January 1, 2014

Critical Capsule: Terror Train (1980)

When Terror Train was released in 1980 the slasher cycle was still ramping up. Halloween had solidified the formula two years earlier and other filmmakers were looking for ways to mine the formula for all it was worth. Needless to say, while this movie seems rather formulaic, when it came out it wasn't. Still, that doesn't help it from feeling somewhat dated and very middle of the road. Now I know that a lot of people hold a lot of affection for this movie, but I am not one of them. It's not that I hate it, I just don't love it.

When all is said and done, Terror Train is not bad, it just fails to standout, and the big mystery of who the killer is pretty much wasted because of the opening scene. It starts with a scene in the past where a hazing prank goes awry. A pledge is lured into a room where he thinks a girl is waiting for him, only to find a corpse in the bed. The incident causes the pledge to snap and he ends up in an asylum. A few years later the pranksters are preparing for graduation and are having a big New Year's Eve blowout on a chartered train trip.

The kids are all drinking it up and doing what they do when an unwelcome guest begins to pick them off one by one. The trick is that the party is of the masquerade variety allowing our killer to keep changing his look. As the largely bloodless and off screen killings occur, the plot slows down and the movie drags through the middle. There is plenty of pointless dialogue and a magic show by the one and only David Copperfield to help pad out the run time.

To the movie's credit, I like the claustrophobia inducing train setting and Jamie Lee Curtis is certainly on point. It is shot well, but it helps having someone like John Alcott (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining) on board. It is far from the worst I have ever seen, it just doesn't feel like it stepped its game up. It is also a shame the director Roger Spottiswoode doesn't talk about the movie, as it was not a poorly directed affair. I think whatever issues I have are with the writing. Worth watching, just not great. Oh yes, I did love that lizard costume.

Mildly Recommended.

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