Horror Express Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Arrow Video
Directed by Eugenio Martin
Written by Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet
1972, 84 minutes, Rated R
Released on February 12th, 2019
Christopher Lee as Prof. Alexander Saxton
Peter Cushing as Dr. Wells
Alberto de Mendoza as Pujardov
Silvia Tortosa as Countess Irina Petrovska
Julio Peña as Inspector Mirov
Helga Line as Natasha
Telly Savalas as Capt. Kazan
At the turn of the twentieth century, English anthropologist Prof. Alexander Saxton leads an expedition deep into the wastelands of outer Manchuria. There he discovers the frozen remains of a primitive creature he believes to be the evolutionary Missing Link. He orders the body to be boxed up and carried back to civilization for study. While awaiting transport aboard the Trans-Siberian Express, Saxton crosses paths with his old friendly rival Dr. Wells, who has been vacationing in China. Once the train is on its way, Wells proves curious about Saxton’s large crate in the baggage car and asks the attendant to open it up and so he can take a peek. During the course of the trip, the discovery thaws and proves not to be as dead as one would expect.
The creature inside comes to life and begins killing passengers, leaving their corpses blind and bloody. Autopsy results reveal that their brains have been rendered smooth, as if all memories and knowledge have been drained. A search is organized by a police inspector on board and travelers are encouraged to stay together. The murders continue until the monster is eventually caught and shot down. Saxton and Wells work together to unravel the mystery of recent events and studying the body reveals that eye fluid contains an image of visual memories. What they discover is shocking, but more disturbing still is the fact that the creature can transfer its consciousness into another human host at will. The search begins anew for this body-hopping beast before it can kill again and repeat the cycle endlessly until they reach civilization.
Horror Express is a lively Spanish production that mixes elements of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express with John Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, the tale that served as source material for the classic thriller The Thing. Headlined by stars Christopher Lee (Scream and Scream Again) and Peter Cushing (Corruption), the picture has an impressive pedigree and feels like a Hammer Film. The two appeared together in several movies building a sort of genre shorthand with audiences and it is nice to see them on the same side in this adventure. This was the first film Cushing made following the death of his wife and he appears vulnerable here, but Lee reportedly gave him the support and encouragement needed to complete the picture.
Written by Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet, the story unfolds in a series of distinct acts that continue to ratchet up the tension until we reach the explosive conclusion. Starting off as a monster-on-the-loose picture, we follow the suspense of wondering where the creature is hiding and when it will strike next. The second act opens with the reveal of the beast’s body-hopping ability. We learn surprising new additional information about the thing, but are now invested in the hunt for identity. The third act introduces actor Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) as a Russian Cossack officer sent to contain the situation. He is a larger-than-life character who takes over the story for a while until the monster returns and displays an all-new ability that comes as a total shock.
Directed by Eugenio Martin (The Fourth Victim), the film is full of surprises and benefits from a strong cast and a lean screenplay. Part of the fun comes from each new discovery about the creature and watching Cushing and Lee try to keep up. The special effects are surprisingly good, with the monster appearing rather intimidating and lifelike. Martin establishes a fast pace with his storytelling ability and expertly builds suspense on several occasions. Horror Express successfully mixes horror and science fiction to create a compelling tale that is both memorable and entertaining. Fans of the cast will have little problem adding this title to their collection and I encourage newcomers to give it a shot as there is a lot to like here.
Video and Audio:
Horror Express has a long troubled history in the world of public domain. Countless shoddy transfers have plagued this title for years, a problem finally corrected by Arrow Video with this new 2K scan of the original film elements. The 1:66.1 aspect ratio sports fresh detail that was previously absent and rich colors breathes new life into the image. This is the best the film has ever looked and the restoration is long overdue.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio track preserves the source material and is free from any hiss, pops or other distortion. Dialogue is crisp and clean and music cues are full leading to a wonderful presentation.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Authors/ film historians Stephen Jones and Kim Newman are big fans of this movie and are having a blast recording their audio commentary. They share lots of entertaining anecdotes and make thoughtful observations on the film’s production history. Their enthusiasm is infectious, making this a solid discussion that you will not want to miss.
Former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander offers an enthusiastic introduction to the film (7 minutes) that relays his experiences watching the picture as a longtime fan.
Filmmaker Steve Haberman offers his thoughts in the segment Ticket to Die (9 minutes). He shares some production stories and talks about the social environment of when the movie was made.
In Train to Nowhere (15 minutes), filmmaker Ted Newsom provides another appreciation for the movie and shares tales of his friendship with producer Bernard Gordon.
Co-writer/ director Eugenio Martin appears in the vintage featurette Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express (14 minutes) and shares some of the history of the production and what it was like working with Cushing and Lee.
Notes from the Blacklist (31 minutes) is a disturbing interview with producer Bernard Gordon recorded in 2005, in which he discusses his experiences working in Hollywood during the McCarthy era.
Composer John Cacavas sits down for the segment Telly and Me (8 minutes) and reflects on his career in the industry and working on this picture specifically.
The theatrical trailer has been included but contains spoilers.
Hang onto that old Severin Blu-ray disc for the wonderful audio interview with Peter Cushing; it’s not included here.
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