Night Train To Terror (1985)

DECEMBER 11, 2012


A year or so ago my buddy John Gholson sent me a copy of a movie called Death Wish Club, saying it was along the lines of Birdemic and other "Holy shit how awful can one movie be?" type films. However it didn't sound like a horror film, so I never got around to watching it (sorry, John), which is why I didn't realize that it was one of the three feature films that were badly re-edited and used as the stories for Night Train To Terror, which may be the most baffling anthology movie ever made.

If I am understanding correctly, director John Carr and writer Philip Yordan (who has an Oscar, for Christ's sake, plus two additional nominations) had three movies (one unfinished at the time) that weren't going anywhere. So they devised a wraparound segment, apparently found the least discerning editor on the planet to hack them down to under 30 minutes a piece, and put this masterpiece together. Rumor has it that it even had a theatrical release (a print definitely exists), but nowadays it's, somewhat ironically, relegated to the same dump bins and public domain multi-packs that also house the original versions.

Possibly by accident, the wraparound's concept is actually pretty cool: God and Lucifer are on a train, arguing over the souls of a few folks like Chevy and Dan playing against the Russians over the fate of certain nuclear weapons at the end of Spies Like Us - a very casual discussion over something that's pretty goddamn huge for those involved. The endgame seems to be a plan to crash the train and kill everyone on board, so God is either trying to stop that from happening OR ensure he can take a bunch of the victims' souls to heaven, I was a bit hazy on that detail (compared to the rest of the movie, it's as understandable as my own name, however). Since the only passengers we see are the members of a horrid/awesome 80s pop band singing their own song over and over ("Everybody's got something to do/Everybody but you!"), it's hard to care much about the outcome. As the guy in Airplane would say "They BOUGHT their tickets, they KNEW what they were getting into! I say, let em crash!"

But what minor confusion is caused by the wraparound (which uses stock footage at a different aspect ratio for the exteriors of the train chugging along, and a toy for when it crashes) is nothing compared to the brain-melting WTFery that I felt watching the stories. Shockingly enough, cutting a movie down to 1/3 of its original length does not yield coherent results, and even with voiceovers trying to bridge scenes together and sum up the battered storylines, I found it easier to understand what was going on the in-flight movie without sound (and it was Premium Rush, which doesn't take place in chronological order) than I was anything in this.

And yes, I was on a plane while I watched this. Worse, it was an American Airlines plane, which meant my knees were jammed into the seat in front of me before its occupant even reclined and there was no in-flight progress option like on a Virgin or JetBlue plane, so I had no idea how much of the flight had passed. And since they can't even get those basics right, I had no faith in their wifi and thus didn't opt to spend 10 bucks for it. Had I done so (and it worked), I probably would have looked up some information on the movie and discovered its origin as a re-edited trio of movies. In other words, I watched this without knowing any of the above, assuming its insane approach to storytelling was by design - but I assume its 1985 audience was in the same boat, and thus it was the most fitting and apt way to watch this particular film.

The first one was the closest to a complete story, which is odd because it was the one that they never finished anyway. A guy gets into a car crash on his wedding night, and wakes up in a mental institute (the wife had died), where he is being brainwashed into picking up women at bars and such, and then bringing them to the institute, where they are murdered (and raped, I think?) by Bull from Night Court. Eventually he realizes this is wrong and mounts an escape, which is successful, I guess. There's a lot of "huh?" and jumping around, and it's nearly impossible to tell why anyone is doing what they are doing, but compared to the other two it's pretty much the epitome of coherent storytelling. And the hero is John Phillip Law from Diabolik, so there's something.

The next story (by the way, each story is bridged by more of God and Lucifer chatting it up, and that band singing their "Dance With Me" song again - you'll know all the words by the time the movie ends) is the one from Death Wish Club, and includes the worst editing of the bunch. When it starts, this rich asshole is wooing a girl selling popcorn, and then the voiceover explains that the guy put her into porn movies. One such film is then watched by the hero, who becomes so entranced by this woman that he drops everything to pursue her. We then see him watching her at a nightclub, where she plays the piano (or not, since she gets up and the song keeps playing), and even though it seems like they haven't even met yet, the next scene has them living together. But the porn producer guy is jealous/angry and thus makes them enter his death club, at which point almost nothing that has happened so far has any bearing on the plot. Once I learned about the re-editing I was quite confused - since they had the voiceover, why even bother with the porn/popcorn selling parts of her life? It wasted time they could have used making a little more sense out of the death club scenes - they could have just been any normal couple duped into playing this guy's game. That's the beauty of a post-production mandated voiceover - he can tell you the movie is about anything, and we have no choice but to believe him!

This one has the weirdest ending of them all, which is saying something. We're watching their newest death game, where they all lay under a swinging wrecking ball until it snaps off the rope and kills someone - this is how they get their thrills, sort of like a group Russian Roulette). Both men and the girl are among the possible victims, and then the rope breaks, crushing.... uh, some blond woman. The outcome literally has no meaning, and that's how the story ends! We cut back to God and Lucifer with not a single thing resolved, rendering it a complete waste of time even by this movie's standards. It's amazing.

The third story seems to be from a movie that was possibly incoherent even in its uncut form, as it combines Nazi vampires, the non-existence of Christ, Cameron Mitchell, stop motion demons, and who the hell knows what else. See, by this point I had long given up trying to make sense out of anything on-screen, to the point that it barely even fazed me when Bull from Night Court showed up as a different character than the one he was playing in the first, making him sort a sort of 2/3s Karen Black for this trilogy of non-terror. For what it's worth, it seems like it could be a pretty interesting movie; sort of a cross between Dorian Gray and an Exorcist sequel, so maybe I'll track it down and watch it on its own, but I'm not expecting much. Mitchell's presence alone seems to guarantee that it'll be a head-scratcher in any form, being that it seems every time I see him in a movie I'm also shouting "WHAT?" at the screen more often than not.

In other words, this is the best movie I've ever seen.

What say you?


  1. this looks AMAZING!

  2. I have this movie on one of those public domain multi-packs you mentioned and actually liked it for the bat-shit zaniness of it all. Considering the boring dreck that filled up most of the rest of the pack, it was hard not to like.

    Like you, after watching this, I looked up info on the film and found out about the re-editing of previous unreleased movies to make this anthology.

    As for the theatrical release, I have seen the one-sheet on auctions sites. It usually goes for cheap.

    Also, the sleeve for my disc of this features says it stars Keenan Wynn who I don't recall even being in the movie.

    Richard Moll, stop motion, gore and eighties singing and dancing. May God help us all, but still, I was laughing pretty good by the end of this one.

  3. Thanks for your review, but I'm telling really need to see Death Wish Club, and Cataclysm aka The Nightmare Never Ends.

  4. Ha ha, Richard Moll, stop motion, gore and eighties singing and dancing also describes The Dungeonmaster!

  5. I bought this on DVD after having it recommended by a friend who collects weird old horror/sci-fi movies. I've probably watched it around 15 times or so (I like showing it to people who think they can out bad-movie me) and, while I haven't watched it in a couple years, if I recall correctly, I think I always got the impression that the train was going to crash no matter what, and God & Satan were trying to see who would get to take the souls of the dead passengers (by basically bragging about good or evil-doers, in their respective stories, like they're trying to impress one another..? I don't know why one would give in and let the other "win", though).

  6. I can testify that it actually had a theatrical run as it played in my little podunk, one-horse town. (Our local theater was weird. They would play some big Hollywood blockbuster like Star Wars one week then follow it up with some cheap drive-in fare like Screwballs the next.

    I just bought this one on a multi-pack at the local Wal-Mart. The whole pack was $3.74 and when I saw this one listed, I knew I had to have it and 37 cents seemed about right for it. ;)


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