Blue Underground // 1975 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // January 20th, 2012
You can say to yourself, "It's only a movie..." but it won't help this time!
In an interview on this Blu-ray, director Aldo Lado claims that when he was brought in to make Night Train Murders, he hadn't seen the film's obvious influence, Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left. Night Train Murders' producer and writer, Richard Ifascelli, evidently had seen the US cult hit and wanted Lado to make a genre film about violence.
Lado's qualifications notwithstanding, Night Train Murders is undeniably a Craven clone, closer to the template than most Euro-horrors that washed up on US shores sporting the "Last House" brand, such as Last House on the Beach, Last House in Istanbul, or Mario Bava's Bay of Blood which was rechristened The Last House on the Left, Part II for one of its US runs. Of all the "Last House" riffs, this is the Last-Housiest.
This incarnation of the classic rape-n-vengeance tale gives us teens Lisa (Laura D'Angelo) and Margaret (Irene Miracle, Midnight Express) who are traveling by train to visit Lisa's family at Christmas. On the train, they encounter a pair of hoodish young guys, "Blackie" (Flavio Bucci, Suspiria) and "Curly" (Gianfranco De Grassi, The Church). We've already seen enough of Blackie and Curly to know they are ignorant thugs, possibly sociopaths -- they jumped the train to avoid getting arrested for slashing a woman's fur coat.
The coat slashing -- done not as a primitive high-five to PETA, but as a sign of frustration against the rich -- gives Lado the opportunity to present one of the themes that will take shape as the film progresses: the corrupting influence of the wealthy on those in a more marginalized class. Throughout, Blackie and Curly hassle people who are their societal "betters."
The girls spend the long train ride sneaking stolen cigarettes and talking about boys. Margaret, it seems, has recently lost her virginity and Lisa is contemplating doing the same. They meet and spend some time with Blackie and Curly in a benign, slightly romantic way.
Blackie encounters a slightly older and far more sophisticated woman (Macha Meril, Deep Red). We've already learned this woman, despite an appearance of respectability and grace, has a dark side, as we catch a glimpse of some forbidden photos she's carrying that seem to present her in an unsavory sexual situation. She also engages other passengers in some political discourse about the rise of violence in the world. Then, she goes into a bathroom with Blackie and has sex with him.
Blackie, dolt that he is, assumes this is his seduction, but the more we see of the woman, the more we realize who's really in control. Later, when she, Blackie, and Curly encounter Lisa and Margaret in a deserted car, the woman initiates and encourages a night of full-blown perversion that, needless to say, does not end well for our young lovelies.
Night Train Murders is a better-made film than its antecedent. Production values are higher, it avoids the goofy comic relief that Craven tossed in, and having the catalyst be a decadent sophisticate rather than a lowly sociopath (David Hess in the original, who bears a passing resemblance to Bucci) adds a bit more moral complexity to the proceedings.
But with a film like this, the audience isn't there to ponder moral complexities. The draw is the same as any horror or exploitation film, to get down to the gross stuff. Lado provides a long build and creates a fair amount of suspense by showing us the trajectories of the girls, the young men, and the woman. The actual encounter is drawn out and more disturbing than expected. The vengeance comes into play through a series of contrivances not unlike Craven's film, though the violence here is played more realistically, with a nasty nihilistic trope at the finish. Lado, who directed two of the better '70s Italian thrillers -- Short Night of Glass Dolls and Who Saw Her Die? -- is on his game here, though some might find the occasional flashes of pretension (did everyone in Europe in the '70s sit around discussing violence?) as hard to take as the degradations suffered by the heroines.
Night Train Murders (Blu-ray) is a good-looking upgrade of Blue Underground's 2004 standard def release. The draw here is the tech, and it's a substantial improvement. Colors are vivid, the 1.85:1/1080p image is clear, there's reasonable depth, and most importantly the contrast is solid. Audio is a crisp 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track. The extras are all ported from the DVD: a 15-minute interview with Lado called "Riding the Night Train," some trailers, radio spots, and a photo gallery.
A Eurosleaze classic, Night Train Murders should more than satisfy genre fans. Blue Underground's Blu-ray looks mighty nice, though it's a shame they didn't add any new supplements.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Radio Spots
* Photo Gallery