In some places it’s already Halloween but here on the West Coast it is still a few more hours til the best night of the year arrives.
There was one film when I was really young which scared the hell out of me and when I think about it now I have to say that it probably will still cause me to lose hours of sleep over it. It’s a horror/sci-fi film from Spain and released in 1972. Horror Express was directed by Spanish filmmaker Eugenio Martin and starred two titans of the gothic horror scene of the 60’s and 70’s in Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It also starred Telly Savalas in quite the creepy and sadistic role as a Cossack captain.
When the film was made the horror genre scene was still hanging onto the gothic aesthetics of the very popular Hammer Films which dominated the genre from the 60’s and into the early 70’s. While the Herschel Gordon Lewis bloodsplatter exploitation films and Romero’s own Night of the Living Dead was the beginning of the move to more violent and gory films that would see it’s gain strength in the 70’s this film from Spain was unique in that it tried to do have that Hammer Films look in addition to some gory work (though still tame to what would arrive years later).
Horror Express was all about a Transsiberian express train on the way back to Europe with some Russian royalty on-board and a particular anthropological find stored on-board the baggage car. The scientist who found the specimen was played by Christopher Lee with Peter Cushing his colleague and fellow researcher. Through Lee’s character Saxton trying vainly to keep the finding secret from everyone the specimen suddenly becomes aware and soon begins the wreak deadly havoc on the passengers on-board.
The film shares some clear similarities to the Joseph W. Campbell, Jr. scifi novella Who Goes There? which also was the direct inspiration for John Carpenter’s The Thing a decade later. One thing about this film which remained terrifying was how it treated the victims of the entity that awoke from within the specimen. I would say that the zombie-like state the dead victims returned in makes for some of the more terrifying images from horror films during the early 70’s that didn’t rely too much on gore and extreme violence. It’s these scenes of the white-eyed zombies shambling from train car to train car as they’re being controlled by entity that struck me as one of the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen. It didn’t help that I was 8 years-old at the time. But even now decades later I still get a strong, visceral reaction to that scene whenever I get an urge to re-watch Horror Express.
It’s a horror/sci-fi film which has lapsed into public domain and thus makes it easy for anyone who don’t want to spend some money to buy the DVD release. It’s a fitting fillm to help usher in 2011’s Halloween and it’s also one of the last great gothic horror films of the era before the arrival of the Wes Craven’s, John Carpenter’s and Tobe Hooper’s.