Night #25: Horror Express (1972)


Directed By: Eugenio Martin

Tell me, Mirov, what do you know about all the filth that’s going on here?”

Two Hammer legends combine in…not a Hammer movie. But that doesn’t matter because Horror Express comes with charms all of its own. The year is 1908 and Christopher Lee has discovered a man frozen in the ice. Being British in a foreign land he puts it in a box and brings it back home, seemingly thinking he has the right.

At least, he tries to bring it home anyway. In Shanghai, the box is loaded onto a train but it’s not long before a thief takes a gander inside and has his eyes turned white. It’s only a brief stop though and our cast of characters are whisked off together with a monster that’s just thawed out.

So this is a curious one, not least of all because – along with The Devil Rides Out – it’s one of the few good guy roles for Christopher Lee. He’s joined here by Peter Cushing and they’re not adversaries for once. In fact, Lee plays the straight man to Cushing throughout, who seems to be having a grand time.  It’s something the script plays up a little, to great effect:

Are you telling me that an ape that lived two million years ago got out of that crate, killed the baggage man and put him in there, then locked everything up neat and tidy, and got away?”

Yes I am!”

As it soon transpires, this is kind of a quasi-adaptation of Who Goes Therethe story that eventually ended up as The Thing. Yeah. Suffice to say that the movie certainly isn’t what it appears to be at the start. Suffice to say though it doesn’t retain any of the story’s thrills or the increasing paranoia of John Carpenter’s movie. However, if you like to see people shake their heads while their eyes turn white then you’re in the right place. It’s really my only disappointment with this, in that despite the fact that about 20 people are killed, they’re all killed in the exact same way.

In a show of economical character work, I like how Lee’s character is clearly hard up for money, and somewhat lives in the shadow of Cushing. The movie doesn’t tell us that directly, but the way their characters interact and the scene where Cushing basically bribes his way onto the train tells us what we need to know.

Still, when you think the movie couldn’t get any better, Telly Savalas shows up to claim a quick payday playing a Cossack, of all things. Have you seen Kojack? Well then you’ve seen the man playing a Cossack. It’s clearly a stretch for an American to play a Russian and admirably, Savalas doesn’t have any interest in trying to do so. It doesn’t really happen anymore. You don’t see Vin Diesel show up in some weird Spanish production to chew up the scenery for twenty minutes do you? No, but I wish you did.

It’s hard to dislike a movie that’s so gleefully mad and it’s harder to hate it when it’s grounded with some good performances (Lee and Cushing might not have had the greatest range, but they’re always believable). What a weird and wonderful little flick.



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