Terror Train 1981 ***

terrortrain3

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.

Stage Fright 2014 ***

stage-fright

The Venn diagram showing the number of people who like musicals and the number of people who like slasher movies surely has a minimal intersection; writer/director Jerome Sable deserves credit for not chickening out on either genre for his entertaining hybrid Stage Fright. After the death of her opera-singing mother Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver), daughter Camilla (Allie Macdonald) is still haunted by the loss. Ten years later, she’s working in the kitchen of a summer-camp, run by her father Roger (Meat Loaf). They’re staging a kabuki musical version of a well-known show, retitled The Haunting of the Opera, but the onstage-backstabbing is overshadowed by the grisly deaths that dog the performance. Stage Fright is garnished with tuneful music numbers that feel like Disney and Black Swan filtered through South Park, mixed with some tense and extremely violent killings. A uniformly strong cast are anchored by a terrific performance from Meat Loaf, who seizes the chance to play the harassed but ambitious producer with elan. Stage Fright is an engaging curiosity, a clever horror music spoof with genuine tension and songs that stick with you for days.

10 To Midnight 1983 ***

-1

Director J Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone) was in the twilight of his career when he made this violent Charles Bronson action flick from 1983, but he deals with the lurid material with professionalism. Inspired, if that’s the right word, but a real life killing spree, 10 to midnight pitches Bronson’s rock-hard cop Leo Kessler against a new kind of low-life; a male killer (Andrew Stevens) who gets off on murdering women when he’s in the nude. Kessler’s disgust is only increased when the authorities fail to deal with the problem, and sorts out his own brand of justice in predictable but well-staged fashion. 10 To Midnight mixes the vigilante and slasher movie cycles with some skill; it’s a low-rent, nasty but effective piece of work.

The Burning 1981 ***

Unknown

Pre scandal, Harvey Weinstein’s name became synonymous with awards friendly upscale drama, but he got down and dirty in this early slasher movie, with a story by credit and screenplay duties for his brother Bob. The Burning is a fairly straightforward story of teens at a summer camp getting picked off by disfigured caretaker Cropsy (Lou David), who puts his shears to good effect in some impressively tense killings. The supporting cast has to be seen to be believed; Holly Hunter, Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander and Short Circuit’s Fisher Stevens are all pictured in their youth, and although The Burning was labelled as a ‘video nasty’ in the UK, it’s brisk approach makes it a key film in horror history; Weinstein’s instinct for making money from a smartly acquired concept proved to be the template for a hugely successful and controversial career as a producer. Tom Savini provided the convincing effects.