Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, a scientist (Christopher Lee) stumbles upon the fossilized remains of what he thinks may be the missing evolutionary link. He plans to transport his find by train but once onboard the fossil appears to come to life. It escapes from captivity and begins killing passengers. When it does so, it wipes the memories of its victims. Now, it’s up to the scientist and a doctor he met on board (Peter Cushing) to unravel the mystery behind the creature’s origins. Together, they attempt to save the lives of everyone aboard The Horror Express.
Horror Express is a classic 1970s creature feature. It pits Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing against an evil entity of unknown origins. The duo balances one another out quite nicely. It’s always a pleasure to see them teamed up and this is no exception. There’s plenty of witty dialogue to be found in the film’s 90-minute runtime. For example: When the train inspector suggests that Lee or Cushing might be the monster, Cushing’s character responds by saying, “Monster? We are British, you know?”
In addition to splendid performances from Cushing and Lee, Telly Savalas has a bizarre but extremely enjoyable ass-kicking cameo in the film. It’s too bad that his part wasn’t written as a larger role.
Horror Express is a superb horror film that is brimming with entertaining characters. Sometimes it goes overboard by providing a bit more backstory than is essential to the film’s plot. But it’s idiosyncrasies like that, which give Horror Express its character.
As for pacing, Horror Express is very effectively executed: All of the exposition is quite natural and is revealed along the way rather than tacked on at an inappropriate time. This aids the film in developing a fast pace that keeps the viewer engaged for the duration.
Horror Express has a lot working in its favor. But one thing that always disturbs me is that in the scenes where the audience can see out the window it is obvious that the train is in a stationary position. While it’s typical to shoot on a soundstage, rather than a moving train, it still would have been nice to see obvious errors like that corrected. The fact that the train isn’t moving is so blatantly obvious that it proves a bit of a distraction.
My other primary production value related complaint is that almost none of Telly Savalas’ dialogue is synced appropriately with his scenes. All of his lines must have been looped and poorly so. This is only noticeable with Savalas; all of the other characters’ mouths stop moving when they are done talking. But this is more of a minor agitation than a serious problem and isn’t that distracting. All these years later, things like this actually add charm to the film but at the time of the film’s release it may have been more of a nuisance.
It was impossible to find a decent transfer of this film until Severin acquired distribution rights and put out a Blu-ray/DVD combo with bountiful extras and the best transfer of the film in existence. It appears that Severin painstakingly restored the picture for this release and their efforts have paid off.
If you have somehow overlooked Horror Express, this is a staple in any horror fans video library. If you don’t already own it, you would be well served to pick yourself up a copy. Horror Express is a great opportunity to see Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee team up.
Director(s): Eugenio Martin
Writer(s): Julian Zimet, Arnaud d’Usseau
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telley Savalas
Studio/ Production Co: Benmar Productions
Sub-Genre: Creature feature