1985’s Night Train to Terror is a delightfully weird little anthology. The wraparound story finds God (Ferdy Mayne, The Fearless Vampire Killers) and Satan (Tony Giorgio, The Godfather) on a train ride together, during which they discuss the fates of three souls – each one a chapter of the anthology. In the next car over, inexplicably, there is an new wave band that plays the same damn song throughout the entire movie. They barely mimic playing their instruments while performing poorly choreographed dance moves in ridiculous outfits. Ahh, the ’80s.
The first story, “The Case of Harry Billings,” is about Harry Billings (John Phillip Law, Barbarella), whose love for cars, woman and booze gets him intro trouble. He’s held captive and drugged at a mental institution, where he tortures and murders woman. Their dismembered bodies are then sold to medical schools. The segment is essentially a montage of people being killed and dismembered with very little plot.
“The Case of Gretta Connors” is the most interesting of the bunch. Gretta Connors (Merideth Haze) is a small town girl who falls for George Youngmeyer (J. Martin Sellers), a man who says he can make her into a star. Instead, he puts her in porno. Glenn (Rick Barnes) sees one of her videos and is instantly smitten, so he tracks to her down and steals her away. George isn’t too keen on the idea of losing Gretta, so he invites the couple to join his death-obsessed “club” as a ploy to exact revenge. The members endure a series of Russian roulette-like activities, such as being hooked up to a machine that administers electric shock at random until someone receives a deadly amount. These relatively suspenseful sequences are reminiscent of a Saw movie – if it were directed by Lloyd Kaufman on crack.
At approximately 35 minutes, “The Case of Claire Hansen” is the longest segment of the film. After penning an atheistic book titled God Is Dead, Nobel Prize winner James Hansen (Night Court’s Richard Moll, in the film’s standout performance) and his wife, Claire (Faith Clift), are terrorized by Mr. Olivier (Robert Bristol), an apparent spawn of the devil. It feels like a satanic movie made in the ’70s to cash in on the success of The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby. In fact, it blatantly rips off The Omen’s 666 birthmark formation.
Narration seems to have been added as a last-ditch effort to make sense of the segments, but the end result remains head-scratchingly disjointed at best. Rather than let a silly thing like coherence hold it down, the film relies on copious gore and nudity. While the special effects aren’t very good, they have a low-budget charm to them. There’s even some cheap some stop motion animation, which is particularly endearing in today’s CGI-reliant world. And nearly every female character bears her breasts.
Night Train to Terror’s incoherence and uneven tone only make sense upon the realization that the segments are clumsily sourced from three different films. Yes, only the campy wraparound story is original in this menagerie of horror. “Harry” is edited from a then-incomplete movie titled Scream Your Head Off, which explains its lack of plot. “Gretta” is a pared down version of the film Death Wish Club (AKA The Dark Side to Love). Similarly, “Claire” is a repurposed version of a feature titled Cataclysm (AKA The Nightmare Never Ends). Each one features a few additional sequences, most of which are special effects.
Night Train to Terror makes its high definition debut in a stellar Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Vinegar Syndrome. The release marks the first time the film has been presented in its original 1.85 aspect ratio on home video. The picture was restored in 2K from 35mm elements. It’s certainly the best the picture has ever – and will ever, most likely – look, but it’s obviously a low-budget and low-quality film. Frankly, I’m fine with a movie of this nature not being pristine.
This combo pack is a rare instance of the DVD being more than a mere dust collector, as it offers different extra features. The Blu-ray includes an audio interview with director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen that plays over the film, which lacks focus but has some interesting stories about the film (when he finally gets to talking about it); a commentary track by The Hysteria Continues podcast, combing facts about the film with Mystery Science Theater 3000-esque lampooning; and the trailer. The DVD, meanwhile, features a fairly engaging audio interview with editor Wayne Schmidt, as well as the feature version of “Gretta.” It’s interesting to see the story in its original form, which is more focused (yet still plenty bizarre!) but not as entertaining as its short counterpart.
Calling Night Train to Terror a trainwreck would be too easy. It’s not a good movie, but I’d be hard pressed to call a film that incorporates breakdancing, Nazis, kung fu, giant insects and more “dull.” The setup is actually quite intriguing, as are the stories themselves, but their poor execution actually leads to something that may be even more compelling. This colorful B-movie oddity is a uniquely ’80s production, the lunacy of which is refreshing.