Tuesday, October 13, 2015

In short: Terror Train (1980)

Usually, I’m all for slasher movies mixing things up a bit and straying from the very small path the genre generally strolls around on until somebody takes the machete to it, but then I want these detours to go into interesting, exciting, possibly even clever and meaningful directions, and not encounter a film that replaces twenty minutes of slashing and stalking with twenty minutes of frigging David Copperfield doing magic tricks – and not just because this also means more than twenty minutes of Copperfield failing at acting.

Unfortunately, Roger Spottiswood’s Terror Train does exist, and does indeed contain that much Copperfield. To my genre definitions, it’s barely even a slasher at all, and rather a bad giallo imitation by a director who doesn’t have the style to pull it off and ends up with a pretty boring murder mystery on a train with – sporadic – body parts rolling around and Jamie Lee Curtis screaming a lot to cash in on the early slasher wave. Only the finale – what would be the final girl sequence – hews close to the better side of the slasher, what with it attempting to ape Halloween as well as it can without directly ripping it off beyond Curtis, sharp objects, and train conductor Ben Johnson standing in for Donald Pleasence. It also came much too late to get me interested in the film again.

Apart from the slashing getting the short thrift, there’s also very little to the mystery that replaces it – which has a total giallo solution just not pulled off with the correct panache and style – so much of the film is spent on various soap operatics concerning who sleeps with whom and who’s an asshole (all of ‘em), and David Copperfield, with the last being particularly onerous. Turns out card tricks really don’t film very well, a fact that nobody involved seems to have cared about. Frankly, while there are of course a few things camp aficionados will find camp (the conclusion of the “making of a slasher killer” sequence certainly will hit that spot), most of the film is rather draggy and boring, and Spottiswoode is much too bland a director to enliven things through visual magic of his own, even though the highly capable John Alcott is listed as the director of photography.The problem might be there’s just nothing very interesting to photograph in Terror Train at all.

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