Film Review: Terror Train (1980)

Also known as: Train of Terror
Release Date: October 3rd, 1980
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Written by: T.Y. Drake
Music by: John Mills-Cockell
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Vanity (credited as D.D. Winters)

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Sandy Howard Productions, Triple T Productions, 20th Century Fox, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Well, you know what they say: cold hands, warm heart.” – Mitchy

This was the second film I watched in a New Year’s Eve slasher double bill that I hosted at my house. The first was New Year’s Evil.

Terror Train is the better of the two pictures. The main reason is that it is more imaginative. Also, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis while she was at the height of her run in the slasher genre. Plus, the killer uses different disguises, one of which looks like movie critic Gene Shalit dressed as a train conductor, as seen in the film’s poster.

While you pretty much know who the killer is and why he wants to kill these college kids, you still aren’t entirely sure if the killer is the horrible victim of the prank gone bad in the opening of the film. There are some swerves, here and there, and the overall plot is decently constructed, which is more than you can say for most slasher pictures.

This movie also features a very young David Copperfield. Obviously he plays a magician but those bits where he does tricks are pretty cool to see. I have always liked Copperfield and seeing him perform within the movie is a an extra treat.

One thing I like about this picture is the atmosphere. The film is pretty dark throughout but there is vivid lighting and a sort of mixture of neon highlights and a chiaroscuro lighting and shadowing style. The movie has a kind of subtle neo-noir vibe to it but it is probably more of a call back to the Italian giallo style of the ’70s. Those giallo pictures were very early versions of what would evolve into the standard slasher film framework.

Terror Train has this cool characteristic where it sort of pulls from classic horror, film-noir, giallo and even German Expressionism in the use of shadows and angles to create a feeling of disorientation. I don’t necessarily think that any of that was intentional, at the time, it is just a film that came out during a transitional period and wears its influences on its sleeve whether it knows it or not.

The film itself isn’t as exciting as its stylistic flourishes but it is still a slightly better than average slasher flick in a time when these films were pumped out like E. L. Fudge cookies at the Keebler factory.

Jamie Lee Curtis is good in this and you also get to see her play opposite of Hart Bochner, who is probably most remembered as that yuppie douche Ellis in Die Hard.

3 thoughts on “Film Review: Terror Train (1980)

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