Terror Train Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Written by T.Y. Drake
1980, Region A, 97 minutes, Rated R
Blu-Ray released on October 16th, 2012
Jamie Lee Curtis as Alana
Ben Johnson as Carne
Hart Bochner as Doc
David Copperfield as Ken the Magician
Sandee Currie as Mitchee
Timothy Webber as Mo
Anthony Sherwood as Jackson
The story goes that a couple years ago at a fraternity’s New Year’s party, an infamous prank involving medical students and a corpse went tragically wrong, sending a pledge to the hospital and it led to a bunch of student expulsions. Now, three years later, there’s a new holiday event and it seems the tale got some details wrong as nobody actually got kicked out of school. The pledge did go insane however, and has apparently returned to get revenge on those who crossed him. This year’s masquerade party is held on a train, but not everyone in attendance was invited.
In 1978, John Carpenter’s Halloween launched a new wave of horror films that centered around a group of teens being stalked by a masked psychopath and dispatched in a grisly manner. These slasher films usually involved a major holiday, an anniversary of some tragic event or simply kids trespassing and getting into trouble. Jamie Lee Curtis’ career took off and Halloween led to The Fog and later Halloween II. Along the way, the Canadian film market got interested in some of the financial success they missed out on with 1974’s influential Black Christmas. Curtis appeared in back-to-back Canadian pictures Terror Train (1979) and Prom Night (1980) before stepping into the mainstream world of Hollywood with Trading Places (1983).
Terror Train was created as “Halloween on a train” and with Curtis in the lead the film was picked up for domestic distribution by 20th Century Fox and given a wide theatrical release. Director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) works just about every cliché into the mix, yet manages to keep the suspenseful mood going throughout the brisk running time. Cinematographer John Alcott (The Shining) delivers a stunning array of set pieces that play within light and shadow as the killer moves along the claustrophobic train cars pursuing victims. There is a touch of class on display in Terror Train absent from many contemporaries.
The cast is particularly strong with the welcome addition of Ben Johnson (The Wild Bunch) as Carne, the responsible adult of the bunch. He takes what could have been an empty role and makes the most of it. Hart Bochner (Die Hard) is perfect as the shithead Doc, an antagonist who meddles with things just to watch the fallout. David Copperfield seems out of his element as a magician… wait, not really, he’s actually quite effective as a suspicious person on the train and it would have been interesting to see what an acting career may have held for him had he continued along that path.. Fans of 80s slasher movies will undoubtedly know Jamie Lee Curtis’ films as a high water mark of the subgenre and rightly so, as her work here is quite impressive.
Terror Train offers fans a few new entertaining variations along the way to the final showdown, particularly the passenger train setting and use of multiple disguises to conceal the killer’s identity. When everything is resolved and the credits roll, there is a general feeling that this was a film that tried to offer audiences something more and succeeds more often than not.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film looks as great as it possibly can without a full restoration. The picture has undergone a slight re-mastering, but there are still signs of wear and tear throughout the print. This is still the best Terror Train is likely to look and colors remain strong and flesh tones natural. Black levels are rich and contrast levels solid.
Shout! Factory offers a problematic DTS HD 5.1 mix that stretches the original tracks a bit thin. Atmospheric sound effects are a bit tinny and dialogue, while clear, appears at times out of sync. The disc also offers a DTS HD 2.0 lossless audio track that preserves the original mix and oddly the sync issues are not as apparent. The problem may be a result of original source material during looping (ADR) sessions that are enhanced with the new mix.
Supplements are plentiful but a bit shallow on this release, as we are limited to a series of interviews with crew members. Welcome as they are, it would have been nice to hear from any of the cast members either on camera or in the form of a commentary track. What we do get is a series of interviews with various members of the production team:
First up, Destination Death (12 minutes) is a chat with producer Daniel Grodnick, who discusses the origin of the story and how the production sped through pre-production. He shares a lot of information in a short time and is instantly likeable.
Next is Riding the Rails (13 minutes) in which Production Executive Don Carmody explains the ins and outs of how Terror Train taught him many lessons, not the least of which was realizing the main location.
All Aboard (11 minutes) is an informative segment with Production Designer Glenn Bydwell, who reflects on the work he did creating the look of the train cars and making the most of the limited space.
Music for Murder (8 minutes) features composer John Mills-Cockell in a scenic location talking about working with a full orchestra and how this film remains one of his favorite experiences.
A theatrical trailer is paired with a TV spot, showcasing the marketing of the feature.
In addition to the Blu-ray disc, a DVD counterpart is also offered in the packaging.
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