Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Terror Train (1980) - My Fave Non-Halloween JLC Slasher

Terror Train
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, DAVID COPPERFIELD, Ben Johnson, Sandee Currie
Rated: R

We're getting to Terror Train one of these days, I promise!
                    ~Brandon Peters from the Supergirl retrospective piece

If you've been paying attention, this film getting attention here should come as no surprise.  Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D

Just before moving on to Season Of The Witch, I felt it kind of essential to mention that Halloween II was Jamie Lee Curtis' intended swan song to horror movies.  She was the first woman to ever be tagged with the title of "Scream Queen".  In fact, she was it, THE Scream Queen.  Its a big part of Halloween's history that it created this position.  It wasn't until later or merely more modern times that the title started getting thrown to other actresses with such ease.  Don't get me wrong, some deserve it for sure.  But, when recently seeing Amanda Wyss on a "Where are the Scream Queens of the 80s now?" article, I scoff.  And they also tend to stretch the rules and whatnot for what makes them....okay I'm gonna stop this train/tangent right now.
Halloween was successful, but the phone didn't start ringing at all for its star.  All she got afterward were a couple TV parts.  Her next film was The Fog (which I LOVE) that was done because of how much she and Carpenter/Hill loved working together.  After that film, she then secured some more roles.  But the roles she was getting were all horror.  Before Halloween II, Jamie did Prom Night, Terror Train and Roadgames.  These were the first slashers fresh out the gate of Friday the 13th's massive success.  Slasher films were booming then.  Very popular and usually made great returns on such a small budget.  So its with no surprise that Jamie Lee Curtis became associated as the girl in horror movies.  Wanting to branch out and not be stuck there forever, Jamie agreed to do Halloween II for one last go round where she started for the fans and for the people she enjoyed working with on Halloween and The Fog.
Prom Night is the big one when most people think of a non-Halloween Jamie Lee Curtis horror movie.  It was the biggest box office hit of the three.  Almost doubling Terror Train and blowing Roadgames out of the water.  Its also one of those classic "notable date/holiday" horror films that are easy to come by in thought.  I have a  nostalgia for stuff like Prom Night.  But, I'm not a really big fan of it (I honestly think Hello Mary-Lou, Prom Night II is much better film).  Its a film that's pretty dull and meandering for the first hour.  And while we're spending time with characters and building up this killer, its not really anything I'd call character development.  Just a lot of dicking around.  Its reputation has become greater than the film itself.  Its got more fans and much more esteem, but I find it rather week upon review.
Terror Train is the lesser known, and over the years, more forgotten.  It's one of my favorite golden age slashers and I think it's quite entertaining.  There are plenty of conceits you have to give the killer in this film, the biggest being that he moves up and down this train quite flawlessly.  But even the goofiness of this kind of stuff works for me, and as a kid I never really thought about it.  The film isn't super creative on its kills and doesn't have a high body count, but it DOES have them spread nicely throughout.  And the body count is low because this is a revenge for the old "prank gone wrong" slasher movie plot and the killer is focuses.  There aren't the extraneous "kill just to have a kill" scenes.
The whole "killer in a mask" schtick was a big pull for a lot of these movies back in the early 80s and this one made a fun play on it.  The killer would take on the costume of his victims, so he had a different one each time.  And in a super cool twist, the killer himself was in costume in plain sight the entire film and honestly, its unnoticeable.  So you get the Groucho Marx mask, the Lizard creature costume and the haggard old witch mask...and another.  I've decided that since many probably haven't seen the film, I'm going to keep the reveal hush hush as much as I can.  But, if you're reading a retrospective look back at Terror Train, I'd think you'd seen the movie or have no desire to go back and look.  Or, you like my pieces.  In that case, thank you! I'm humbled.
Jamie Lee Curtis is a bit different than her normal good girl character here too.  While slightly innocent, she is one of the pranksters involved.  While she didn't know the specifics of the prank, she did agree to partake.  The killer has every right to have her on the checklist.  And, like Halloween, she's kicks back and smokes a joint.  She's much more a party girl, but she's also incredibly assertive in this movie.  She's not afraid to tell it like it is and isn't afraid to confront people.  I also really like her and Hart Bochner being at odds in this film.  They have a certain chemistry as would a protagonist and antagonist.  Another character of note, Mitchy.  And that's just because when I was young I thought Sandee Currie was soooo fine. haha.
This film also marks the big screen debut of illusionist David Copperfield.  I may have mentioned somewhere before, but this guy was one of my early heroes in life.  I loved his specials and I used to go see his show whenever he came to town.  Any love I have for magic and illusions come from this guy.  I used to have a magic set, card decks and books trying to learn to do cool things like him.  Here, he...plays the magician on the train.  He's a prime suspect for the audience, and he also has a lot of his snark and charm akin to his live shows.  I'm not sure, but most of the tricks he's doing in the film look like they were actually done and not done with his normal routine and not with cinematic assistance.  I must also note that I LOVE and find the promotional shot of him and Jamie Lee Curtis somewhat hilarious.
It's October, most of you have already started watching more horror movies than normal...or actually watching them as its your one time of year when you do.  If you're looking for some entertaining, fun and vintage piece of horror that you've never seen, I want to recommend Terror Train.  Scream Factory put out a really cool Blu-ray of it last year and the picture quality is handsomely grindhouse-y.  Its a really good time, and you'll find its one of the better slasher films of the 1980s.

Okay, we'll go back all things pure and true to what the Halloween franchise is now, like Halloween III: Season Of The Witch.

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