Review Date: January 16, 2010
Released by: Camera Obscura
Release date: 10/20/2009
Region 2, PAL
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
We’ve lost a lot of great companies and a lot of great product lines as a result of the recession and the slowing of the home entertainment industry. How many times can you say we’ve got them back? It came as a great delight for this particular Euro horror fan to find out late last year that the great “Italian Genre Cinema Collection” would be once again resuming production. Previously under the wing of Sazuma, the collection had a short but memorable 2 release run, first with Sergio Martino’s wacky Suspected Death of a Minor
and then the stylish sleaze classic Last House on the Beach
. Sazuma sadly abandoned DVD distribution shortly after, but now, a few years later and a few years wiser, Camera Obscura has lit the match once more. Such attention to quality are these releases that they’ve decided to skip over numbers 3 & 4 for the time being so they can release 5 in the proper color scheme so the set will look appealing on a DVD shelf. Yeah yeah, okay, so what is it? What’s the film chosen for the grand reboot? A short and smutty tingle on the tracks that promises to be like The Last House on the Left
and I Spit on Your Grave
but bears greater similarity to Aldo Lado’s classic, Night Train Murders
. It’s Terror Express
Three rowdy youths, half looking like rejects from West Side Story
and half looking like George Eastman, sneak aboard a night train for kicks. Also boarding is a stern but beautiful prostitute, Giulia (Silvia Dionisio
, Blood for Dracula
), who’s looking to hit up a few clients before the ride is through. Then there’s a couple on the rocks, and when one is the nubile and beautiful as Zora Kerova (New York Ripper
, Cannibal Ferox
) and the other old and drab, it’s no wonder her eye’s a wander. There’s also a family aboard, although this isn’t quite your regular Norman Rockwell. The dad spends his time sniffing his daughter’s nightgown, and the daughter , Evelyn (Fiammetta Flamini
), has the hots for one of the three Jets. Who next? Well, there’s a young, balding political prisoner accompanied by a cop, and an elderly couple with a wife in need of a lot of specialty medication. God forbid anything go wrong on the train to throw her treatment out of whack…
While our motley cast of characters all congregate into the connecting diner cab, tensions begin to rise. The hooligans won’t stop listening to their loud music and it’s upsetting the table of old folks. These aren’t your typical curmudgeons, though. They’re all waiting their turn to have their way with Giulia. Viagra ads would have little impact on this ride, let me tell you. Despite possessing no discernable charm, both Kerova (“Anna”) and the curvy blond daughter have it out for the curly Jet, Elio (Carlo De Mejo
, City of the Living Dead
, Manhattan Baby
). Pretty soon some leering gazes become hot and heavy bathroom action, as Elio and Anna dash off to get it on. What started out as innocent softcore sex gets a lot rougher when Nico (Fausto Lombardi
, Rats: Night of Terror
) forgoes the diner food to make a human sandwich. Anna gets raped Straw Dogs style, where you can never really tell if she’s loving it or loathing it. Man, I feel bad writing this shit.
But it continues. Giulia finishes off with the old guy and then goes for round two with Evelyn’s father. Only, he’s got a strange request: wear his daughter’s nightgown and answer to the name Evelyn. Jesus. A gig’s a gig, though, and she does it, but before she can finish the third customer knocks. It’s the last of the terrible trio, David (Werner Pochath
, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire
[Fuck I love that title!]), and he isn’t about to pay for anything. He holds Giulia up, and eventually the rest of the train, by gunpoint. The motive? Erm, there isn’t any, really. The three guys all just want to have a lot of sex. Leave watching the wheels for guys like Lennon. It’s sex of all sorts until the train finally stops, and then it’s time for the political prisoner to break free and show his true heroism. But only after the sex.
is an interesting picture. It’s like the canary in the coal mine, the crap catalyst that would signal the sad death of Italy’s reign as king of the exportable genre picture. By 1979, and you see it here as well as in movies like Martino’s The Big Alligator River
, the well had pretty much run dry, with budgets and purpose evaporating without trace. The movie is a scant 82 minutes, set almost entirely in a single train compartment, and tied together by a lot of under-exposed guerilla style shots of train lights and the city. This is a far cry from the cinematography we’d get in Argento, Martino and Lado’s heyday.
The horn that really signals the bottom falling out in Italy is the film’s willful ignorance of substance. In its brisk runtime, no characters are created, only archetypes, and plot is usually forgotten entirely whenever the next sex scene kicks in. Where’s the terror in Terror Express
? Well, I guess there are a few gun shots in the last ten minutes. Don’t count on any blood or gore though, because there isn’t any. The killer’s sort of hijack the train but not really – all the passengers just sort of hang out without guard while people casually have sex for extended periods of time. By this point in Italy’s exploitation phase, so much focus was forced on delivering mere commodities – sex here, violence there, that any and all of the art had virtually been erased from the palette.
is a sleazy, misogynistic little sex fantasy, where women are either the virgin or the whore, and in the case of Evelyn, both. It’s completely ludicrous, like how after forcing out sex to no less than four different guys one after the other, Giulia shortly after falls in love with the political prisoner and instead of, you know, resting tenderly with her head on his shoulder or something, she opts for sex. That’s five times in the span of about an hour. And she had been crying during the third and fourth acts, where she was raped. Apparently being Italian makes you REALLY resilient.
The whole thing would be incredibly offensive were it not for the fact that there’s no guilt involved. Movies like Night Train Murders
or The Last House on the Left
use sex and violence as a critique of the lax moors of society or the corrupt insensitivity of the upper class. By the end credits, when David Hess tells us “the road leads to nowhere”, it’s depressing as hell. It makes you think. Terror Express
uses sex and violence not for dramatic effect, but instead as a light form of sexual perversion. It’s all a rouse for pleasure, and the train speeds by without any lasting impact after its brisk 82-minute journey. There is nothing to feel guilty about because none of these characters or real and the story is little more than a segue device from room to room, encounter to encounter.
Of course, even if the story, penned for a paycheck in a couple days by George Eastman, is crap, the Italians never did know how to make a technically lackluster film. The performers all exude a strong personality and either a magnetic menace or a demure innocence that’s engaging on either side of the hero-villain divide. Marcello Giombini’s riling synthesized title track is a memorable one, and considering almost the entire film is shot in a claustrophobic little train cabin, the cinematography does a great job of never making a composition seem stale or played out. Even when the creative engine had run out of steam for the Italians, as displayed here in Terror Express
, they still knew how to put together a picture. Call it a zest for life that we lack here in North America, but whatever it is, it makes even vapid fare like this dance when it’s dead.
Like the Sazuma releases in the Italian Genre Cinema Collection, this is a progressive scan PAL transfer. Unlike the Sazuma releases, though, this 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer is culled from inferior source files. There is a disclaimer at the start cautioning that two scenes have been lost and thus have had to be substituted from a degraded source. That source is mostly likely VHS or Betacam, but thankfully the two instances fall right at the start – one for the freeze frame opening credits, the other for an exposition scene in the train station. After that’s it’s all a film source, although admittedly that source has some problems too, with a lot of staining popping up at the start and end of splices and a little wear and tear when it comes to specs and sometimes edges. Still, for the most part Camera Obscura has done a good job in presenting the film in the best way available to them, with good saturation and a generally stable and detailed transfer. I don’t know what the filmmakers were thinking with all those night exterior shots of the train (read: a couple lights against a grainy, underexposed black) that were countlessly used as transition points. Ugh!
As with the Sazuma releases, this is presented in either Italian or German mono with optional English or German subtitles. Watching the dubbed English trailer in the extras section, I sort of missed not having the English dub here, since a lot of the trashy or corny lines would have really translated well into that Frank English we all love about Italian dubs. Guilia’s “The store’s closed for the night” line when someone else tries to have sex with her would have certainly been good for a chuckle that way. The sound has held up a lot better than the image, with a mostly clean and distinct track without any hiss. Dialogue is separated nicely. There are a few moments of over-modulation, but I’d wager that falls at the source, given the production value of this whole thing.
There were never a lot of extras on the Sazuma discs, but they were put together with some of the nicest menus and titles the format has ever seen. Thankfully, Camera Obscura has stuck with that template for another beautifully realized release, from the menus to the packaging. The menus have a nice art style and seamless transitions, and as a bonus those transitions can even be turned off in the menus. You can also select what language you’d want the menus in, too. Keeping with the stylish theme is a nice cardboard slipcase and a cardboard book that holds the disc and on the opening flap a nice little booklet with an essay on the film. Classy packaging for a not-so-classy film!
As for actual extras, there is a meaty featurette, a menu-based photo gallery and some wild English and Italian trailers. The featurette, “Tales From the Rails”, runs 24-minutes and contains new interviews with George Eastman, Carlo De Mejo and Zora Kerova. Between her interview on the New York Ripper
Blu-ray and here, Kerova is seriously winning over my cult film heart. Always a trooper in her movies, and always one to take the material seriously and call it what it is today, she’s the kind of talent the genre needed more of then and still today. Eastman is very frank and entertaining in his description of the film, even humbly and apologetically saying it was films like this that contributed to the end of the Italian cinema. De Mejo is totally chill and looks back on the whole production kindly – weird given the sex hungry monster he had to play, but all his words have a tender shade of nostalgia. Overall, a fine piece on the film, touching the logistics of shooting all the way to what the crew thought of the director – and you’d be surprised about the difference of opinion!
is lacking the sadistic and damning edge that continues to give similar films like Night Train Murders
and The Last House on the Beach
reverence today. It’s still plenty perverse, but it’s more a vile sex romp than a thriller. Even if this is on the tail end of the Italian cinema train, it still features a catchy score, charismatic performances and proficient camera work. Camera Obscura has done a great job of keeping up the high Sazuma standards, with nice extras and a beautiful package. The sound is solid and although the film elements are problematic at best, Camera Obscura has done the best that they can do in making it all presentable. Not the greatest of films, but no doubt one that deserves your import support so the Italian Genre Cinema Collection can continue to thrive by bringing these pictures obscure to new audiences mature.
Movie - C
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 22 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Italian mono
- German mono
- English subtitles
- German subtitles
- "Tales from the Rails" featurette
- Theatrical trailers
- Photo gallery