"Alana, you're always walking out of one of my parties, but this time, you can't" - Doc Manley, college ass, med school cad, and closet admirer of Alana's boyfriend
After editing Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, and Walter Hill's underrated Hard Times, Roger Spottiswoode moved into the director's chair with Terror Train - a rather auspicious debut when you take into account this otherwise generic college slasher flick was photographed by John Alcott.
Terror Train's biggest draw is the lush, elegant look created for the otherwise restrictive, confined train setting by Stanley Kubrick's main cinematographer. While there's little room for the lengthy tracking shots used in The Shining (how do you go from Kubrick to Terror Train?), Alcott's soft focus lensing plays with smoke effects and neon fluttering lighting, while Spottiswoode's editing experience comes in handy during a claustrophobic battle between the masked killer, and scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, as she's trapped in a storage cage and smeared with plenty of O negative.
David Copperfield's role is to further our suspicion of the killer's identity, and while his magic tricks often the stop the film cold for some rather kitschy montages and narrative padding, the movie's efficient running time more or less delivers the expected level of tame gore, dumb dialogue, and horny college behaviour (with the actors at least closer to the age of their characters than the usual high school setting).
It's an interesting cast of then-unknowns and lesser-knowns, including Hart Bochner, one-time actor Copperfield, and sultry Vanity (billed as D.D. Withers in her second film). Sandee Currie later appeared in a few more films, including the slasher Curtains in 1983, before disappearing from the scene.
A Canadian production that was distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox, the profitable film was one of many studio cash-ins after John Carpenter's Halloween proved youths were willing to spend their money on murderous fantasies.
Fox' transfer is taken from a very nice print, and the 1.85 ratio offers some attractive compositions and deep focus shocks. The soundtrack exploits the sometimes garish quality of John Mills-Cockell's orchestral-pop soundtrack (he subsequently scored Paul Lynch's ridiculously titled Humungous, in 1982), and the bad disco music is supremely tacky. Fox' DVD comes with a pseudo-stereo mix, which divides the bass and treble frequencies between left and right channels.
Also included are the film's Canadian theatrical and Fox-branded TV trailers, and a stills gallery with some snapshots of the elaborate train set.
For Jamie Lee Curtis, T. Y. Drake's Terror Train (his second horror after the 1976 Christopher Lee starrer, The Keeper) marked the mid-point in her reign as the slasher era's scream queen, with Roadgames and Halloween II concluding her horror period until Halloween H20 beckoned in 1998.
Harold Greenberg had previously produced Death Ship, and in 1982 struck gold with the Porky's franchise.
This film was actually nominated for 3 Canadian Genie Awards - Art Direction, Overall Sound, and Music Score - but not Cinematography!
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan