-Contributed by Luke Merrill
This week at Horror Camp we start off the October Scream season with a lesser known flick from the Queen of Screams, Jamie Lee Curtis in Terror Train. Terror Train is an inventive horror movie with a twist on its theme that makes for a real unconventional thriller. The movie itself is a story about a fraternity prank gone awry and the subsequent revenge of the victimized character as he methodically stalks and picks off those who have wronged him years later. The basic premise to this particular movie isn’t particularly unique to the 80’s but it’s the differences that make the film stand out.
The location of these tragic events takes place, as the title suggests, on a train. But not just any train a small train rented to private parties, in this case a group of aspiring medical students celebrating a masquerade new year’s party to decompress from the stress of their studies before making their way into, what one would assume, a promising post college career in medicine.
|Dude, Oakford medical only offered me $512,000 annual salary, cheap assholes!|
This makes for an extremely difficult premise. Our jaded killer has to navigate narrow train cars undetected and dispose of his victims in ways that no one else would notice. Or in the case of the movie when noticed continue on his killing spree with an aware group of people on the lookout for him. The movie presents a unique and brilliant solution. When the killer kills someone he can don their costume and move undetected through the party, unbeknownst to his next victim.
Now we have a killer whose identity is suspected by those who realize who he is, but they have no way of knowing which party goer is the killer. This leads to a unique who-dun-it. Could the killer be the kindly coal-hand who works his job on a nothing train outfit for the love of shoveling coal on a classic train, could it be the aloof but highly talented magician hired to perform for a bunch of hard case college drunks, or could it be Jamie Lee Curtis herself suffering from some guilt-induced nervous breakdown for her role in tricking and mentally destroying a nerdy albeit shy young man, who could only dare to love her, and be caught up in a malicious but psychotically scarring frat trick. Probably not the last one, but the results lead to many intense moments where the killer becomes intimately close to his victims before finally striking, donning a new but terrifying mask before killing his intended victims.
|It was the train under that mask all along! AAIIEE!!|
The killings themselves are kinda pedestrian actually. Some occurring with no explanation at all, what, how and when did that happen, I don’t know, whatever. But the killings themselves didn’t really sell me on the movie. To tell the truth it was the character driven story, and final chase, reveal, and finality of the movie that I found extremely rewarding. Nothing over the top just decent acting. I had actually got sold on the fact that the jerks who were going to be killed were actually scared human beings, and I found myself empathizing with both the killer and the victims. For me the movie is both tragic and fulfilling at the same time.
|Alternate foreign market art for Terror Train|
So let’s spend a little time on the cast. You have the experienced conductor with dreams of leaving the biz to one day invest in the RV industry. He’s fatherly and sensible, and knows enough not to freak out at the sight of a dead body. These kids could either be messing with him, or at the very least bring financial ruin to his business. My take is this guy is grace under pressure, and when he tells those little shits “Yes there’s a killer on the train, No we cannot find him, and Yes you are getting back on the train because we are in the middle of nowhere and you will freeze to death if you stay here” convinced me he wasn’t some doddering old fool who was getting kids killed, but the calm voice of reason.
You have the magician played by a young David Copperfield, and Oh boy was that a treat to witness. Dark, mysterious, the eyebrows he had it all. The passion for his magic tricks *ahem * illusions, very striking. He was riffing and scatting all over them smart ass frat boys with an ever present smile on his face, as he made card after card appear and disappear before my delighted eyes. I can only assume he had simultaneously made every panty melt for every sorority sister on that train.
|The dedication. I can't look away.|
Much to the Chagrin of Frat boy Prank master Doc, who undoubtedly is the biggest asshole in the world. The control freak of the group, he sets a lot of these events in motion. You know he’s going to get his at some point in this flick, but he legitimately gets driven insane and starts shrieking violently as the train turns against him, as though he were the boy who cried wolf at his hour of need only to be laughed at himself by his fellow partygoers. The finality in his voice as he accepts the cruel fate that his own machinations wrought, Ohhh that's classic horror cinema boys and girls.
|Welcome to the party!|
Last of all ,of course, the stars of the film Jamie Lee Curtis and the killer who stalks her. Let’s just say Jamie Lee lives up to her screen cred. She's coy yet defiant dressed in her half pirate costume. Her pants say she’s ready for action but the sash accentuates her sexuality just like a good girl horror movie heroine should be. She's obviously in terror as the very people who are closest to her are taken away one at a time. Not afraid to scream and run when it’s necessary until it’s just her and her assailant, but if she is backed into a corner she is prepared to defend herself and not fall to pieces. The very end of the movie is the big reveal. We see Jamie Lee with her Killer unmasked and prepared to confront her, and it’s strikingly intimate. Rather than beg and bargain her way out she makes peace with the situation in the only way that could of possibly saved her, and when the killer is finally disposed of the movie ends, not necessarily with a bang, just it’s over. The terror is done. It’s strangely fitting and on the whole I liked it. No fluff. No explanations. Just the end. It works.
So on the whole I thoroughly liked this movie and I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested. Terror Train is legit. So until next week’s movie which is still yet to be determined, check out terror train or some other Jamie Lee Horror flick and let me know what you think. Until then stay warm around the Horror Campfire, and don’t catch cold.