Movies We Like
This early '70s British/Spanish co-production is more interesting than most of the other horror/sci-fi flicks its countrymen were putting out in its day. It’s also the best Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee flick of the '70s. Horror Express plays like a mad mesh-up of The Thing, Murder On The Orient Express, Night Of The Living Dead, and Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series. It may be a wacky low-budget affair, but it’s actually an eerie little genre masterpiece.
Anthropologist Alexander Saxton (Lee) boards the Trans-Siberian Express in 1906 with a crated fossil of what he believe to be the "missing link." A mad Rasputin-like monk (Alberto de Mendoza) becomes obsessed with it, declaring it the devil and waking it from its deep slumber. When it escapes and starts killing passengers, Saxton must team up with his rival, Dr. Wells (Cushing), to destroy it. The scientists study its retina and learn that it came to ancient Earth from outer space a la The Thing. And also like The Thing it seems to be able to take the form of the people it mind-melds with, causing the killing to continue.
Eventually, ultra-ham Telly Savalas enters the train as a tough guy Cossack Captain. He gives the film a burst of new energy, beating up on passengers and even giving the Monk a lashing. But the creature wipes out Savalas’ Cossack regimen as pandemonium ensues. For some reason, the alien turns its victims into zombies. In an exciting last act, Lee and Cushing lead a handful of survivors as they flee to the caboose to escape the zombies.
Lee and Cushing became horror film icons with their numerous British movies with the Hammer Studios. But by the '70s the low budget company would have already peaked. Horror Express would be their last memorable film together. Lee would achieve recognition outside the studio with The Wicker Man and many years later in The Lord Of The Rings films (he would also play the villain in the James Bond flick, The Man With The Golden Gun). Cushing would find a new audience playing Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars film (Lee would appear in the dismal prequels decades later), but otherwise Cushing’s post-Hammer career would unfortunately prove to be completely unmemorable.
A journeyman, sometimes Spaghetti Western knock-off director, this was Spaniard Eugenio Martin's one film that got some play abroad. It was shot on minimal sets and dubbed in post-production, Italian style. But thanks to the wonders of 1970s TV this became a little cult film for horror buffs. Frankly, how most people saw it - either in a stinky Grindhouse theater or on a grainy black & white television set on a rainy Sunday afternoon - is probably the best way to see it. Luckily since it’s in the public domain most copies of Horror Express on DVD are cheap-o quickies, making it inexpensive to purchase and giving it that low quality feel that ensures just the right flavors to savor all its quirky qualities.