Zombies on a Train, with horror icons at the wheel
Horror Express (1974) is not as obscure as you might think, and features one of the better Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing film team-ups. Every horror fan should see this film at least once and witness the sheer joy in the Lee and Cushing chemistry. There is also some campy fun.
At first I thought this was an obscure film, but I have been told that it is well-regarded amongst horror fans. It recently got a Blu-Ray release and has never been out of print. The copy I watched was blurred and aged looking, so I definitely see the appeal of an HD Blu-Ray transfer.
This is the reunion of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Their last outing was Dracula A.D 1972 the year prior, but this movie has better chemistry and better scenes. The dialogue is improved and flows better from scene to scene, although some of it is hilariously campy and silly. It’s just great fun.
Mr. Cushing: Excuse me Ms. Jones, I shall need your assistance.
Ms. Jones: Yes well, at your age, I’m not surprised.
Mr. Cushing: With an autopsy!
Ms. Jones: Oh, well that’s different.
Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee play scientists with a great interest in history. This is not a stretch for either man. Both Cushing and Lee play their parts like you might expect, with aristocratic panache, though they are competing against each other in the same field, anthropology. As the movie opens, Lee unearths a decayed body in ice and he puts it in a crate to be shipped home to England on a train. There, he meets Cushing, who goes about spying on his discovery.
The Creature simply wakes up, picks the lock on his crate, and starts roaming the train, hence giving meaning to the title. However, this is not your usual zombie Neanderthal, but one who can kill with a gaze from his evil eyes. One gaze from the zombie causes the victim to expel blood from his eyes and drop dead from an embolism. Peter Cushing is called in to investigate, and he does so with great spirit, like he is playing Van Helsing all over again.
Cushing almost didn’t appear in this movie. His wife had been suffering health problems and died shortly before filming began. Cushing almost backed out, but Christopher Lee talked him into it. The story goes that his numerous antecdotes and stories from the old days convinced Cushing that this film was worth making. You can see Cushing actually putting in a great effort into his performance, perhaps in tribute to his friend.
This movie was made in Spain, and produced by Bernard Gordon. Gordon used train footage and other stock shots from his previous film, Pancho Villa (1972). He also recruited Telly Savalas, who was in that film. Savalas leads some soldiers to secure the train, but that just adds to the body count.
Most of the dialogue in this film is good, though Cushing gets the most amusing and the most serious lines. He’s out to investigate the creature. Lee is snooty for most of the movie and doesn’t cooperate, but he comes around eventually and helps dispatch the zombies. There is no comic relief and the film doesn’t feel choppy. However, it has a lot of heavy dialogue that drags it down.
Mr. Cushing: Learning and memory are engraved on the normal brain, leaving a wrinkled surface. This brain has been drained. The memory has been removed, like chalk erased from a blackboard.
This movie has elements of Agatha Christie, suspense thrillers, and creature flicks. The zombie is not your usual creature, because it is motivated to suck the memories and knowledge directly out of someone’s brain. Just awesome, right? It can create zombie followers out of those it has killed, so Lee and Cushing come up with a unique way of dispatching this threat.
All in all, I like this movie. It is done like a Hammer film, but I think it has more style. The highlight is Peter Cushing and he delivers in this one. An exclusive interview with Cushing about this film is included on the Blu-Ray, so I will be definitely checking that out. This film didn’t do very well at the box office, and is more obscure than any other Cushing/Lee movie I can think of, mostly because it has fallen into the public domain. That won’t stop me from seeking out a better DVD copy, as this movie is as good, if not better, than any old-school horror classic.