I have no idea why it took me so long to get to this film; a fairly well known 80’s slasher flick, starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her “Scream-Queen” prime, it should have been on my play-list a long time ago. My only excuse was that it never played on HBO while I was a kid and for the last fifteen years I’d never given it more expectation than some second-rate Halloween knockoff; which was my own conception, because it really has very little to do with Halloween beyond Jamie Lee being stalked by a killer.
The film starts with a fairly typical back-story for the eventual psychopathic-killer. All the main characters are at a Frat party, while they’re freshman, in order to prove themselves rush worthy a couple of the guys pull a prank on one of the nerds; they get Jamie Lee to lure him upstairs, to where they have a dead body lying in bed waiting for him (they're pre-med); she lures him to the bed, when they both discover the nastiness waiting for him. She gets pissed that what she thought was a harmless prank turned out to be so disgustingly mean, and he goes absolutely bonkers. Cut to four years later when they’re all graduating, and the guys who pulled the prank are now the kings of the Frat and are having the party of the year on a private train. There’s a small mention of the nerd, that he went off to some nut-house, and was just released; obviously we know where he’s going to show up.
What I initially passed off as a lame location for a slasher flick, actually turned out to be a pretty great one. Once the train is moving, you can’t get off, you can’t move laterally, only up and down the aisles and there are tons of doors for the killer to pop out of; it’s such a great space, that I think they’ll probably be remaking this in the next few years, except for the fact that nobody rides trains anymore, maybe make it a European vacation?
a The killer is also pretty memorable. Since it’s costume party, he’s able to wear a wicked looking Groucho Marx mask the whole time, without seeming suspect. There’s a great little moment at the beginning of the film, where he stabs a guy in the back and everybody thinks the stabee is playing a joke, stumbling about with this large knife sticking out of his spine; only later do they realize what happened to him. The kills are okay; too many people are killed by editing, with the film cutting away just before the knife drops, but there are a few decent ones, especially when Doc, the main Frat boy, gets his comeuppance. Maybe that’s why this isn’t greatly regarded horror film; because nothing stacks up with the Friday the 13th or Halloween deaths of the same time period.
If you’re looking for a fairly good horror film, that isn’t full of gore, you could do a lot worse than Terror Train. Jamie Lee Curtis is in great form here. The film is pretty well made, with good direction by Roger Spottiswoode, nice looking photography, with surprisingly good acting; and there is some actual suspense. There’s also some good unintentional 80's humor, with an extremely young David Copperfield starring as the party magician, who serves as a possible suspect. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this film, wish I could have seen it earlier in my life. Now I have to rectify another Jamie Lee 80's horror film, by watching Prom Night.