Blu-ray Review: 'Terror Train' (1980) - Choo-choo, You're Dead!

Following the success of Halloween, a slew of producers attempted to recapture the success of Carpenter's film with their own cheapo slasher flicks. We've even talked about how the makers of Halloween couldn't even resist the temptation to try recapturing the magic of the original with an ill-advised cash-in sequel, bringing star Jamie Lee Curtis back for what amounted to an extended, mostly mute cameo as Michael Meyer stalked her through a poorly-lit hospital.

1980's Terror Train offered Curtis more lines, but was somehow even more shabby than that film, bringing Curtis together with a story featuring magic, disguises, binge-drinking, and murder on a train as a sadistic killer takes revenge on a group of obnoxious medical students three years after a gruesome plot gone wrong. This Canadian murder movie isn't helped by Shout! Factory's modest Blu, which brings together some insightful features with a rough-looking disc.

To hear producer Don Carmody tell it, Terror Train was born of a sudden burst of inspiration when he thought of pairing Halloween with a train. Although his girlfriend at the time told him that sounded like a horrible idea, Carmody forged ahead, working with producer Daniel Grodnik on the rough story, later enlisting T.Y. Bronson for the script. The story saw a group of recent med school graduates boarding a train for a boozy party, where a group of them would be stalked by a masked killer seeking revenge for a particularly nasty bit of sexual humiliation three years before. More memorable for the final reveal of the killer than anything else, under director Roger Spottiswoode (The 6th Day, And the Band Played On), Terror Train is at best workmanlike in its matter-of-fact killings and downright silly and nonsensical in the way the mystery and fake-outs are handled.

Curtis, who was two years out from Halloween, worked on this and the equally forgettable Prom Night in the same year, as producers tried to build some heat off of the horror heroine. While The Fog gave the actress a chance to truly show off her natural charisma (along with a similar role as a hitchhiker crossing Australia in Road Games), Terror Train mostly squandered the actress' prodigious talent. The other leads, including Supergirl co-star Hart Bochner don't help in the movie much, joining the sad list of horror movie characters you're maybe not hoping will die at some point, but aren't exactly disappointed to see them go, either.

I will say that David Copperfield (acting through his magnificent eyebrows) is suitably creepy here as a frustrated magician with the unenviable gig of having to keep a bunch of drunk and high med school grads entertained with prestidigitation. Plus, it's an early appearance of Prince protege Vanity, so there's that for small favors.

Presentation and Special Features

This is the rare Shout! Factory disc I can't give an unqualified recommendation to. The grain levels are ridiculously high, some scenes looking like they're taking place in the middle a minor snow storm.* The source materials seem to be made up of lots of scratched and imperfect elements, giving the whole picture even more of a TV movie sheen than it already has.

On the audio front, the disc offers 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio as well as a 2.0 track (and subtitles).

The bulk of the special features are interviews with some of the creative team behind the movie including Production Designer Glenn Bydwell in "All Aboard!" (11:00, HD) who details his early career and some of the challenges and opportunities of setting the mood of Terror Train. Composer John Mills-Cockell discusses the film's music in "Music For Murder" (8:10, HD) as well as how he got the job working on this, his first horror film.

On the business side, Production Executive Don Carmody is the subject of "Riding the Rails" (13:26, HD) where he gets down to the nitty gritty of shooting on a train (it's more hassle than it's worth, it seems). Carmody's first producing jobs were on David Cronenberg's first two movies, and here, he lays out the path to getting Terror Train made, working from a script that he thought was clever and could be produced on a budget. "Destination Death" (12:08, HD) features Producer Daniel Grodnik charts his own B-movie and schlock career leading up to Terror Train, his third project, born from his idea "What if Halloween took place on a train?"

The features are rounded out by a TV Spot (00:30), a still gallery (which has some pretty great foreign language posters for the movie), and the theatrical trailer (02:28). Plus, Shout! Factory has included a DVD copy of the film.

*It didn't escape me that part of the movie took place in the middle of a snowstorm.

Terror Train will be available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on October 16.

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