As horror fans know sometimes different modes of media aid a film in achieving a loyal following, which is exactly what happened with Horror Express, all thanks to the small screen, the television viewing audiences of 1970s and 1980s, long before any social media, this one arena, helped it obtain that cult status. A film from director Eugenio Martino, that starred the dynamic duo Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, (released two days after another of their films called Dracula A.D. 1972), in this British and Spanish co-produced vehicle that combines horror and sci-fi genres, that went by the alternative title, Panic in the Trans-Siberian Train, but later dropped (thankfully). Martino used screenwriters Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet, both who would the following year create Psychomania (1973), to create a storyline primary focused in just location. While some might still pan the film due to the shaky special effects, it is the wrong decision, recalling the movie is over 45-years-old and served to influence the creation of The Thing (1982), and was the second attempt of telling the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr., the first The Thing from Another World (1951).
Confining a story to primarily one location has long been a staple of the horror film genre, the bulk of the film takes place on a train content wise, this is not your run of the mill body count horror film. The killer is an extraterrestrial being that keeps its identity a secret by leaping from one host’s body to the next, the narrative moving along at a brisk pace; death scenes are creepy, and helps reinforce the eerie atmosphere that is prevalent throughout. For those curious, railroad cars and trains in general have been and continue to work as great vehicles of horror from Terror Train (1980) to Train to Busan (2016) and recently both Howl (2015) and D-Railed (2019).
Horror Express opens in the snowy mountains of Manchuria circa 1906, where Lee’s crusading scientist Anthropologist Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee (Count Dracula )) discovers a frozen man/ape fossil deep in a cave, and believes it’s the “missing link,” prepares to ship it back to England via the Trans-Siberian Express train. However, as is common with horror flicks, plans quickly go awry as a nosy thief peeks into the crate while it’s still on the train platform and instantly keels over dead with his eyes gone completely white. A crazed Rasputin monk (Alberto de Mendoza) about to board the train declares this to be “The work of Satan!”, upon the train travel the creature escapes starts killing passengers. Saxton teams with his colleague and opposition Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing (The Mummy )), to destroy it. They learn more about the beast by studying the retina and learned it came to Earth from outer space with the ability to take the form of people while mind-melds with them causing the killing to continue. A minor subplot plays out underneath the heavyweights in the film that involves a Russian detective (Julio Pena), and Natasha (Helga Line (Black Candles )), later revealed as an international spy, they are among the supporting cast and do a fine job with their interactions. Eventually another odd character boards the train, it’s a sort-of constable Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas (The House of Exorcism )) and running his own type of investigation.
The overall production for the film contains a few campy moments, but that often becomes the bedrock for the horror genre lower end productions, it doesn’t include much violence, blood or gore, but has strong convictions and acting from Cushing and Lee. However, a deeper level of importance lies for this film, is the movie have freezing working conditions, and some less than desirable food, but also it was one-year after Cushing’s beloved wife died, that heart-aching first Christmas and he struggled with a deep-depression. Hence, Lee and his family make the time as cheerful as possible to help his friend and thespian, emerged from the darkness in soul and heart, although Cushing would continue to portray roles that reflected his own sadness in his personal life onto the screen. Now a small item for the filmmakers, instead of constantly using Night of the Living Dead (1968) in your films because it’s in public domain, use clips from this one as its too in in the domain, hence all the multiple releases of the movie.
First, this a standard creature feature movie, without much fanfare, or even splash in a small pond, but the work of Cushing and Lee make it very memorable, especially when learning of the back of production and how it falls into family lineage of The Thing (1982). If one ignores a strange plot, and basks in the passion of craft in cult following of the flick, then some enjoyable charms and moments will await them.
IMDb Rating: 6.5/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.5/10
Here is a link to the movie: