“If you've heard this story before, don't stop me, because I'd like to hear it again”
I hope all of you are safe and sound if you're dealing with Hurricane Sandy. If you're not, I hope you're having a lovely day, possibly watching cartoons and eating tacos. Either way, stay safe and hopefully the power stays on so I can keep posting my reviews. During the height of the slasher boom of the late 70's and early 80's, horror movies were forced to get a little creative. I mean, not too creative, it was the 80's after all. There's only so many movies you can make based at a summer camp or in a house. We have slashers set in high schools, college, malls, aerobics gyms, boats, and, of course, trains. Well, at least this movie has Jamie Lee Curtis in it.
Terror Train is a 1980 slasher starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Trading Places) as college student Alana Maxwell. During her freshman year, Alana played a prank on awkward fraternity pledge Kenny Hampson (Derek McKinnon, Family Motel, Breaking All The Rules), making him think she wanted to have sex with him. Instead, he finds a woman's corpse inside their bed and is so scarred by the incident that he is committed to a psychiatric hospital. Three years later, Alana and the frat members who arranged the prank are taking a having a costume party on a moving train. As the train moves through the snowy wilderness, an unknown killer moves throughout the cabins, killing everyone involved with the fateful prank. Alana thinks something is amiss, but bodies keep getting moved. The train conductor Carne (Ben Johnson, The Wild Bunch, The Getaway) tries in vain to track down the murderer while keeping the party goers unaware of what is happening. The killer continuously switches costumes, making him difficult to capture. Will Alana survive and just who is the killer?
"I'm sorry about the "train of thought" pun!"
Terror Train is your run-of-the-mill slasher movie. You pretty much know exactly what is going to happen, but it's OK, because you know what you're getting into. Beyond taking place on a train, the movie doesn't offer much in the way of creativity. The train setting does give a small sense of claustrophobia that other slashers lack. It takes away the option for the characters to just “run away”. There are some good long hallway shots and the special lighting in the train. I do also like that the killer continuously switches costume, adding a bit of shock and surprise to certain scenes. Unfortunately, the movie goes to the well a few too many times and the music swells and jumps become tiresome. Terror Train spends a large amount of time focusing on both Carne and a magician that is performing on the train. The movie is almost unsure if Carne should be the hero or not, never fully committing to the character. The magician is a misdirect, but still gets way too much screen time.
For being a slasher in the early 1980's, the movie has a surprising lack of blood and gore. The kills are nothing special and there doesn't appear to be a central weapon used either. While over the top gore and blood isn't necessary for a slasher, it's odd that the movie decided not to go all out like similar slashers. When you take away the fun violence, you're just left with a mediocre train mystery. Jamie Lee Curtis plays her role well and has far more emotion than in Prom Night. The rest of the cast is fine and the direction is good enough to keep the movie going. The movie includes a lot of different characters, which is great for upping the kill count, but it's hard to keep track of who is who. It also cuts down on the attachment level and the audience no longer cares since they have interest in who is being killed.
Hey, it's 80's era Mick Jagger, complete with bloody cocaine-nose!
Terror Train does have it's place in the slasher heyday of the late 70's and early 80's, but is ultimately a second-tier movie. It lays out like most other slashers with just a change in location. The acting is fine and it's always fun to see Jamie Lee Curtis in a slasher film before she really hit it big. Probably the biggest disappointment with the movie is the lack of blood and gore. It would have made the movie much more interesting than it was. Terror Train isn't a bad movie, it's just nothing special. If you've seen a slasher movie before, you've pretty much seen Terror Train. It's nice for a nostalgic factor and good to mark off on your checklist, but don't expect to be blown away.