I saw 'Horror Express' on Boxing Night in 1980. I stayed up late with my Dad to watch it and it frightened the shit out of me. I remember my father saying, "You staying up for the horror film tonight?" Me? Stay up for a horror movie? Uh... yeah! My parents gave me an Irish coffee that night - very weak, of course - but it made me feel all special and grown up.
The thing that make it even better was that we had a massive amount of snow that night. Because so much of 'Horror Express' was set on the trans-Siberian express, I couldn't sleep and, when I did, I had awful nightmares. My father had to threaten not to allow me to watch any more horror films to get me to settle down.
'Horror Express' (also known as 'Panic On The Trans-Siberian Train') is a little known screen gem made by a Spanish company about a fossil that comes to life on a train. It's set during the turn of the century but stil holds up incredibly well. Of course, you can't go wrong with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Christpher Lee actually played a good guy in this one (for a change.)
Okay. I'm going to butt in here, for just a moment. You mentioned that Christopher Lee played a good guy in Horror Express and I think it's important to talk about that. Lee just looked evil so it's not surprising that he was so often cast as the baddie. Even as a hero, though, Lee is so intense that he comes across and foreboding and intimidating. Not exactly the kind of guy you'd go to for a comforting hug but definitely the kind of guy you'd want protecting you.
Lee and Cushing were always good foils for each other. Did you know, though, that Peter Cushing was only in 'Horror Express' because Christopher Lee forced him to get off his ass and do it. Cushing's beloved wife, Helen, had only died a few weeks before filming started and you can see the pain in his face.
Anyway, Lee and Cushing never got enough credit for what they did for the horror genre and the British film industry. Fact of the matter is, if I know those two are in a film, I'm making a beeline for it. They're my two biggest film heroes. Christopher Lee because he frightened the shit out of me and Cushing because I wanted to be him. I always admired the way Peter Cushing was and the way he behaved. He was a gent. They both were. They were chivalrous, with immaculate manners. The world is a lesser place without them in it.
"But what if one of you is the monster?"
"Monster? We're British, you know."
Don't forget about Telly Savalas. Any movie has to be better for having Telly in it. That guy was just cool as fuck. He definitely brought the humour to 'Horror Express' as the Cossack, Capt. Kazan, stomping around like he owned the place.
Capt. Kazan was just awesome. So over the top. So hammed up that it makes the film superb. A vodka-swilling, gun-pointing, no-nonsense Cossack. I wouldn't call his role comedy, necessarily, but his entrance invigorates what could have been a heavy film. Telly Savalas was such a great actor. Although he's only in 'Horror Express' for fifteen or twenty minutes at the end, it's worth the wait.
Finally, there's Alberto de Mendoza as the mad monk, Father Pujardov. Again, he was over-the-top. The monk was the only one who insisted that there was something evil in the crate that housed the creature where the alien/monster dwelled and he's the one who serves it.
Father Pujardov wasn't a very good monk, was he? The first time he sees what he perceives as the Devil and he worships it. The thing that I like about Pujardov, though, is that he's so obviously a jab at Rasputin. You've gotta love a movie that goes there.
"But what if the monk is innocent?"
"Ahhh, we got lots of innocent monks!"
It's the imagery that makes 'Horror Express' great to watch. The poor actor(s) who played the alien/monster all had to wear contact lenses that lit up - contacts with actual lights in them. It was incredibly innovative in its day. It worked so well but they had to be hell to wear. The victims had to wear white scleral contact lenses, too, and none of them were comfortable at the time. It created a hell of a look, though.
The glowing red eyes are really good effects but I love the reason for the white eyes. It was so clever, the way that the eyes would go white because the monster (or alien, whatever) stole their memories, their knowledge, so that it could learn about us. Wiping their brains, that's a really great idea. I also love the pseudo-science that allows them to see the last image that the victims saw. It's an interesting premise and it's also a great way to move the story along.
Like I said, 'Horror Express' is a forgotten gem. The ending was a little rushed, maybe, but you forgive that because the movie was so good throughout. It also has a great score, which was very different for its age. Unforgettable. Oh, and there are even zombies, if that's your thing. You really have to give this movie a shot. You won't be disappointed.
That's all for today. What do you think of our list so far? Drop us a comment below.