International Horror Film Review: Last Stop on the Night Train (dir by Aldo Lado)


This Italian film from 1975 opens with two German teenagers — Lisa Stradl (Laura D’Angelo) and Margaret Hoffenbach (Irene Miracle) — happily looking forward to the future in general and spending Christmas with Lisa’s parents in specific.  (Of course, the Stradls live in Verona so Lisa and Margaret are going to have to take a train to visit them.)  Their happiness is reflected by the song that plays over the opening credits.  A Flower’s All You Need is perhaps the most obnoxiously happy song to ever show up in an Italian horror film.  Imagine my shock when I discovered that it was apparently co-written by Ennio Morricone.

Like many Italian exploitation films, Last Stop on the Night Train has been released under many different titles.  Here’s just a few: Night Train Murders, Xmas Massacre, Don’t Ride on Late Night Trains, Torture Train, New House on the Left and Second House on the Left.  As those last two titles indicate, this film was directly inspired by the financial success of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (which, for what it’s worth, was sold as being a remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring).  According to an interview with director Aldo Lado, which was included with the film’s Code Red DVD release, the film’s producers approached him and told him that they wanted him to remake Last House On The Left.  Since Lado hadn’t seen Last House on the Left, the producers hastily filmed him on what happened in Craven’s film.  Based on what the producers told him, Lado proceeded to write the script for what would become Last Stop On The Night Train.

As a result, Last Stop on the Night Train follows the general plot of Last House on the Left but with some key differences.  Lado was a protegee of director Bernardo Bertolucci so, not surprisingly, he added a Marxist political subtext to the story, one that makes Last Stop On The Night Train a bit more interesting than the usual exploitation rip-off.  (Wes Craven, it should be said, always said that Last House On The Left was meant to be political, too.  Whether that’s true or not is open to debate.)  Like Craven’s film, Last Stop On The Night Train is about two innocent travelers who are abused and murdered by a group of thugs (played, in this case, by Flavio Bucci and Gianfranco de Grassi).  By an amazing coincidence, the murderers then find themselves staying at the home of one of the girl’s parents (Enrico Maria Salerno and Marina Berti).  When the parents discover the identity of their guests, they get revenge and prove themselves to be just as capable of violence and sadism as the murderers.

The main difference between Craven and Lado’s take on the story is that Lado adds a mysterious character who is identified as being only The Lady on the Train (played by Macha Meril, who also played the unlucky psychic in Argento’s Deep Red).  The Lady on the Train is apparently very privileged.  When we first see her, she is coolly and calmly talking to a group of other wealthy passengers.  The only hint that she’s anything other than an upper class passenger on a train comes when she reveals that she’s carrying a collection of BDSM-themed postcards with her.  Before meeting the Lady on the Train, the two criminals played by Bucci and de Grassi were portrayed as just being obnoxious and larcenous but not necessarily homicidal.  It’s the Lady on the Train who goads the two men into attacking and ultimately murdering Lisa and Margaret, largely for her own amusement.  (Disturbingly, the train’s other upper class passengers are portrayed as being aware of what’s happening but either not caring or being amused by the whole thing.  One passenger — who is later revealed to be an acquaintance of the Stradls — briefly joins in.)  Even at the end of the film, while the parents are savagely attacking the two men, the Lady on the Train watches with the confident certainty that her wealth and position will protect her from any form of retribution.

It’s a disturbing film and definitely not one for everyone.  Even if you appreciate the technical skill with which it was made, this is a film that you won’t necessarily want to rewatch.  (I rewatched it only so I could write this review.  For me, it certainly didn’t help that one of the victims was named Lisa.)  If Wes Craven’s film was ultimately about gore and the idea that violence only leads to more violence, Lado is less concerned with both of those and instead focuses on the idea that, when the privileged and the marginalized both commit the same crime, only the marginalized are punished.  Lado’s film is also far better acted (and, if we’re going to be honest, directed) than Craven’s film, which makes Last Stop On The Night Train the rare rip-off that’s better than its source material.

Best Served Cold: DEATH RIDES A HORSE (United Artists 1967; US release 1969)


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During a torrential rainstorm on a dark, bone-chillingly cold  night, a band of men guarding a cache of gold are all murdered by a masked outlaw gang. The marauders then enter the home of the leader, a married man with a family. He is the first to die, and after his wife and young daughter are brutally raped, they too are killed. But the marauders haven’t seen the little boy hiding in the shadows, witnessing his family’s violent demise. The house is burned to the ground, but the boy lives, storing the memory of the men who destroyed his family, until fifteen years pass, and the boy has become a man with an unquenchable thirst for revenge…

This dark, disturbing scene sets the stage for DEATH RIDES A HORSE, a gem of a Spaghetti Western directed with style by Giulio Petroni, made in 1967 but not released stateside until 1969…

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Western Zing: MY NAME IS NOBODY (Titanus 1973)


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Sergio Leone  wasn’t quite done with the Western genre after DUCK, YOU SUCKER. MY NAME IS NOBODY is based on “an idea by Sergio Leone”, and though Leone’s former Assistant Director Tonino Valerii is given full credit,  the Maestro reportedly directed a couple of scenes as well as some second-unit action in the film. Whatever the case, the film puts a comic spin on Spaghetti Westerns in general and Leone’s movies in particular, with the comedic talents of star Terence Hill standing in sharp contrast to the old school Hollywood hero Henry Fonda .

Hill was the brightest star on the Italian horizon, having starred in Giuseppe Colizzi’s GOD FORGIVES… I DON’T, ACE HIGH, and BOOT HILL alongside burly Bud Spencer, adding elements of humor as they went along . But with 1970’S THEY CALL ME TRINITY, the duo went full-bore into comedy territory, giving the Spaghetti genre a…

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A Movie A Day #138: Navajo Joe (1966, directed by Sergio Corbucci)


Duncan (Aldo Sambrell) and his gang are the most ruthless and feared outlaws in the old west.  When first seen, they are destroying a Navajo village and shooting everyone that they see.  Duncan even steals a pendant from a young Indian woman.  When that woman’s husband, Joe (Burt Reynolds), discovers what has happened, he sets out for vengeance.  With Ennio Morricone’s classic score playing in the background, Joe kills one gang member after another.  When Duncan and his gang lay siege to the town of Esperanza, Joe approaches the townspeople and offers to defend them.  His price?  “One dollar a head from every man in this town for every bandit that I kill.”

Following in the footsteps of his friend and fellow television star, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds went to Italy in the 1960s and made a spaghetti western.  Navajo Joe was his second starring role, after Operation CIA.  Reynolds has always described Navajo Joe as being one of the worst movies ever made but, with the excepton of Deliverance, Burt says that about every film that he has ever made.  (Burt has also complained that the wig he wore in Navajo Joe made him look like Natalie Wood, which is true.)  While it never reaches the height of some of Sergio Corbucci’s other westerns, Navajo Joe is a frequently exciting movie, featuring one of Morricone’s best scores and a lead performance that is never as bad as Burt claims it was.  At first, it is strange to see Burt Reynolds playing such a grim and stoic character but, by the time he is throwing dynamite at Duncan’s gang, he has grown into the role and proven that he could actually play something other than a giggling good old boy.  As usual for a Corbucci western, both the outlaws and the greedy and ungrateful townspeople stand in for capitalism run amok. Like many spaghetti protagonists, Joe is an outsider who fights to save a town full of cowardly people who will never accept him.  As Joe explains, his ancestors were in America long before any of the townspeople’s ancestors.  America is his land but the forces of progress and greed are robbing him of his home.

Navajo Joe may not be a classic but it’s a solid western featuring one of Burt Reynolds’s most underrated performances.  If you have ever wanted to see Burt Reynolds smile while scalping a man, Navajo Joe is the film to see.

The Dollars Trilogy Pt 3: THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY (United Artists 1966)


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THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY is the GONE WITH THE WIND of Spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, and definitely in my Top 5 Favorite Films. After turning the genre upside down with A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and inside out with FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Leone’s final entry in his triptych of films starring Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name is an ambitious epic about greed, revenge, and the futility of war, told with a warped sense of humor and plenty of action. Besides Eastwood and FEW DOLLARS co-star Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach joins the cast in a performance that should have won the Oscar.

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We’re first introduced to Angel Eyes (Van Cleef), who’s one mean mutha. Sent to find information on the location of stolen Confederate gold, he kills his informant, then kills the man who hired him, and begins his search for “Bill Carson”. Meanwhile…

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The Dollars Trilogy Pt 2: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (United Artists 1965)


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After the huge international success of his A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS , Sergio Leone was red hot. Another Spaghetti Western was hastily written by Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni (and an uncredited assist from Sergio Donati), but FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is pure Leone, from the visual style to the bits of humor interspersed between the violence. Clint Eastwood returned as The Man With No Name, paired this time with veteran Western heavy Lee Van Cleef as the beady-eyed Colonel Mortimer.

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Eastwood’s character (briefly referred to as ‘Manco”) is a fast-drawing bounty hunter. He’s interested in the $10,000 reward for escaped killer/outlaw Indio. Mortimer is also interested in Indio, but has another motive: a young Indio raped his sister, resulting in her suicide during the act. The two meet up in El Paso, where Indio plans to rob the bank’s estimated one million dollars, kept in a secret cabinet. Manco and Mortimer engage in pissing contest…

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The Dollars Trilogy Pt 1: A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (United Artists 1964)


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If the American Western film wasn’t completely dead in 1964, it was surely on life support. Television had saturated the market with weekly oaters to the point of overkill. John Wayne’s starring vehicles were still making money, but the rest of Hollywood’s big screen Westerns were mainly made to fill the bottom half of double feature bills, from Audie Murphy outings to the low budget, veteran laden films of producer A.C. Lyles.

Meanwhile in Italy, writer/director Sergio Leone was as tired of the sword & sandal films he was making as was his audience. He had a notion to revitalize the failing western genre by giving it a new, European perspective. Leone grew up on Hollywood westerns, and wanted to turn them on their ear by showing a more realistic, grittier version of the Old West. Searched high and low for an American name actor to star, Leone was turned down by the likes of Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Rory Calhoun…

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