hairdo and more red lipstick than a drag queen goes through in a year. Unfortunately, an hour into the movie, we’ve only had two murders, both of which are tame enough for the Disney Channel. On the upside, a trashy blond does take off her top, and we get a chubby prankster (think Shelly in Friday the 13th 3-D) who humps a blow-up doll.

Finally, in the last half-hour of the movie, our little choo-choo starts to chug along a little faster. Jamie Lee and company realize that the psycho nerd is back, and immediately go hunting for him. Now, because this movie is mildly entertaining, I don’t want to ruin the ending for you. Oh, what the hell…it’s David Copperfield’s female assistant. Only, of course, it’s not a female…it’s our nerd in drag! This is absolutely awesome...and completes our strange gender-bending trio including Jamie Lee (looking as masculine as ever in a pirate costume and a shag) and David-Liza.

Anyway, the climactic showdown between Jamie Lee and the nerd is actually pretty brutal and bloody; she gets an earring ripped out, he gets a desk organizer through the face. It’s not often you see the starlet of a movie absolutely drenched in her own blood, and it’s kind of refreshing. When he’s finally unmasked, the psycho nerd (played by Derek MacKinnon) does appear to be genuinely disturbed (unlike the completely well-adjusted, slightly bored killer in Valentine, which pretty much apes this plot – and improves it immeasurably). Not that this movie is realistic in any way – my favorite scene, for example, involves the killer climbing upside down on the side of the speeding train a la Spider Man.

Anyway, like pretty much every movie I was desperate to see as a 10-year-old, this one doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s not quite as nauseating as Prom Night or the similarly Greek-themed Hell Night, but it’s nowhere near as consistently fun as college who-done-its like April Fool’s Day and Urban Legends: Final Cut. It does rank as the most outlandish slasher Jamie Lee Curtis would ever make (that is, until she became a hag in Halloween: Resurrection and started making out with her brother’s mask), which at least assures it a few fingers. Bottom line, if you want a good revenge slasher, check out JM’s personal favorite, Valentine. But…if your 10-year-old kid’s having a slumber party – all aboard!


1 comment:

  1. This is one of my favorite slashers from the 80's. I remember seeing it the same weekend I saw HELL NIGHT, another fave slasher which spooked me as a kid. The location is interesting as is the killer trading off with his victims costumes. A remake is supposedly in the production stages, or possibly already finished. Very nice site, by the way.