Release Date(s)1972 (February 12, 2019)
Studio(s)Granada Films/Benmar Productions/Scotia International (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Destined to be amongst the crowded VHS and DVD cheap bins for decades, 1972’s Horror Express (AKA Pánico en el Transiberiano) attempted to bring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing together, but this time around, as cohorts instead of opposing forces.
In the film, Lee is an anthropologist returning to Europe by train with the frozen remains of what he believes to be a prehistoric man. Cushing, a friend and colleague, is also aboard with business of his own. Once they’re on their way, the creature thaws and escapes its confines, stalking other passengers and killing them one by one by bleeding their brains dry of information. It’s soon apparent that what they’re dealing with is, somehow, not human at all, but an alien from another world.
Horror Express, above all things, is an unusual film, blending horror, science fiction, and comedy into an often bumpy mixture – chock full of ideas instead of an even iron-clad tone. Lee and Cushing are wonderful together, and it’s certainly nice to see them on the same side for a change. In real life, they were the best of friends, but they were hardly ever given a chance to actually convey their bond on film. The rest of the cast is mostly serviceable, aside from Telly Savalas who comes into the story late but winds up being thoroughly memorable as a potential villain.
The film’s beastly antagonist is one of the least-used ideas for a monster movie. Not only do its creepy, red-glowing eyes drain minds of knowledge, but it also has the ability to body swap if it feels in danger or is on the verge of dying, meaning that anybody could be this alien being. The special effects, including the gore, are utilized well. The most disturbing of these, at least in my opinion, is seeing the effects of what the monster has done to a brain. It’s not necessarily witnessing the top of someone’s skull removed, but how perfectly pink and smooth the organ in question is, lacking any natural ridges or lines. It still gets under my skin whenever I see it.
Far from boring, Horror Express is an enjoyable film in stages, but it’s a tad bit long in the running time, focusing too much on extraneous characters without fully doling out the suspense in certain areas. Yet still, for a low budget Spanish production that keeps things relatively confined to one environment, it does a lot with very little, and that’s the most that you can ask for.
Arrow Video brings Horror Express to Blu-ray with a new transfer that’s been restored in 2K (in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio) from the original 35mm camera negative, but also incorporates an additional 35mm interpositive element for the fifth reel, which was missing during the restoration. Compared to the previous Blu-ray release, this is a much more natural-looking presentation when it comes to the color palette. It’s obviously sharper with higher levels of detail that newer scans and restorations tend to exhibit, but it’s also cooler, cleaner, and shows off more refined detail in the shadows. It’s a nice presentation with mostly even grain levels that can be a little coarser from time to time, but it’s definitely the best the film has looked on home video.
The audio is presented on an English mono LPCM track with optional subtitles in English SDH. Aside from some minor distortion during the opening, it’s a relatively clean and clear presentation. Dialogue is quite discernable and the score gives the track more of a rounded feel than many other mono tracks usually do. Sound effects are mostly good, although they do tend to show their age. There’s also next to no instances of hiss leftover, nor are there any dropouts. It’s also worth nothing that the previous Blu-ray release from Severin Films featured an additional Spanish language track, but that hasn’t been replicated here.
The extras for this release include an always enjoyable audio commentary with authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman; an optional 7-minute introduction to the film by Fangoria’s Chris Alexander; Ticket to Die, a 9-minute appreciation of the film by Steve Haberman; Night Train to Nowhere, a 15-minute appreciation of the film and its late producer Bernard Gordon by filmmaker Ted Newsom; Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express, a vintage 14-minute interview with director Eugenio Martin; Notes From the Blacklist, a vintage 31-minute interview from 2005 with producer Bernard Gordon; Telly and Me, a vintage 8-minute interview with composer John Cacavas; the original theatrical trailer in HD; and a 32-page insert booklet with the essays Horror Express by Adam Scovell and Riding the Horror Express by Mike Hodges, as well as restoration details.
Not included in the extras is a 1973 interview with Peter Cushing from the Severin Films DVD and Blu-ray releases; an isolated score and effects audio track from the Image Entertainment DVD release; and the Super 8 and Digest versions of the film, a German theatrical trailer, and alternate German opening and closing titles from the film’s German DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Long-time fans of Horror Express, especially those who were subjected to subpar standard definition presentations of the film, are likely to have their expectations exceeded with this one. It’s a fine package overall. Although there are few extras missing, the A/V presentation excels.
– Tim Salmons