Amok Train (1989)

MARCH 9, 2012


If you decide to get into Italian horror, you have to accept a few things. One, you'll be seeing "sequels" to movies in which not a single character returns or is even mentioned (if they're even similar in any way at all). Two, they probably won't make any sense. Three, none of that will matter as long as the death scenes deliver. Thus, Amok Train, which is also known as Beyond The Door III, is a "perfect" Italian horror film, as it delivers on all three counts.

Oddly, it's actually SOMEWHAT plausible as a sequel to Beyond The Door, as it also involves Satan, so I guess we can count him as a returning character. And it's produced by Ovidio G. Assonitis, the same guy who directed the original, so in the realm of unofficial sequels to Italian horror movies, this is their Godfather Part II in terms of how closely connected it is. I mean, most of the Demons "sequels" don't even have demons. For the record, Beyond The Door II is actually Mario Bava's Shock, which is wholly unrelated in cast/crew/plot/everything.

And the deaths! Oh man, this one would be great to watch with a crowd, since everyone dies horribly and graphically; the simplest death in the entire movie is an immolation. Pretty much everyone else either gets impaled and/or decapitated, the latter of which happens so often I began to wonder if it was actually part of the villain's requirements for a kill, like in a Sleepy Hollow movie where he needs the heads. This is never more apparent than in the film's final reel, when a character is torn in half (and thus killed) by a chain that rips through him as he dangles in between train cars. I mean, the dude is DEAD, but then they show his upper half on the tracks, where one of the train's wheels takes his head off for good measure. However, a few minutes later a guy gets simply impaled (on one of those railroad crossing "arms"!), so if they had to be decapitated then the villain isn't going to get much use out of him.

Fair warning, it's a quantity over quality type affair here; the dummies are pretty bad (though the early car crash decapitation is pretty good) and they're all very "clean" in that the heads slide off like butter. The dummies even cause confusion at some points - I actually thought one victim was SUPPOSED to be a dummy in order to trick a character, but nah, it's just a shitty effect. This carries over to the extensive model work for pretty much any shot of the train barreling through trucks or going off the rails or whatever. Again, it actually renders some scenes a bit puzzling at first; there's a bit where the track shifts in order to cause the train to derail into the water, but all you see as an intelligent human being is a little piece of model railroad track dipping into a puddle (the numerous stones around are a dead giveaway - they'd be closer to boulder sized going by this scale). It's possibly the first movie I've ever seen where bad model work didn't even faze me after a while; a rare shot of the actual train doing something "action-y" actually kind of stuck out.

But that's part of what I dug about the movie - it was like Unstoppable mixed with a typical "Cult kills the groups of teens who wronged them" horror movie. There aren't enough movies that blend action and horror at all, let alone effectively, but I think this one succeeds as both a horror film and an action thriller, at least in a cheap low budget junky way. Like Tony Scott's film, there are a number of scenes in which the train seems heading for disaster only for things to go right at the last second, as well as lots of obstacles for it to smash through as the outside world attempts to stop it or at least slow it down to buy them some time.

Unfortunately I have no idea what might have happened if it just ran forever. All of the scenes involving train officials and police are in the original Yugoslavian language and presented without subtitles. You can usually get the gist of what they're saying ("The train is out of control!" more or less), but when they're just talking calmly or not looking at monitors, it's more or less up to you to translate whatever you want (I personally just assumed that the train was inexplicably heading toward the White House. Make up your own!). Apparently the versions that have their dialogue burned into the image are also heavily cut to remove the gore, so I'd rather have it this way for sure - I didn't tune in for the specifics of the railroad's rescue plans, I want to see a girl tear her head in half!

As for the incoherency, it's pretty much status quo. People do things for reasons that are never made clear, and we have to assume that the entire universe is under this cult's control in order for many of the death scenes to work. There's also the usual number of visions and nightmare scenes featuring nonsensical imagery like a woman with a little dragon coming out from between her legs. I did like the "virginity" subplot though; the movie more or less boils down to whether or not the main girl will give it up before the cult gets her and makes her Satan's bride (if she's not a virgin their spell won't work, I guess). Unlike Beyond The Door, which more or less made sense until the film's insane, impenetrable final reel, this one has a general sense of mild confusion throughout - it doesn't make total sense, but I was never completely baffled as to what the hell was happening, either.

I'd be curious to see it again in its cut form. Not just to read the subtitles on the Yugoslavian scenes, but also to see if it's even remotely entertaining without the gore. There are definitely some dull spots here and there, but there's usually another death coming along soon to make up for it. Without those, all that's left is a movie about an out of control model train disrupting pebbles and anonymous mannequins. But when you consider the state of the Italian horror industry this late in the 80s, as well as the fact that it's from the director of Iced, one of the worst slasher movies ever made, that it's even watchable is something of a surprise. Certainly better than Train, that's for damn sure.

What say you?


  1. Well damn. I got this on vhs a year ago and it was absolutely horrible. Just boring boring boring. As I was reading your review, I was wondering if we'd seen the same movie, as I didn't remember all of this bloody mayhem and carnage. Then you mentioned that there are different edits. I just looked and, yup, it turns out that the American VHS release cut out all of the gore/death scenes. I'm debating on whether or not it's worth it to check out the dvd to see if the uncut version is actually at least closer to being a decent movie.

  2. Annoyingly the PAL dvd of this seems to be out of print here in the UK, would have liked to have seen it for the effects...


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