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Horror Express
cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Telly Savalas, Alberto de Mendoza, and Silvia Tortosa

director: Gene Martin (alias of Eugenio Martin)

88 minutes (15) 1972
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
2Entertain Cinema Club DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
For some people comfort eating is a method of lifting their spirits when they're feeling a bit low, but some of us prefer to partake in comfort viewing. For me, this involves anything associated with the following: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, Terence Fisher, and, of course, monsters. Big scary monsters...

After possibly the tackiest opening credits in cinema history, Horror Express calms down, and settles into a comfortable rhythm somewhere near the edge of hysteria. Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) has returned from his adventures in Manchuria with the fossilised remains of a half ape, half man, secured in a large wooden crate. On the railway platform of the Trans-Siberian Express, a lock-picker attempts to open the crate, only to be found dead and with his eyeballs turned bone-white. Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza) claims that Satan is responsible, and proves this by cleverly demonstrating that the symbol of the cross cannot be chalked on the side of the crate.

Doctor Wells (Peter Cushing), and old sparring partner of Saxton's, is also aboard the train, and amid various acts of skulduggery, more dead bodies turn up with staring white eyes and bloodied faces. Hurried autopsies prove that the dead passengers' brains have been rendered smooth as putty, robbed of the creases and dimples that represent a life's learning.

It seems that Saxton's fossil (the big scary monster) has escaped, and is clearly responsible for the chaos. But the medics soon discover that something else - a being from another galaxy (a small scary monster) - is actually using the creature as a host, and wiping its victims' brains clean of all information, including their memories. When one host is killed, it simply jumps to another via the eyeballs, and the death toll quickly mounts.

Horror Express is, basically, a good old-fashioned monster romp, the kind of film that's bread and butter to us discerning fans of the horror genre. The plot is uncannily similar to John Carpenter's The Thing (a film that would appear years later), but set on a cheap model train, and the director keeps things lively with lovely ladies in distress and a violent death occurring roughly every 15 minutes. There's also some thoroughly entertaining fuzzy science that I believed wholeheartedly throughout my childhood, namely the ability to examine an eyeball and see the last thing a person witnessed before their death(!).

The sets and special effects are pretty good for the era and budget (apart from the aforementioned rubbish model train) and the musical score (by John Cacavas, a composer with a long and varied career, who also went on to score The Satanic Rites Of Dracula for Hammer Studios) is perfect. The direction and editing are tight, and Alejandro Ulloa's cinematography has that lovely soft European look required for all 1970s' horror films with a period setting. The acting ranges from passable (the female leads) through dignified (as always, Cushing, Lee and Savalas) to scenery-munching (de Mendoza), but every member of an able cast seems to be having a great time and does their best to play it straight.

So if, like me, you think the idea of Peter Cushing deftly bone-sawing the top of someone's head off sounds like a great night in, you'll love every mad minute of this film.
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