Terror Train (1980) – Roger Spottiswoode

In the early 80s, poor Jamie Lee Curtis seemed to be in constant trouble with slashers. I remember seeing the fairly generic poster when I was a kid, and the masked face and the knife really bothered me. As mentioned previously it took me a long time to come around to horror films.

So until now, I had never watched it. I just wasn’t motivated, the reviews online weren’t soo very complimentary and consequently, I figured I wasn’t missing much. So I was pleasantly surprised when I finally took a chance on it. Sure you know who the killer is from the off, but it’s the cat and mouse nature of the film, not to mention the inescapable location that makes this one a little fun.

Three years ago, a fraternity with the aid of Alana (Curtis), who doesn’t know all the details, ruined a young man’s life, scarring him and sending him to be locked up in a mental institution. Now on New Year’s Eve, and after four years of university, the gang is having one last, big, blowout. And they’ve rented a private train to party on.

Kenny (Derek McKinnon) slips in amongst the partygoers, all of whom are in costume, and once the train is underway, begins to claim the lives of those who wronged him.

Amidst the drinking, carousing, and a magic show (who the hell invited David Copperfield, and why is he wearing so much makeup? Is he a vampire?) the bodies begin to pile up. That being said, the gore factor is pretty low, and the kills are fairly generic. Even the nudity, the other big draw of a slasher movie of the 80s is fairly low.

For all its faults though, I found myself caught up in the character dynamics. Alana is dating Mo (Timothy Webber) one of the frat boys, and his best friend is Doc (Hart Bochner).

Doc is a piece of work. He lies, manipulates, and was the real force behind Kenny’s break three years ago. While he claims to be Mo’s friend, he also seems intent on ruining his relationship with Alana, and perhaps just keeping Mo to himself.

Having the action confined to a train is a lot of fun, though the gore and kills could have been upped quite a bit. And some of the characters are a little more fleshed out than you would expect them to be. Curtis’ Alana is fully realized, despite towards the end she descends into simply running and screaming, and there’s a conductor, Carne (Ben Johnson), who is a lot of fun, and seems to be taking the partying kids all in stride.

It’s not a winner. It’s definitely not Halloween, but it’s an interesting diversion in the slasher genre. And the Kenny reveal at the end is pretty well done.

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