[box cover]

Terror Train

Terror Train (1980), which marked the directorial debut of film editor Roger Spottiswoode, is certainly one of the more stylish slasher flicks made in the hugely profitable wake of Halloween (1978), though its straining for respectability works as much against it as it does for it. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her "Scream Queen" heyday (1980 would also find her playing the victim in Prom Night and The Fog), the narrative is standard-issue for the genre: A freshman fraternity pledge, Kenny (Derek McKinnon), is subjected to a cruel prank planned by his pre-med buddies that traumatizes and unhinges him, leading him to seek revenge three years later on the eve of their graduation. The venue for his vengeance is a chartered train on which the pranksters and the rest of their Greek system brothers and sisters plan to celebrate their commencement with a heapin' helpin' of pot and Schlitz. The ringleader of the group is the callous practical joker Doc (Hart Bochner, developing his onscreen yuppie-scum persona, which he would perfect as the coked-out Ellis in Die Hard), who has a decided, well-practiced gift for treating his friends like complete trash. Curtis plays Alana, the only member of the group to express any regret for their prank-gone-awry. They're actually a pretty loathsome group, but that hasn't stopped Alana from falling in love with the moneyed Mo (Timothy Webber), who, while slightly more conscientious than Doc, is still quite the cad. The conductor of the train is the kindly old Carne (Ben Johnson), who's also a bit of an amateur magician. Lucky for him, then, that the expedition's entertainment has been entrusted to the one, the only, the obnoxiously-coifed David Copperfield, whose expert, effortless magic is meant to serve as a counterpoint to the mean-spirited trickery of Doc. As he dazzles the passengers with his scaled-down act (no monuments disappear, save for maybe the edifice of Ben Johnson's Oscar-winning credibility), with which Spottiswoode inadvisably pads out the film's length, the resurfaced Kenny offs his former tormentors one-by-one in rather unmemorable fashion. It's mostly in the bloodletting, or gratuitous lack thereof, that Spottiswoode's refined approach to the disreputable genre most annoys. Had he been working from a decent script, rather than the inept jumble of scenes lumped together by the unsurprisingly non-prolific T.Y. Drake, then the lack of gore, so obligatory for such guiltily entertaining crap, might've been excusable. Instead, the pretension merely bores (though it pales technically, at least Prom Night was shorter). That said, subversive touches, particularly of the homoerotic nature, do abound, but they go unexploited — their lurid potential buried in favor of more magic from the future ex-Mr. Claudia Schiffer. Finally, there's little left to admire outside of Kubrick-collaborator John Alcott's masterful cinematography, which is brilliant enough to make this almost worth recommending. And, yes, that hot young siren named D.D. Winters really is future Prince protégé Vanity. Fox presents Terror Train in anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame transfers, both with serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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