Terror Train 1981 ***


The Shining is such a one-off, a scary film that takes place largely in brightly lit interiors, that features few deaths and no explanation; there’s literally nothing quite like it. Kubrick’s cinematographer, John Alcott, was quite a talent, and his gifts were immediately put to good use in this unassuming little slasher movie which did no harm at all to the reputation of director Roger Spottiswoode (Under Fire, Tomorrow Never Dies) star (Jamie Lee Curtis) or even the budding career of a young magician named David Copperfield.

Terror Train also has a very clever idea that makes it somewhat unique. Yes, it’s Halloween on a train, in which a maniac boards a booze-cruise-on-rails full of partying medical students, including Curtis. The killer is wearing a disguise, and seeking revenge for a prank played many moons ago. But each victim he kills leads to a costume change, making it quite a tricky business to keep track of his movements; the audience is constantly looking for a man in a mask, but it’s the mask of the last victim you’re searching for.

Alcott goes to town on the train, framed by a beautiful exterior shot in the opening credits, and then with each compartment framed in very different light; Alcott’s use of colour certainly evokes memories of the Overlook’s past glories, and his use of diffuse lighting is very Eyes Wide Shut. And there’s lots of action on the train, including a very odd house band who conjure up a number of moods, and the novelty of several routines from Copperfield which derail the film’s momentum with their variety-show pacing.

Overall, Terror Train is something of a curiosity; back in 1981, it must have seemed like the slasher movie fad would never end, but Terror Train now appears to be one of the best of a rather tatty bunch. Cast, technical aspects and conception are all first rate; horror fans used to scraping the bottom of barrels may well find that Terror Train is worthy of a return ticket.

Overlord 1975 ****

Something more affecting than a mere curiosity, Overlord is a British film from 19075 shot, with good reason, in black and white. Writer/director Stuart Cooper, working from a screenplay by Christopher Hudson, bulks out his film with at least twenty minutes of stock footage of the D-Day landings; the effect is jarring at times, but by the climax, manages to create a you-are-there verisimilitude that belies its micro-budget. The storyline follows Tom (Brian Striner) as he takes leave of his family and joins up with the Allied forces for the dangerous assault, allowing Cooper to move backwards and forwards in time through his recollections at the point of battle. The stock footage is fascinating, unearthing arcane technologies uses and featuring vehicles rarely seen in conventional WWII movies. Overlord has a surreal poetry about it; with Kubrick’s cinematographer John Alcott creating some stunning images, Overlord is a real find; as Kubrick pointed out, the only weakness is that it isn’t twice as long.