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Author Topic: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)  (Read 34933 times)

IL COMMISSARIO

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Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« on: 19 Jul 2007 - 11:26 »

HORROR EXPRESS 1972- aka PANIC ON THE TRANSIBERIAN EXPRESS

Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas

During a cold winter Professor Saxton (Lee) is transporting an ape man frozen in a block of ice back to England for study. Along the way, the creature thaws out and several corpses are discovered their eyes turned completely white. It is soon learned that the apeman is not responsible but a body-hopping alien that was frozen inside of the creature uses various individuals as hosts taking knowledge and traits needed in an effort to build itself a ship to make it back to its home planet.

A fascinating and ahead of its time sci-fi/horror amalgamation that is also one of the most fitfully entertaining 90 minutes of frightful fun you're likely to come across. Lee is perfectly cast as the cold, arrogant atheist professor Saxton. Cushing is also in fine form a bit against type as Lee's unwitting partner in the whole affair. Cushing plays a somewhat horny old fellow who tries on several occasions to get in the pants of a beautiful spy masquerading as one of the passengers. Cushing even gets to indulge in some brief Frankenstein style surgery as he performs a make-shift labotomy on one of the victims where it is surmised that the memories of the victims have been wiped away after seeing the brain is completely smooth "like a baby's bottom", as one of the characters puts it.

Speaking of the characters, they are all (for the most part) so good and well drawn that they accentuate the quirky story wonderfully. There are also several minor subplots going on that never take precedence over the main story at hand and you learn just enough about them to maintain interest in the characters.

One of the best aspects of the story is that the alien only "steals" the minds of those it deems intelligent enough to learn any knowledge that will assist in it's ability to build a ship to get home. One of the characters is a demented priest whom, once the identity of the thing is revealed, naturally assumes it is the devil(!) and then proceeds to "switch sides" so to speak. The nutty priest beckons the creature to come into him but the alien retorts that the fool has nothing to take.

One of the most startling scenes has Cushing and Lee remove an eye from one of the casualties. They extract some fluid from the eye and place it under a microscope. They see the last thing the person or thing saw before they died. The apeman's eye reveals dinosaurs and a glimpse of the Earth from space!

Telly Savalas has a minor but memorable role as a sadistic cossack who, after a wire gets out about the trouble on the train, has the locomotive stopped. He and a cadry of soldiers board the train and summarily harass the passengers until the alien finally enters the priests body thereby killing all the soldiers. In the very taut final moments, Lee and Cushing attempt to derail the train over a cliff stopping the alien creature. The thing brings the soldiers back from the dead and they pursue the remaining survivors.

The score in the film is also very memorable (the name of the composer escapes me) and can be heard, at various times during the movie, being either whistled, played on the piano or in some other fashion by mischellaneous individuals throughout the movie.

Obviously taking inspiration from past sci-fi pictures, the film must have been seen by John Carpenter as some elements are strikingly similar to his remake of THE THING. There are numerous funny scenes and dialog exchanges. One in particular has Lee trying to get a ticket to board the train and the comeuppance that the ticket master receives is quite funny. In fact, the first 15 minutes or so is a bit of a running gag as Lee has endless trouble trying to get on the train as well as constantly explaining himself. Another follows shortly thereafter as Lee invades Cushing's room after he has anticipated a nightly fling with the beautiful young woman that occupies the bunk. Another amusing scene has the actual creature (disguised inside a host) questioning Cushing and Lee proclaiming that either one of them could be the monster. Cushing replies..."Monster...? We're British you know." Another great scene has the alien in a train car alone with Lee. It begins asking many questions of the professor. You know that any moment the thing will attack and kill Lee and just as it appears the alien will make its move, one of the characters enters and unknowingly saves him.

Directed with an assured hand and professionalism (on an obviously low budget) by Eugenio Martino who also helmed the Italian western BAD MAN'S RIVER (1972). That film utilized a nice miniature steamboat which was sometimes composited into the scenery. Here, a miniature train is used for the main location of the action. This same miniature was used in the spaghetti western PANCHO VILLA which also starred Savalas as the title character.

During this time, Peter Cushing's wife had recently passed away and it was extremely difficult on Cushing to appear in a movie. After his wife died, there was a noticeable difference in Cushing's appearance. He lost weight and his face became very gaunt. At first Cushing did not want to travel to Spain to shoot this movie but it was Lee who talked him into it and it turned out to be a most therapeutic trip for the grieving Cushing. Cushing never lets his anguish show and gives his all to the movie.

Like most foreign films, the sound was dubbed in later and the three main participants dubbed there own voices. One of my favorite movies from childhood, I first caught HORROR EXPRESS, like so many, on SHOCK THEATER. The now OOP DVD from Image is the best version out there. There are numerous dupes on various labels and I'm sure at least one of them utilizes the Image version. The disc also has a music only track and a fold-out cover replete with liner notes on the film. Thank you Mr. Lee. Without your assist, fans may not have seen one of the greatest collaborations between two of Britain's most famed actors.
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LANZETTA

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #1 on: 19 Jul 2007 - 22:59 »

Cushing replies..."Monster...? We're British you know." 
Glad you mentioned the best one liner in the movie. :)

Did you know it was all filmed in the one carriage?
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IL COMMISSARIO

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #2 on: 19 Jul 2007 - 23:01 »

No! If I did, I had forgotten. That's interesting. Talk about economical.
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LANZETTA

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #3 on: 19 Jul 2007 - 23:32 »

No! If I did, I had forgotten. That's interesting. Talk about economical.
Yes theres an excellent whole chapter about HORROR EXPRESS in Jonathan Sothcotts CULT FILMS OF CHRISTOPHER LEE.

I'l have to reread this chapter to hopefully expand on this and anything else of interest.
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IL COMMISSARIO

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #4 on: 19 Jul 2007 - 23:34 »

There's a brief write up about it in a book I have called NIGHTWALKERS-GOTHIC HORROR FILMS. It covers mostly brit horror and the Corman poes.
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LANZETTA

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #5 on: 11 Aug 2007 - 13:26 »

To correct myself and to quote Sothcott,"the scenes on board the train were shot on just two carriages,suspended on springs,thus ensuring no let up for the art directors who were constantly redressing one carriage while the other was being filmed in". 

Also for the climatic scene in which the speeding (model) train crashes from a cliff the sentry tower from Savalas previous western PANCHO VILLA  was dressed up as a mountain top and a matte painting of a mountain was placed between the camera and the tower.
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IL COMMISSARIO

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #6 on: 11 Aug 2007 - 20:24 »

Also I believe the model train was also used in PANCHO VILLA as well.
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LANZETTA

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #7 on: 11 Aug 2007 - 21:51 »

I erased my copy of PANCHO VILLA  ???  so i'll take your word for this! :-X
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IL COMMISSARIO

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #8 on: 11 Aug 2007 - 22:02 »

I've not seen it myself but I read that in one of my reference books.
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The Hunchback

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #9 on: 12 Aug 2007 - 06:01 »

I erased my copy of PANCHO VILLA 


Good on you. What a stinker! :o


Not surprising that Cigar Joe likes it.
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fdsmedia

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #10 on: 12 Aug 2007 - 11:37 »

I just ordered this version from Germany released March 2007 - couldn't find any reviews so fingers crossed that the quality is good. Anamorphic in the correct aspect ratio and an English language track... does someone own this and can let me know?

http://www.amazon.de/Tod-f%C3%A4hrt-1-Klasse/dp/B000MV8BTO/

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R-T-C Tim

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #11 on: 12 Aug 2007 - 18:19 »

I literally just brought that German release and checked through the disc briefly. The PQ is decent - 1.66:1, non-anamorphic. Some scratches and print damage, but generally good. I've not seen the Image release so can't compare (unless anyone has it and wants to post screenshots!)

The down side is the presence of a forced subtitle track when you select the English language audio, that says "Only for Sale in Germany or Austria". If your player cannot remove these, it is right at the bottom of the screen below the image, so you could zoom it to 16x9 and cut it off (and only lose a little bit of picture information).

I'll be reviewing the disc and film in full in September.
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Mondo Esoterica - Cult film and DVD reviews from Karl May to Bruno Mattei

IL COMMISSARIO

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #12 on: 12 Aug 2007 - 18:39 »

I have the Image release and it is the best version out there (barring this new one) with a crystal clear soundtrack. I can't do screen caps at the moment, I'm afraid. There is also a music only track on the Image disc with some extensive liner notes.
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fdsmedia

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #13 on: 12 Aug 2007 - 22:41 »

At least this German release has got a much nicer looking front cover compared to the Image release. ;-)

I thought that only the previous German release by Splendid Entertainment had that forced subtitle track on the English audio option... so I guess this newer DVD might contain the same master.
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IL COMMISSARIO

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Re: Horror Express (Eugenio Martino, 1972)
« Reply #14 on: 12 Aug 2007 - 22:59 »

I'll be uploading some pics shortly...
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