Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Horror Express - 1972

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. has obviously been translated to screen a few times, most notably in the 1982 film The Thing directed by John Carpenter.  This is a lesser known adaptation which subverts the Arctic setting for a more claustrophobic and British setting - a train.  hence the name Horror Express.  Get it, they're on the express train to horror?  Get it?!?

Actually this film was really cool, don't get me wrong.  First the cast:  Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Telly Savalas.  Also, there's this intense religious guy named Pujardov that is played by Alberto de Mendoza.  This cast was all really good obviously and helped this film out a lot.  But the script, the pace, the monster scenes, everything was very well done.

In this version of the written work, they are on a train, as I said.  Christopher Lee has a mysterious crate brought on the train, and everyone wants to know what's inside.  He refuses to tell them, only saying it's ancient stones, perhaps fossils, etc.  He's very dodgy about the whole thing.  Peter Cushing takes a personal interest in this, going so far as to pay one of the train inspectors to drill a hole in the crate to see what's inside of it.  The train man, in doing so, releases the monster inside of it, which looks positively badass.
It's got glowing red eyes, and it's the same story as The Thing, which is of course that it can shape shift.  It can shape shift, gain the knowledge and memories of the people that it kills, and pretend to be them in just about any way.  I haven't read the original story, but in The Thing they can tell who is the monster by taking the blood of the people in the station.  In this one, their eyes looks slightly whiter, and they also glow red when there is no lights.

The monster gets loose, there is the natural clash between Christopher Lee (who in my opinion is let off pretty lightly for bringing this thing on the train) and Peter Cushing.  Also, Pujardov is like the strange mystic fellow who has some sort of precognizance or knowledge about the monster, and his role is kinda who-knows-what.  There are also a couple of kills, and the creature seems to have a reason for the people it kills beyond that it wants to; it's seeking some sort of information that only certain people on the train have.

That last factor especially makes this film extremely interesting.  It's like a game first of all:  we as the audience don't always know who the monster is, and we don't know who he has to kill next.  The script has a lot of realistic dialogue, dark humor, and entertaining characteristics in it.  Cushing and Lee are at the top of their game, and obviously having fun.  This was Cushing's first film after his wife's death, but he doesn't come off as morose or distracted, rather this is one of his best roles in my opinion.  Telly Savalas was also quite entertaining as a energetic oddball on board the train.

The pacing like I said was good, actors and effects good, and again I have to think of the small changes that make films different.  This is so similar to The Thing, but you could watch both and have a great time.  They are different enough.  It's amazing really.  I loved this movie, and I'd recommend it highly.   It doesn't feel like it's aged hardly at all. The only obvious "aging" markers for this film would be the actors, all dead by now.  By the way, Telly Savalas is another of those underrated actors that put on great and memorable character performances when he wanted.
I give this 4.5 stars.

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