Sunday, July 8, 2012

Amok Train (1989)

aka Death Train

aka Beyond the Door III (and in no way other than being produced by Ovidio Assonitis connected to the first two films, of course)

A group of US college students (I think) makes a trip to a picturesque, muddy, creepy Yugoslavian village to witness "an authentic Slavic ritual for only $800", as their teacher (who for some reason - cough - isn't joining them) explains. Obviously special among the students in that she possesses some character traits is Beverly Putnic (Mary Kohnert) who has Serbian parents herself. Beverly is shy, virginal, frequently mocked by her travelling companions, and, as the film will soon enough disclose, marked by a birthmark on her belly as the chosen bride of Lucifer.

And wouldn't you know it, Professor Andromolek (Bo Svenson), the Yugoslavian teacher who made all that ritual watching possible is the chief Satanist, with said "Slavic ritual" actually being Beverly's marriage to his boss, Satan. With a sideshow of college kid slaughter, of course, because nothing could be more romantic.

The Professor and his muddy village full of Satanists aren't very good at their job, though, it seems, for their attempt to murder Beverly's friends in their sleep only leads to most of the gang escaping their evil clutches onto a train that is surprisingly enough not populated by Satanists.

Alas, that auspicious circumstance notwithstanding, the train is soon enough under the control of supernatural forces that first gorily get rid of the train personnel, then leave behind two thirds of the train, turn the rest of it into a havoc causing vehicle of transportation bureau confusing dimensions, and then begin to slowly kill off our protagonists in awesome and improbable ways. Will anyone be able to ruin Lucifer's wedding?

By 1989, Italian horror films like this weren't actually made anymore, for budgets and public interest in the genre had dropped disturbingly. Fortunately, there are outliers to every rule, which leads us to Amok Train. This is nominally an Italian/American/Yugoslavian co-production, but the spirit the film was made in clearly belongs to Italy. Apart from director Jeff Kwitny (whoever he is), all important roles in the production are filled by staff experienced in the ways of the Italian genre cinema industry, and it's all dubbed into the dubious and slightly loopy English we know and love from Italian productions.

But what makes Amok Train a movie worth gushing about isn't that it's a dream-like and wonderfully gory Italian horror movie made this late in the game, it's that it's one that does everything one could hope for so well. There's hardly a minute going by when nothing interesting, loopy or slightly crazy is happening with a scene in which our heroine has a vision of her dead mother, hairless and in white body paint and a goat between her legs (it's a metaphor, don't you know?), and the ickiest kiss scene - with a few worms, of course - I have seen in a long time as only two of the film's highpoints. Amok Train delights with toothless witches and a polite chief Satanist who dresses like Dracula, a monk who plays a flute that sounds like a synthesizer, an especially long-winded set-up for the strangest death by train I can remember seeing (watch out, that train's amphibian!), and more wonders than I can count.

I was also very impressed by finally having found a film that thinks of the simple solution to the problem of being the virgin Lucifer wants to marry - just have consensual sex with the ghost of a Saint from the 11th Century, and that rather picky Satanic gentleman will not want to have anything further to do with you, the hypocrite.

And all this are the glories Amok Train provides without me even having mentioned the half an hour or so when the gory horror movie grows a parallel plot right out of a disaster movie as if it were an evil twin, with very dramatic Yugoslavian officials trying desperately to hinder the train of evil from crashing head-on into a more standard train. I think even George Kennedy would have had trouble coping with an AMOK TRAIN that doesn't need rails, so it's probably better for man and myth neither he nor Chuckie Heston are in this wonderful piece of art. The film is overwhelmingly fantastic as it is already anyway.


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