Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Random Movie Report #30: Night Train to Terror

Welcome back, loyal readers!

It took me a bit longer to get back and ready to write than I thought it would. The National Audio Theatre Workshop was a bit of a marathon in the end, and
I probably needed the extra week to recover. I did come away with a renewed appreciation for the medium, though, and expect that to rear its head in coming weeks. But back to the visual stuff for the moment; whilst in West Plains I decided, for no good reason, to pick up one of those budget horror DVDs with 4 movies on one disc. For a buck per movie, I figured why not? So I’ve got a quartet of esoteric shockfests to make a dent in July’s post count. Enjoy.

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is more than just a bad, nonsensical horror movie. It’s a bad, nonsensical compilation of three horror movies (TWO of them featuring Richard Moll!) and some really appalling framing footage, forming something so tatty that one can only imagine the reaction of anyone who ended up seeing this in a theater. Or for that matter, renting it expecting a decent horror film. The horror anthology has a long and storied history in film, but there’s a difference between making an anthology and just smashing films together and setting them to horrible music. NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is amusing in its badness, and a bit of a wacky theological odyssey to boot, but your tolerance of choppy editing and wretched 80s rock will be pushed to their limits.

We open, naturally, on a train. In one car, a group of 80s teen rockers, consisting of more people than Toto and Earth, Wind, and Fire put together, performs a perpetual music video. No effort whatsoever is made to make it seem as though an actual band is rehearsing, inside anything resembling an actual train car. As Michael Weldon points out in the PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO GUIDE, the song’s key lyric, “Everyone’s got something to do, everybody but you!” is particularly cruel for the audience. Anyway, in the next car back, God (billed as Himself in the credits, and just try and get Him to talk about this one- seriously, it’s Ferdy Mayne) and Satan (“Lu Sifer”) are looking at the stars and discussing the fate of mankind and the kids on the train, which is fated to crash at dawn. (Nobody else is on board, except for a porter and conductor, and they seem to know the drill.) By way of discussing the cosmic battle of good and evil, God and Satan look at three separate tales of terror. The first involves John Phillip Law getting into a car accident and ending up at some kind of twisted hospital where the doctors kidnap people (mostly young girls), torture them, and then kill them, shipping the body parts to medical schools. (Richard Moll’s character seems to do most of the heavy work in this department.) Law’s character gets pulled into the business by his therapist, and goes around town drugging women to get them to the hospital. This grisly tale, itself a weird blending of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, and to a lesser extent THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, might have been frightening at some point, but the cuts are so jerky and rapid so as to render the whole thing a goofy speed run of gore, nudity, and people pretending to be lobotomized.

The next tale, edited down from 1983’s DEATH WISH CLUB, is about Gretta (Merideth Haze), an aspiring singer/actress who gets into a relationship with the sleazy George Youngmeyer (J. Martin Sellers), who puts her in porno films. She starts going out with the much nicer Glenn Marshall (Rick Barnes), so Youngmeyer plots a kind of revenge by getting them involved in a secret club consisting of people who’ve all had brushes with death, and now make games of putting themselves in elaborate potentially deadly situations. This one is actually sort of decently put together, but it boils down to a succession of crazy death games (one involving a giant stop-motion insect), each one of them sufficiently random so as to make the outcome completely arbitrary. It kinda trails off without an actual ending.

And then we come to the third story, apparently released as CATACLYSM in 1980, and it is simultaneously the worst and most psychotic tale in the bunch. It’s a kind of OMEN ripoff apparently involving Satan (or his son) who was also a Nazi who may also be some sort of vampire and who looks like a svelte Meat Loaf, and features Moll again as a kind of proto-Richard Dawkins who’s written a book apparently disproving Christ’s existence and who is hounded by a priest who looks like Alan Arkin, and the protagonist is some woman who doesn’t do anything and there’s a police inspector played by Cameron Mitchell who DOES do a lot but he’s never actually given a name, and there are stop motion monsters and a Holocaust survivor played by a man in the least convincing old age makeup I have ever seen and... yeah. Whatever sense this movie may or may not have made at some point, as edited down here it’s a blaze of incoherence. It’s also the most ambitious of the three mini features, trying to squeeze an awful lot out of the limited budget. It’s also the longest, and after a while it’s all a bit much.

How does it end? What’s the fate of the kids on the train? I won’t spoil that, but I will say that God puts in a few good words for rock and roll music, even though the band itself is working against Him in this regard. The last shot needs to be seen to be believed.

So, by all standards a horrible movie, but not a boring one. It’s good amateur MST3K fodder, and a weird little cultural artifact, both as a low-grade film company’s attempt to salvage a feature out of whatever was available and as a look at the most bleak and threadbare of Eighties horror. There are even a few decent concepts thrown around, the crappiness of their execution notwithstanding. It’s ironic (I think) that a cheap horror compilation film found its way onto the modern equivalent, a compilation DVD using the cheapest of films and no real effort at a good transfer. You really should know what you’re getting into at this stage, but I had no illusions and I still watched the damn thing. And I ended up wanting more.

Written by Philip Yordan
Directed by John Carr, Philip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, Gregg C. Tallas

Grade: C-

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