Terror Train 2 (2022)

DECEMBER 31, 2023


Unlike Halloween and Christmas, there aren’t a lot of New Year’s-set horror movies, and let’s face it – neither Terror Train or New Year’s Evil (I know they’re not the only ones, but they’re the most popular) are amazing enough to revisit every year. So last year I opted to watch the *remake* of Terror Train that had popped up on Tubi, only to laugh when I discovered one of the only two changes of note it made from the original film is that it changed the holiday from NYE to, sigh, Halloween. Which, to be fair, actually makes the costume element make more sense, but since I wanted something seasonal and it turned out to be unrelated I was mildly annoyed. But thankfully, Terror Train 2 takes place a year – and two months! – later, setting itself on December 31st and restoring balance to the universe.

It’s also a better movie than its predecessor, which it was shot back to back with. Normally, combined productions like this tend to mean that the second of the pair is much lesser than the first (for examples: Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Pirates 2 and 3, etc), but that’s not the case here, and ironically it’s the very nature of that sort of production that allowed it to come off as the better of the two. If this was a traditional sequel, it’d probably have a mostly new cast, with some survivors forgotten, and there would probably be a new location as well (or at least a *different* train). But by jumping right into it with the same cast and crew, that means pretty much everyone that survived the original is back here, and by being on the same train it feels more like a successful do-over than traditional sequel.

Because as I mentioned (and for those who haven’t seen it), the remake only made two changes from the original, one being the rather superfluous day it was set on, and the other was the identity of the killer. Rather than go with the magician's assistant, the remake (spoiler) changed it to the conductor of the train (Carne, the Ben Johnson character in the original, played by a woman) and chalked it up to the umpteenth “vengeful parent” excuse, as Carne was revealed to be the mother of the kid they pranked at the beginning. So along with the much less interesting cast, CGI blood, etc it made the remake a very trying experience, offering almost nothing new while doing the same thing we already saw before only poorly, with its two changes of note only reminding you of other slasher movies (Halloween and Friday the 13th, namely). Here, they’re into entirely new territory with regards to its plot, so I just found myself more interested in the proceedings, as I didn’t know who would die and when (and where, and how, etc). Hell, even though the killer’s identity was different last time I was still able to figure it out long before it was revealed, but here I actually guessed wrong! The person I pegged as the new villain took an axe to the back barely over the halfway point!

But in my defense (big spoiler here, so skip this paragraph) I have been conditioned to accept that the killer in a slasher sequel will never be someone from the previous movie. Not that there are a lot of whodunit slasher sequels, but if you look at the handful – the Scream series, the Last Summers, Urban Legend(s) – you’ll see that the new killers are always new characters as well. The closest we ever got was when there was a draft of Scream 2 that turned Cotton into the killer he was accused of being in the first place, but that got changed (rightfully so IMO), while I Still Know just had it be the same guy with a new character, and Urban Legends: Final Cut introduced an entirely new cast anyway (save Reese, of course). So naturally, as a slasher connoisseur going back over 30 years at this point, my eyes were only trained on the handful of new characters, only to see most of them get killed before the climax, allowing the reveal to work as something of a surprise (but not a cheat – important distinction). So good on you, Terror Train 2 – you had the balls to do something Scream never did across five sequels.

Of course, the flipside to all of this is that you have to accept the dumbest setup in slasher history (or at least tied with I Still Know’s radio station trip to Bahamas nonsense) for all of this to occur. I can KIND OF buy the idea that today’s social media obsessed millennials would be jealous of survivor Alana and think what she went through was so cool, and also that they’d want to commemorate the events on the train (though the holiday switcheroo makes this a little awkward – why are they celebrating it on New Year’s when it happened on Halloween?), but Alana AND The Magician both being coerced to join the festivities, plus Sadie the assistant conductor, who is now the conductor? It’s a bit too much “Dick Thornburg was also on Holly’s plane” sequel nonsense for me, even by the already low standards set by a cheapie/quickie sequel being offered for free on Tubi. Like, at least leave Sadie or the Magician *off* the train and just trying to get there to help, or something.

But otherwise (and the return of the CGI blood, though there are some practical spurts on occasion and a surprisingly gnarly disemboweling) it’s shockingly “pretty good” for the most part. I honestly can’t recall a slasher sequel that brought back literally everyone (even Scream 2 left Sid’s dad out of it), and even in the first one I enjoyed the Magician and Alana’s platonic friendship, so I was happy to see more of it here. And even though I’ve seen it a million times by now, I’ll never not laugh at dumb comments from the clueless viewers who find themselves watching a live streamed murder in one of these things. Also, since every horror movie heroine has trauma now, at least they put it to good use – Alana’s PTSD includes hallucinations, so at one point she sees an actual murder taking place and assumes she’s just imagining it again, turning around and doing her breathing exercises to calm down. Heh.

That said, it’s also one of those things where I can’t help but wonder if it’s actually worth watching or if it’s only benefiting from my extremely low expectations. I’d also be curious how it was received by people who never saw the 1980 film and thus were able to watch (and enjoy?) the remake without the déjà vu distracting them the entire time. Maybe they were annoyed at the reveal and/or seeing their favorite returning character(s) die. But for those like me who think the OG is entertaining but no classic and were equally baffled that the remake couldn’t be bothered to make any real changes until the last ten minutes, I think you’ll agree this one, if nothing else, shows a little more effort. And that’s always worth noting in this day and age. Especially right now, when we’re besieged by “Mickey Mouse horror!” trailers thanks to the "Steamboat Willie" copyright expiration. I’ll take Terror Train 7 over any more of that dumb crap.

What say you?


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