Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Horror Express (Severin Blu-ray/DVD combo) - Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Meet the Pseudo-Wolfman

The first time I watched Horror Express I was less than thrilled. I asked some of my friends what it was in particular that they loved about this picture. It was slow. It wasn't exactly action packed. The creature in the crate was just about as creatively designed as the common Big Foot impressionist. When I first briefly reviewed Horror Express I was pretty clear that I didn't quite understand why people found this to be a pivotal feature. Since then I've had the chance to watch it more than a couple times, and my opinion has pulled a complete 180. I now sing its praises and understand what is loved about this picture. It only took a 35mm viewing from Exhumed Films to do it. Then it showed up at Hudson Horror Show on 35mm, and now I'm hear to tell you about the Severin Films Blu-ray/DVD combo. This is the edition you want to own unless you collect 35mm prints.

Synopsis from Severin Films:

Screen legends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing star as rival turn-of-the-century anthropologists transporting a frozen ‘missing link’ aboard the Trans-Siberian Express. But when the prehistoric creature thaws and escapes, it unleashes a brain-scarfing spree that turns its victims into the eye-bleeding undead. Can the crafty colleagues stop this two million year old monster, hordes of zombie passengers and a psychotic Cossack officer (Telly Savalas) before terror goes off the rails?

Everyone has a favorite performer that stars in Horror Express. It's a cast of favorites starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas and my personal favorite performer in the film, Alberto de Mendoza. Yes Chris Lee is ominous and off putting. Cushing is a smart sleuth who is well mannered and ready to challenge the baddies. Telly Savalas' character is near laughable but one of the strangest on record in both costume design and plot direction. His wardrobe will stand out, but his influence on this film isn't just a dominant force against evil (and maybe as evil too). He played an important part in the creation of the score as well. Then there's Mendoza. Mendoza is the goddamn spitting image of Paul Naschy (and if you read an earlier draft of this review you might say that I actually thought it was him.  He wears his makeup well and creates a terrifying force in the midst of some intentional humor and outstanding gore. He nearly puts on Naschy's old Alaric de Marnic facade for this. Horror Express came out the same year as Horror Rises from the Tomb though I'm not certain which was filmed first, but the look of Mendoza in comparison to Naschy in uncanny. Student doubles? Stand ins? Demonic possession?

Remember that this isn't a Hammer picture. It feels like a Hammer picture at first until it decides to go off the deep end into a strange mesh of finger pointing. You see this movie is based on the book Who Goes There? That would be the book by John W. Campbell that inspired both the original and remake movie adaptations of The Thing. If I hadn't heard that on one of the extras in the release I may not have believed it, but with that knowledge in your head I urge you to watch it again. You'll see how it mirrors The Thing.

While there are moments of perfect cheese in the monster/createure design they are offset by some brilliant gore and eye effects involving cataract-covered eyes and blood dripping from every facial orifice. The strange glowing eyes are funny at times... until the right actors put them on.

The quality of this transfer is quite good with plenty of film grain. I don't think the copy could be considered pristine, but I'd say that works to the film's benefit. There are some juicy extras too that really help to give this movie a place in history and give the audience a better handle on why this isn't just a monster on a train flick. The Murder On The Trans-Siberian Express: Interview with Eugenio Martin will help you to understand the back story behind the creation of Horror Express factually, but I found that his explanation of what he wanted to create and why he wanted to create a new horror film using pretty much a train they simply had lying around is fascinating. Use what you've got young budding filmmakers. There's a lengthy inteview with Cushing that watches like a commentary track. Perhaps the most fascinating extra aws the Telly and Me, the interview with the composer of the alluring and haunting score to Horror Express. He discusses his relationship with Telly Savalas and how he contributed to its creation. Also there's a look at producer, Bernard Gordon's McCarthy era struggle which I found slightly tired, but that is pivotal to the story of how he became part of Horror Express. There's a passionate introduction by Fango Editor Chris Alexander. He's great at giving you the Robert Osborne treatment of a movie with anedotes and tidbits about the release. I enjoyed his Psychomania intro as well.

Note: This is an HD transfer from vault elements unearthed in a Mongolian film depot. 1080p. Full HD. English Dolby Digital Mono.

I've said the way to watch Horror Express is with a group of people in a crowded theater on film, but if that simply isn't possible then this Blu-ray is the next best thing to an auditorium. It's a packed release for fans with great cover art and extras gilded for movie lovers. Don't forget to laugh when it's funny or shutter when its eerie. Also keep an eye out for those "The Thing" moments.

You can pick up Horror Express NOW!

-Doc Terror

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