Monday, 29 December 2014

Holiday Horror: Terror Train (1980)

Terror Train (1980)
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Starring: Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and  Hart Bochner
Running Time: 97 min

  I had no idea that this was a Canadian production and that Roger Spottiswoode worked as an editor on Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" before directing this, his first film.  Also, Jamie Lee Curtis did this film right after "Prom Night", which was another great Canadian horror, so, I'm excited to jump on board and ride this train of terror again.

  It's New Year's eve and a fraternity at a med school is having a party.  Doc and Mo, 2nd year students, have set up a prank for one of the frat pledges, Kenny.  He is being sent to make out with a hot freshmen chick, Alana upstairs in Doc's room.  They send him up and he finds a person, who he thinks is Alana, lying in bed and Kenny can hear Alana whispering to him to join her.  Kenny strips down to his gitch and when he jumps into bed, he discovers that it's not Alana but a corpse from the morgue.  Kenny freaks out, while the other kids laugh at him. Oh college pranks...
 Three years later, Doc and Mo are throwing another New Year's eve party on a train to celebrate their last year with the school and the fraternity.  Everyone is there, even Alana who was upset about the prank, which happened to drive Kenny out of school and into a mental institution but not upset enough to not be dating Mo.  Anyway, the train party is going to be awesome, people are dressed up in costumes, there's booze and there is even a magician!  Right on! Everyone is so excited that nobody notices that the Ed, the obnoxious kid dressed as Groucho Marx is actually murdered and pushed under the wheels of the train.  Once the train is boarded, the conductor blows the whistle and wheels of the train crush Ed's skull. Choo Choo!
  On the train, Alana is happy that her bed/cabin/thing is next to her best friend, Mitchy who is dating Doc, the guy who put Kenny in the institution. Anyway, everybody is happy and having fun, even the person who killed Ed.  He's now disguised as Ed and is on a killing spree murdering other frat brother's, while everyone is drinking and waiting for the magic show.  The Magician is kind of creepy and seems to have a stiff wand for Alana but her heart is already given to Mo, who is messing around with some other gals with Doc. Ain't that sweet.
  Eventually, the train conductor Old man Carne discovers the bodies and tries to get everything under control.  Alana and Doc think that it's Kenny and that he's returned to get revenge on them for ruining his life, which they kind of did.  Will Alana and Doc survive this terrible train of terror or has their New Year's eve been derailed and it's about to crash into a station of scares?

  I dug this movie, there are a lot of fun things in this movie besides it being a slasher film.  Director Roger Spottiswoode successfully tries to combine an "Animal House" kind of feel to the film and has the members of the fraternity so involved in pranks that nobody really thinks that the murders are for real.  This brings some dark humour to the plot and there are times when even the audience may wonder if this is a revenge hoax on Alana and Doc, similar to another 80's horror movie which I won't mention because it would ruin the ending to that film.
  Also, David Copperfield (Professional Magician) is in this and is very creepy throughout the film.  His career was just starting to take off and because producer Sandy Howard liked magic so much, they shoehorned the whole magic angle into the script.  This created an actual mystery about the who the killer might be and again Copperfield nailed the creepy aspect of the role.    
  Additionally, Jamie Lee Curtis (You Again, Drowning Mona) is great in this playing the best friend, nice girl who plays by the rules.  She screams her way out of these scenes here with such a professional flare that it's no wonder she was the 80's largest grossing scream queens.

  This kind of leads us to the issues of the film, one of them is that there really isn't a mystery about who has come back for revenge.  With such a malicious prank at the beginning of the film, there is no other person who would have more reason to kill these frat boys and girls than Kenny.  You freaked Kenny out, You Bastards!  The only mystery is what he looks like now because he has more costumes than Dr. Dressup's tickle trunk and he isn't revealed until the end.  There are a few red herrings around but nothing that would be that convincing as to who the killer is.
  Also, the pacing at times can be a little slow.  I understand that Spottiswoode is trying to build the suspense but it seems like he's taking the long way around.  There is definitely some good atmosphere here but I wish he would have gotten to the murders a bit quicker.
  Besides that, there could been a few more people on the train that could have been killed.  Like Ed and Jackson's dates, they were ripe for the picking and could have been executed in the shadows of the train.  However, Spottiswoode did keep his maniac on point and only murdered people that were associated with his prank gone wrong, which was very gentlemanly of him. 

  Overall, this isn't a "classic" horror movie but it's still a pretty fun slasher film.  It's got a killer on an interesting mode of transportation, some memorable kills and an ending, that might make you chuckle and it's one that you probably won't forget.  So, if you're looking for scary ride on New Year's, hope aboard the "Terror Train".

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