Terror Train (1980) Review: JLC vs. Groucho Marx
“The boys and girls of Sigma Phi. Some will live. Some will die.”
Synopsis: A masked killer targets six college kids responsible for a prank gone wrong three years earlier and who are currently throwing a large New Year’s Eve costume party aboard a moving train.
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Terror Train is a little more imaginative than the average slasher. This is mainly due to its semi-creative location (the titular train), but also helped along by the mystery aspect of the story. Unlike most slashers, the focus is less on who is doing the killings, and more on where he could be; this gives the movie more of a murder mystery vibe than the traditional slasher, which is a nice change of pace.
The acting is about par for the course with this type of movie – neither excellent nor terrible. Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis is the main girl here, and while I always root for her, she’s slightly less sympathetic than usual in this flick. (Thanks to the New Year’s Eve party being a costume party, she’s also in pirate garb for most of the movie, and let me tell you, that definitely does it for me.) She’s joined by Hart Bochner as the creepy Doc and Sandee Currie as her best friend. There’s also Ben Johnson as the conductor*, who is actually my favorite character in this movie – he’s tough but shaken by death, and eminently sensible. (He also gets more backstory than anyone else in the movie, which is odd but nice.) Also definitely worthy of note is that David Copperfield stars in the movie as a magician – not himself, but a magician nonetheless. It’s entertaining but also sets up a very odd subplot which doesn’t make sense until more than halfway through the movie. I always enjoy Jamie Lee Curtis defending herself from psycho slashers, and in this case, she’s working with an entertaining cast of characters.
Unfortunately, Terror Train suffers from poor cinematography and effects. The camera work is pretty poor on this one – there are few interesting shots, and it’s often too dark to actually tell what’s going on. The train and party lighting end up being distracting, rather than creative. The effects are also laughably bad at times; whenever the movie deviates from fake blood, things get ridiculous. The music holds its own, but it’s not enough to rescue the production team from shame.
Still, Terror Train ends up being decent for the subgenre. The air of mystery keeps things interesting, and the David Copperfield subplot is a lot of fun.
*Ben Johnson has somehow managed to star in not one, but TWO schlocky B-movies about killer bees. I don’t know how that happened.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: B
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