Judge Paul Corupes warns you not to mistake this train-themed horror flick for Thomas the Tank Engine.
Our review of Night Train Murders (Blu-ray), published January 20th, 2012, is also available.
Most movies last less than two hours! This is one of everlasting torment!
All aboard and have your tickets ready for inspection! Night Train Murders is a virtual rewrite of Wes Craven's seminal shocker The Last House on the Left, molded in the familiar Italian exploitation tradition. Craven may have been a novice filmmaker when he made his first major film, but director Alan Lado already had several giallo notches on his blood-stained belt, and as a result, his film is an arguably superior interpretation. Modern audiences will be excited to find that Night Train Murders is a rousing trip down a track of terror that seems almost too well-made for what the public would no doubt see as "just another" throwaway violent thriller that proliferated in Italian movie houses in the mid-1970s.
Facts of the Case
Laura (Laura D'Angelo, Farfalle) invites her friend Margaret (Irene Miracle, Midnight Express) to spend Christmas with her well-to-do parents, and the two board a train to head home for the holidays. Also making the trip are Blackie (Flavio Bucci, Suspiria) and the harmonica-playing Curly (Gianfranco De Grassi, The Church), vicious young ruffians on the lookout for girls to terrorize. They first assault an older society woman (Macha Meril, Deep Red), but she seems to enjoy it, and decides to temporarily join their gang.
When Laura and Margaret decide to transfer to another, almost deserted train, the treacherous trio follows them. On the woman's behest, Curly and Blackie force the girls to participate in a sadistic sexual game that accidentally results in their deaths. When the young holiday-goers don't show up at the appointed station, Lisa's doctor father (Enrico Maria Salerno, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) decides they've been delayed, and instead treats a cut on the newly-arrived society woman's leg. Later, after he invites all three ruffians to stay with them for a while, the radio reports the murders with descriptions of the suspects. Realizing the truth, Lisa's father decides to take matters into his own hands.
Director Alan Lado quickly admits that Night Train Murders is first and foremost a rip-off of the popular, but flawed, American hit The Last House on the Left. In re-imagining the film with a new setting—an isolated commuter coach—co-screenwriter Roberto Infascelli borrowed so shamelessly from Craven that their film was even released as The New House on the Left when it made its way to stateside drive-ins. Still, the final product here is less a horror film than a more typical Italian revenge exploitation thriller—and an exceptionally good one at that, directed with a surprising amount of flair and skill.
It was probably a good thing that Lado had not seen The Last House on the Left when he went out to make Night Train Murders, allowing him to bring a fresh vision and a far more cinematic feel to this film. Gone are the incongruous music and the questionable comedic relief of the bumbling cops, The Last House on the Left's major stumbling blocks, and Lado nails every opportunity to infuse his film with tightly-wound suspense. The first half of the film is an exercise in precise pacing, which significantly amps up the tension until the girls are inevitably confronted by their assailants. Once their heinous deeds are done, the film then switches back into suspense mode—unlike Craven's film, it takes a good while before Lisa's parents realize what has happened to the girls or that the thugs staying in the house are even responsible, making the father's ultimate revenge all the more poignant.
Misogyny runs rampant through many Italian thrillers of this ilk, so it's to Lado and Infascelli 's credit that they downplay this aspect of the film and go after loftier themes, the nature of violence and the class power struggle. The reprehensible brutality against the girls in the film is kept relatively tasteful, much of off screen and merely implied. The torture scene, which culminates with a gruesome deflowering with a knife, is less graphic than I expected, but retains its effectiveness through a stylistic use of harsh blue lighting and a striking fadeout as the train goes through a tunnel. The violence is not an end in itself, as it is in the unflinching camerawork of many of Lado's contemporaries, but a means to a greater end—setting these thugs out as thoroughly despicable and heightening the audience's desire for revenge. Instead of fetishizing the sadism, the focus shifts to the unnamed society woman and the way she eggs the young punks on to rape the girls, a none-too-subtle dramatization of the way the upper class exploits the masses.
The cast, almost all of which had done some time in Italian horror under Dario Argento, are also much better than their counterparts in The Last House on the Left. Laura D'Angelo and Irene Miracle are both effective as the innocent college students, but it's the villains of the piece who really shine, especially Flavio Bucci's charmingly evil Blackie. Ennio Morricone's score also incorporates an ominous harmonica solo for Curly, a musical sting that obviously recalls the themes from Once Upon a Time in the West—but here it only signifies the looming evil of these three characters.
Uncut and uncensored, Night Train Murders's first American release is presented here with the care that we've come to expect from the fine folks at Blue Underground. There's no grain to speak of at all to detract from the solid, bright colors, excellent shadow details and overall clarity. The English mono soundtrack is a shade lacking in fidelity, but this is no doubt a source defect, and barely warrants a mention. Night Train Murders is accompanied by a small, but concise, selection of extras. After navigating through two trailers, two radio spots, and several still galleries, be sure to check out the interview with director Alan Lado. Clocking in at 15 minutes, this featurette details the production history of the film, Lado's intentions with the story, the principal cast, and the reception of the film from both audiences and the censors. It's perhaps not as informative as a feature-length commentary might have been, but it's a good little piece that packs some fascinating details.
If Wes Craven's train leaves Connecticut traveling east at 25 mph and Alan Lado's train leaves a station in Verona traveling west at 35 mph, then can a cheap imitation of a film actually be better than the film it's ripping off? Well, in this case yes. While The Last House on the Left's success came largely from its grittiness, Lado proves that a professional sheen can be just as effective, and puts his film on the express track to success. Recommended.
Night Train Murders is innocent of all charges, and is now boarding, Gate F.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• "Riding the Night Train" Interview with Co-Writer/Director Aldo Lado
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