Terror Train (1980) Review
Mildly entertaining but nowhere close to being a good movie, Terror Train is interesting only in who it features. If you’re a horror film completist, you MUST watch this just because it stars Jamie Lee. She was always a notch up in intelligence from other scream queens. The disappointing thing is that she’s not featured as much as she should be as the heroine. The film’s focus is all over the place, giving more time than what’s needed to minor characters who are there only to be victims anyway.
Many segments of the film have the appearance that Curtis is only brought in to either walk away from an argument so as to provide more time for the rest of the cast. Her only real prolonged sequence in the film is the one at the end. It lends the impression that she just came in to the set for a very short time and that the bulk of her work was the opening and closing of the film. For everything in between it seems she’s just making an appearance to link the sequences together and to remind you she’s in the film. I’m betting she didn’t spend nearly as much time on set as the other actors did. She is cute as a pirate, though.
Okay… I should probably give a SPOILER ALERT right here, although it won’t really be too much of a surprise if you’ve watched a slasher film before…. So… (clears throat).
SPOILER ALERT! Kind of…
Some other castings that add to this curiosity of a horror fim: Hart Bochner, who had just come off the Oscar Nominated Breaking Away (and went on to play ‘Ellis’ in another classic:Die Hard. He probably does as solid of a job as Curtis does(far better than the rest of the cast). The difference in their performances is that he’s there to be a slasher victim. She’s the star. There’s not much for him to work with.
End of Kind of a SPOILER ALERT!
Ben Johnson, who had appeared in a number of films like The Last Picture Show(a critically claimed stinker IMHO). He has a certain robotlike way of delivering his lines in this. D-stringer Vanity makes an early career appearance. And…
David Copperfield? The stage magician is given a major role in this and he’s one of your main suspects as to who the killer is. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but yes, his acting in this is as cheese filled as his ‘magical’ stage performances.
The story begins with a fraternity prank that’s rather mean spirited. The students are med school students so a cadaver is involved in a prank that is preposterous in its execution. It doesn’t go as planned as you would expect and the victim is so traumatized that it’s off to the funny farm with him. As with all of these types of films, the heroine (Curtis) participates only reluctantly in the tomfoolery, and is the most affected by it, therefore she is the least deserving to die (according to the rules of the slasher film). This is a slasher film of the mostly braindead variety, with the only saving graces (as I said) being those involved in the cast. Moving along…
Flash forward a few years later when the same students involved have graduated. They’ve planned an all night party on a train and guess who has managed to sneak aboard with everyone else? Hijinks ensue as one by one those involved in the aforementioned prank are murdered one by one. The party is a masquerade party so as to provide the killer ‘cover’ and to interact with the party goers openly. The killer assumes the ‘identity’ of the victims and of course there’s plenty of mistaken identity moments. I have to add the killer is pretty dopey in the various masks. The ‘reveal’ is even worse.
This was Roger Spottiswoode’s first film. He did manage to find more work after this and has directed a number of films. He’s never managed to direct something I would call a really good movie, but he has had some moderate successes like “Turner and Hooch”, “Air America”, and “The Sixth Day” . All of those were vehicles for big name stars and none of them overachieved at the box office. Probably his best film was the James Bond flick “Tomorrow Never Dies”.
This is tolerable to some degree as a low budget LATE night horror flick. You really don’t have to follow too closely. I would say it had some nods to another Curtis film that may come to mind to general horror fans or maybe to Hitchcock’s Psycho, but that would be assuming a lot. It’s not very clever and that would be giving it more credit than it’s owed. It’s adequate as a shlocky, poorly made B-movie slasher flick and reasonably entertaining for what it is. That is, if you’re a fan of horror flicks.
2.5 of 5 whatevers.
Although I don’t think this is an un-viewable effort it did manage to make my Worst Films of 1980.