Somehow this little gem slipped under the VHS radar for me back in the Mom & Pop era. Thankfully, I have the internet to fill these little holes in my life and I recently learned of this film when Vinegar Syndrome re-released the soundtrack and film last Fall. The artwork on the album cover was amazing and old school; I knew I had to see this film. Then I read some of the reviews of the movie and found out that its one of the worst films ever, and so I put seeing it out of my mind. However, I stumbled upon Night Train To Terror on YouTube yesterday and gave it a watch. I was afraid it’d be insufferably dull like some horror films from the VHS era can be. I was pleasantly surprised.
This is a particularly odd anthology film. The wrap around story is that God and Satan are on the titular train trading stories of good and evil to judge the ultimate fate of peoples souls. They are doing this while passing the time to decide the ultimate fate of those on board the train, which is fated to crash soon.
The first story centers on an asylum which forces an inmate (John Phillip Law from Danger: Diabolik, and Barbarella) to earn his freedom by kidnapping civilians for nefarious purposes. Richard Moll (bull from Night Court) makes an appearance as a sadistic guard in this segment. These are the only two stars of the film. The second story is about the head of a death cult that repeatedly kidnaps his adulteress wife and her lover and forces them to play increasingly insane Russian roulette style games. The third story is about a woman battling a demonic force that wants to corrupt humanity.
I hesitate to go into descriptions of this film anymore than I have to because part of the fun of the film is trying to convince yourself that you did actually see what you think did, and that yes, someone actually did feel it’d be a good idea to make this movie. The stories and in and of themselves are very inventive. The film was written by Phillip Yordan, who won an academy award for Broken Lance, and also wrote such films as Johnny Guitar and El Cid. This was one of his last screenplays, along with the 1989 horror flick The Unholy. I can imagine Yordan wrote this film to be a serious existential study on the nature of good and evil and it must have broken his heart to sit down and watch the film for the first time and see it had been partly turned into the worst music video ever. For the entirety of the wrap around segment, a train packed full of spandex wearing 20 somethings are singing “dance with me, dance with me”, while following the command of the song. If I had seen this on VHS, I would have been suspicious that someone put a piece of scotch tape on the record over tab on the back of the cassette and dubbed over it with the worst Saved by the Bell episode ever. Satan hates this song and God loves it, which has the unintended consequence of the audience identifying more with the Dark Lord.
The entire film is basically slap-dashed together from three unrelated and unreleased films whittled down to 15 to 30 minutes a pop, and then shoved into this film. Yordan wrote the script to all three of the films, but they were all directed by different people. The final story, The Case of Claire Hansen is taken from a film called Cataclysm, aka The Nightmare Never Ends and those alternate titles of the full length film are accurate descriptions for what making the film was like for the cast since the film had three different directors. It’s a horrible mess but in the best way possible.
For all the faults Night Train to Terror has, it’s never boring and contains some very impressive stop motion animation and practical special effects. There is a scene of a claymation demon rising up on a beach to drag an unfortunate victim to Hell that is very cool looking. Since it’s the 80’s you’ll see lots of women getting their shirts ripped off. There are also some cool death scenes in the film, including an electric chair death that you’ll have to see for yourself for it’s over the top hilarity. I wondered as the credits rolled if the people who made this film were somewhat serious or playing an elaborate prank, only to see that actor playing Satan was credited as “Lu Sifer” and God as “Himself”.
I think they knew what they were doing.
You can watch the film in HD here.