Release Date(s)1980 (October 16, 2012)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
If you’re going to organize a marathon viewing of every Halloween imitator from the late 70s and early 80s, you’ll want to be well-stocked on coffee and NoDoz pills. A high tolerance for crap is also highly recommended before undertaking such a project. Most of the movies you’ll be watching aren’t very good and almost none of them are at the level of John Carpenter’s influential original. But there are a handful that manage to charm and entertain on their own, more modest terms. Terror Train is one of the more successful entries in the subgenre.
The action takes place on New Year’s Eve as a group of pre-med students (including Jamie Lee Curtis in her third post-Halloween horror movie and Hart Bochner) gather for a traveling end-of-year blowout on an excursion train. But the party’s been crashed by a former classmate who went nuts three years earlier after a prank went too far (as pranks always do in movies like this). Could the murderer be the mysterious magician (David Copperfield) who nobody seems to remember booking? Can conductor Ben Johnson keep the party-goers safe? Will your heart be able to stand the suspense??! (Hint: probably.)
For a low-budget slasher movie, Terror Train boasts an impressive pedigree. It was the directorial debut of Roger Spottiswoode, formerly an editor for Sam Peckinpah who would go on to helm the 007 movie Tomorrow Never Dies and, perhaps more importantly, Turner & Hooch. The movie was shot by John Alcott, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Barry Lyndon. As a result, the movie is a lot more stylish than most others of its type. Having the killer take the masks of his victims is a clever idea, as is the seemingly random incorporation of Copperfield’s magic. As far as I know, this was David Copperfield’s only movie appearance and it’s fun to see him looking so young and performing close magic instead of large-scale illusions. The entire cast is game and fill the somewhat familiar proceedings with energy. The movie isn’t particularly frightening but it is a reasonably fun ride.
Terror Train isn’t the most jam-packed Scream Factory release to date but it’s still pretty great. On the video front, it appears they’ve done the best they could with what they had. The print appears to be in rough shape at the outset but it clears up quickly with only occasional damage later on. It isn’t quite as crisp or vivid as some of Scream Factory’s other titles but it’s certainly better than average. The DTS-HD audio is nicely cleaned up but not especially active, which I didn’t have a problem with.
There’s no commentary on the disc but four new video interviews, running a little over 40 minutes worth altogether, each of which is extremely interesting. We hear from executive producer Daniel Grodnik, who literally dreamed up the idea for the movie in the first place, line producer Don Carmody, production designer Glenn Bydwell and composer John Mills-Cockell. There’s very little wasted time in these featurettes and each of the men have great stories to tell. The disc also includes a poster and still gallery, a TV spot and the trailer. The combo pack also includes a DVD with all the same features, for emergencies I suppose.
All in all, Terror Train is a better-than-most slasher flick with enough flair to keep things lively. It’s always fun to see Jamie Lee Curtis at her scream queen peak, especially when she gets to share scenes with an old pro like Ben Johnson or the charismatic David Copperfield. It’s no classic but this is a solid release of a solidly entertaining film.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke