Terror Train (1980)

I’d never heard of this 20th Century Fox ‘slasher’ flick until it was prominently mentioned in the original Scream (1996) and since then, I’d always meant to check it out…if for no other reason than morbid curiousity. As Jamie Kennedys ‘Randy’ character points out, Terror Train is another in Jamie Lee Curtis’ filmography that really did help solidify her as one of the premier ‘scream queens’ of the late 70s/early 80s…even though ‘shriek queen’ might be more accurate. She does use her signature ‘cry’ well in this genre helping…nearly too well, as she’s able to hit notes that could almost fracture glass. The ‘story’ follows the graduating class of an obscure medical school as they embark on a hedonistic year-end bash on a steam train headed for…somewhere. While the masked revelers get their freak on, a deranged murderer moves among them, picking off a select clique in a number of ways that we, as a now jaded and ‘knowing’ audience, have become accustomed to. Poor Jamie just happens to be a somewhat grudging member of the targeted group of smartass students. For the most part, and considering what this flick is, it’s a decently entertaining addition to the genre. Of course there are some issues that inevitably arose as the movie played out. I found myself asking ‘Now that the crew and students know that a killer is picking them off…why doesn’t someone turn on the damn lights?!’ The whole train spends its time plunged in darkness, even when people begin searching the train for the murderer and/or victims. There was also the instance of Jamie engaging in a close-quarters confrontation with the masked killer where she runs a sword into him, and promptly runs away hysterically when she had the opportunity to unmask her assailant once and for all (didn’t she learn ANYTHING from ‘Halloween’?!). Which lends to an element I thought worked well. Being that it’s a costume party, the killer had the opportunity to adopt different disquises as he moved through the crowd, at times, to creepy effect. The filmmakers did make half an attempt to throw in a twist as to the killers identity that probably worked well in 1980 but I suspected was going to be the case at around the halfway point. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right. Another aspect that I appreciated was that the crew of the train, especially the ‘paternal’ conductor played by Red Dawns Ben Johnson, weren’t a bunch of bumbling idiots with VICTIM stamped on their foreheads. When the chips were down, they did seem like they wanted to maintain some semblance of competent control…not that it helped them much. Two other gripes that I have to mention are: The portayal of ‘Doc’, the practical joking del facto leader of the targeted clique, played annoyingly by Die Hards Hart Bochner (the slimy, ill-fated traitor Ellis), was a grating, reprehensibly whining asshole (probably on purpose) who I was praying the killer would get to sooner rather than later AND the unintentionally hilarious opening scene that lays the foundation for the killers motivations. When it gets revisited at the end, it just made me laugh at it all over again. Probably not the effect they were going for. And speaking of the ending, while what they present does work, it still felt as though ‘something’ was left hanging…namely the trauma that the TERROR(!) has on Jamie Lee Curtis’ Alana character. But this IS a slasher flick, and those rarely need much in the way of depth. As a ‘curiousity’ of the genre, I would recommend this to fans of the Friday the 13th and Halloween films. It’s good for what it is but thankfully it didn’t branch out into ridiculous franchise territory, like so many of the others from that time period


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