Made in 1972, Horror Express is a mostly unknown horror film which has a cult following of sorts. Do you think the fact the film stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing has anything to do with it? Image Entertainment, under their "EuroShock Collection" has released Horror Express on DVD in its original widescreen format, which will hopefully erase the current scimitar version from memory.
In 1906 Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) the leader of an expedition team of the Royal Geological Society discovers something remarkable while excavating a cave in China. Embedded in a cave wall was a fossil of a creature. This creature which was half man and half ape apparently lived 2 million years ago. Professor Saxton thinking he's made the find of the century decides to take it with him and the team heads to a train station in Peking. While there he meets an old friend and rival of his Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) who happens to be boarding the same train as Saxton. Saxton's fossil, which has been encased in a crate, is placed in the cargo hold of the train attracting Dr. Well's curiosity.
Saxton tells Wells that inside the crate is merely a fossil discovered on a dig. Dr. Wells still curious as to what really lies within the box pays the baggage boy to take a peak inside during the night. Taking the good Doctor up on his offer that night the baggage boy opens the crate and looks inside. Frightened by what he sees he stops and backs away. The creature inside begins to revive and tries to open the crate's padlock. When the baggage boy notices the creature prying open the lock he attempts to stop it. The creature subsequently murders the man and his eyes turned a blank white. The next day when a train investigator notices the baggage boy gone he orders the crate to be searched against the wishes of Professor Saxton. Inside the crate is the dead body of the baggage boy but the Professor's "fossil" is nowhere to be found.
Deducing that the creature is responsible and is somehow alive after 2 million years the train's security begins a search for the creature. However, the lives of the passengers are in grave danger and the body count continues to climb. Now it's up to Professor Saxton and Dr. Wells to figure out the true origins of the creature and how to stop it.
Horror Express is a great little horror gem from the 1970s starring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing by then famous for their Hammer Film roles. Taking place almost entirely on a fast moving train the entrapment creates a nice isolation scenario which unfortunately is not nearly emphasized as much as it should be. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are excellent in their roles playing stern British scientists unraveling the mysterious surrounding Professor Saxton's new find. The effects of the creature are not quite good but effective in some sequences, quick cutting and fast movement are employed to only glimpse us the monster at times. I wish that had been done all the time in the film as what we don't see can be more frightening than what we do.
Other effects like the microscope viewing the creature's blood are laughable. Maybe it was the idea that a monster's blood can display images of ancient times and a view of Earth from Outer Space is more ridiculous than the actual effect itself, at any rate when Cushing exclaims "a Brontosaurus!" while viewing it in the telescope I laughed out loud. Though this film will probably not appeal to a mass audience no doubt due to it's uneven pacing and dated effects the pairing of Cushing and Lee in any film is worth viewing. Here we get great performances and a great visual style and cinematography I recommend it.
Image Entertainment presents Horror Express letterboxed in the film's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and sadly is not 16x9 enhanced. I've never seen the previous Scimitar DVD of Horror Express. I'm always weary about buying something from a company with a bad reputation for sloppy transfers and overall low quality so I waited for a reputable distributor such as Anchor Bay, Elite Entertainment, Synapse or Image Entertainment to do this film justice on DVD. Image Entertainment does not disappoint with this new beautiful transfer of Horror Express. Though it is flawed and definitely shows its age I'm certain Horror Express has never looked this good.
The opening credit sequence exhibits some moderate print damage and here blacks seem a dark bluish. As the film begins however the quality improves greatly. Though the film is still marred with scratches and specks the damage is not so severe as to become distracting especially around the second half of the film which seems to exhibit less damage than the first. The film is mostly free of grain and has a very clear appearance, with a great level of detail. The image always remains sharp I didn't note any shots that appeared soft. Colors were nicely saturated and skin tones looked excellent and natural. The whites of the snow seen occasionally in outside exteriors were pure without any grain. Blacks were solid without any breakup but I did note an occasional shot where the blacks looked more like a dark gray.
Overall this is an excellent transfer which suffers from a few problems no doubt due to source materials.
Presented in Dolby Digital Mono, Horror Express sounded fairly good. There is a small amount of background noise present, but never a distraction. Dialogue was clear without any distortion.
Image Entertainment hasn't put that many extras on this disc not even a theatrical trailer. Only cast & crew filmographys for Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are on this DVD and they hardly count as supplements in my book. However there is an isolated music and effects track worth noting which is the only reason this disc manages to score a C+.
Horror Express is one of those classic horror gems from the 1970s and here it is in an excellent quality presentation. Horror Express stars two of the most recognized and respected horror icons and that alone is worth the price of this disc, it would have been nice to have some supplements accompany this DVD like a commentary with Christopher Lee but alas I guess it was not to be.
Image Quality – B
Sound – B
Supplements – C+
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