Horror Express (1972)
A train shoots past as the camera and crew casts a shadow over the ground in front of us (oops). Then half a dozen different songs all strike up at the same time as the credits roll over people screaming and the sound of a train. And before you ask, it's not the latest advertising campaign for Virgin Rail.
It's China, 1906. Christopher Lee, alias Alexander Saxton, ventures into some caves armed only with a daft hat and a comedy moustache. There he finds a body, which he promptly boxes up and carts off to Peking railway station. There he meets (hooray!) Peter Cushing, and the two of 'em board a train to Russia.
Meanwhile, whatever's in Lee's crate is busy killing a passing thief. His body is found, the eyes pouring blood and completely white, which is pretty disgusting, really. A passing Rasputin-alike denounces it as "the work of the devil", but our British heroes are having none of it. "Whatever you have here is unholy..." the monk explains, "...and must be destroyed". To illustrate his point he tries to draw a cross on the crate with a piece of chalk, and can't.
Everyone ignores this obvious fruitcake and his chalk "conjuring trick" , and the crate is loaded onto the train, where it promptly starts growling.
Once they're on their way, Cushing bribes a guard to sneak a peek at what's inside the crate, and the berk manages to set something very hairy free. Oops again. The mad monk is on the train with a Polish Countess, and he's still not happy: "There is the stink of hell on this train... even the dog knows it."
And once the guard is found to be missing, a police inspector who's also on the train (very cosmopolitan, this journey) takes charge: "One man dead... another missing... it's time we opened this box," his mouth flaps out of time to some dodgy dubbing.
Of course, it's the guard who's inside the crate, dead, and Lee is forced to explain that what was in the crate was a fossilised two million year-old man. Cushing sums up the script adequately at this point: "Are you telling me that an ape that lived two million years ago got out of this crate, killed a man, then locked the crate up neat and tidy?"
The Police Inspector then adds to this tremendous conversation: "I think the fossil... or whatever it is... escaped... jumped off the train..."
Cushing then carries out an autopsy on the guard, sawing off the top of his head, Frankenstein-style. "The brain has been drained. The memory has been removed... like chalk erased from a blackboard," he explains.
Meanwhile, a woman (who disconcertingly looks like a man in drag, despite being quite attractive) has conned her way into staying with Cushing, and is some kind of international spy. This leads to them sharing a bathroom, which Cushing gets first dibs on. Unfortunately, he says "Thank you, it's all yours" rather than "Phew, I'd leave it 15 minutes if I were you, love."
She's the next victim of the killer monkey-man and his glowing red eye. The nature of this monkey is irrepressible, let me tell you. Cushing then gets attacked when he goes to look for the woman, but luckily the police inspector is on hand to shoot it (several times) until it dies. Unfortunately, it makes eye contact with its killer as it drops to the ground.
Lee's got an idea the creature might have been sucking people's brains, and gaining their skills - hence its escaping act from the crate after killing a thief ("aaaaah..." - the audience). I'd like to pause for a minute during this breathless summing-up to explain that it's written like this for a reason - the entire film is one hugely enjoyable romp which never lets up its speed. You've got a brain-jumping alien parasite, some truly revolting sfx and Cushing and Lee. Think it can't get any better? Prepare for a badly overacting Telly Savalas and an absolutely barking mad last half hour, which involves lots more death and some serious zombie action.
There's also some interesting points to made about religion - when the Priest asks the monster "are you going to kill me?", the reply is a stark: "Fool - there's nothing in your head."
Some other classic lines:
Police inspector: "I'll shoot anyone who tries to leave the train."
Voice from crowd: "Shoot! Shoot - you stupid Russian!"
And of course:
Police inspector: "What if one of you is the monster?"
Cushing: "Monster? We're British, you know."
All of which almost makes up for the worst rushed ending in the history of "oh my god, the money's run out" endings. And it showed such promise. "Wait - there is something more..." indeed.
Last updated: February 23, 2010
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