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Old 10-04-2012, 12:56 AM
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Scored: 5
Views: 4,766
Night Train Murders




Reviewer: Chunkblower
Review Date: October 3, 2012

Format: Blu-ray
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: January 31, 2012
MSRP: $29.98
All Regions
Progressive Scan
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Widescreen 1.85 | 16x9: Yes
1975



For the screenshots and the review of the previous Blue Underground DVD, click here.

One of the reasons the 70ís were the golden age of the exploitation film probably has to do largely with the differing (and occasionally nonexistent) copyright legislation around the world. Whether Spider-man is raping and killing women in a Turkish exploitation film or the umpteenth Romero-inspired zombie gut-muncher from Italy, the differing copyright laws around the world were some of the biggest contributors to the rich tapestry of 70s exploitation cinema. If nothing else, these rip-offs were usually a decent substitute when sequels are not immediately (or never) forthcoming.

inline ImageOne such film inspired by a successful American movie, The Last House on the Left in this case, is Night Train Murders. Taking the ďDie HardĒ approach to filmmaking and recycling an old premise in a new location, this is a rare case where the film makers had a legitimate shot at improving on the source material: while undeniably effective and influential, Wes Cravenís debut feature was about as raw and unpolished as a film could be and still be considered a genuine movie. Unfortunately, Night Train takes far too long to leave the station and when it does eventually get under steam youíll probably be ready to trade in your ticket to ride.


The Story

inline ImageItís Christmas Eve and students Lisa (Laura DíAngelo) and Margaret (Irene Miracle) are preparing for their holiday break. Theyíll be taking the evening train from Germany to the home of Lisaís parents in Italy, despite Margaretís motherís reservations about two young girls traveling alone by train. Her fears prove to be grimly prophetic; at the station, a couple of thugs Blackie (Flavio Bucci) and Curly (Gianfresco De Grassi) causing trouble manage to evade the station police by ducking on to the same train as the girls. They wander back to the middle class cabin, being disruptive to the high class passengers as they go. Perhaps attracted to the sense of danger they represent, the girls help them scam their way through a ticket check. When it becomes apparent that the goons want more from the girls than they are willing to give, Blackie and Curly bail setting their sights on a mysterious Blonde Woman (Macha Meril). Blackie ambushes the woman in the bathroom. At first she resists, but soon reveals that sheís every bit a depraved as the two thugs.

inline ImageWhen the train is delayed by a bomb threat the girls sneak off and transfer to a different train, hoping to make up for lost time. The woman and the thugs have a similar idea and occupy the girlís cabin, subjecting them to a horrible night of humiliation, sexual assault and brutalization. The assailants take it a step farther than they intended; Lisa is accidentally murdered and Margaret dies while attempting to escape. The killers clean up the cabin and dump all their victimsí belongings out the window. The train eventually arrives at its destination and, in some logical gymnastics that must have left the screenwriters panting, the killers find themselves in the home of Margaretís parents. It isnít long before their heinous crimes are found out and the father wreaks what has to be the most truncated rampage of revenge the silver screen has ever witnessed.

inline ImageEven a brief plot synopsis reveals the similarities between Night Train and Last House. I always try to take and movie on its own terms but the very obvious lifting from Craven makes it nearly impossible in this case. While Night Train is, from a technical perspective, a far more accomplished film, it actually winds up being far less effective at what itís trying to do. There was a sense of verisimilitude in Cravenís low budget grunginess thatís missing in Ladoís stylish lighting choices and more professionally-shot compositions. Whereas Craven constructed his screenplay so that the social commentary flowed naturally from the story, Lado and his co-writers have far too many scenes of turgid dialogue trying to pound home poorly conceived political subtexts. Lisaís parents host a dinner party where the guests pompously expound on various political issues and the blonde woman on the train is enjoying a political debate with her cabin mates before she falls in with the thugs. Thereís an attempt at commentary about how the bourgeoisies (represented by the woman) manipulate the poor (thugs) into doing their bidding. If there was ever a time that a message like that would play itís now, in the middle of a deep recession and cultural clash between haves and have-nots. It doesnít really work, though. The woman is first victimized, sexually, by Blackie. While she certainly pushes their behaviors from obnoxious, but relatively harmless, thuggery into full-on rape and murder, she really isnít the instigator. From a purely narrative standpoint her actions donít really make sense, either: she goes from polite political discussion, to being assaulted, to sexual depravity and murder with nothing to connect the disparate actions other than the filmmakerís desire to make a point.

inline ImageThe structure of a revenge film like this affords filmmakers a major short cut if theyíre smart enough to use it: less effort need be expended to ensure the main characters are sympathetic. When they fall victim to the inevitable torments the filmmakers have planned, our basic human empathy kicks in and we feel sorry for them regardless. Despite this ďeasy out,Ē the filmmakers arenít able to make Lisa and Margaret very sympathetic characters. Their motivations from scene to scene seem to be whatever it takes to propel the movie forward. Compare them to Phyllis and Mari from Last House who, despite having comparatively less screen time, are far more interesting characters. We actually knew a bit about them so, when theyíre abducted by Krug, we feel for them. Very basic information about Lisa and Margaret is poorly presented and then contradicted midway through, despite Lado spending far more screen time getting to the ďmoneyĒ scenes. The screenplay feels like a lazy hodgepodge thatís trying to burn up enough screen time to fill out a feature length run time.

inline ImageMost exploitation films have their ďmoment,Ē that one over-the-top scene that sets it apart from other films in the genre. Usually itís a particularly graphic murder or scene of depraved sexuality, but sometimes itís simply a total WTF, head scratcher. Night Train opts for a moment of shocking gore but the moment in question, Lisaís murder, is not nearly as shocking or graphic as it couldíve been and the way the scene is framed prevents the moment from lingering. Compare the aftermath of Lisaís murder with the aftermath of Mariís rape in Last House: the rape is followed by some quiet moments for the full weight of the scene to really sink in. In contrast, Night Train follows its big scene with some frantic action. Itís too soon after the fact and dulls the potential impact of the scene.

inline ImageThereís not really much more to say about Night Train. Despite its pretentions to both thriller and political statement itís not terribly effective at accomplishing either. I really would have preferred the film have the courage to simply be a sleazy thriller rather than trying to attach some deeper meaning to the carnage. In the end itís a serviceable, but mostly forgettable, rip off of a far more effective film. Hard to believe a film where the centerpiece is a woman getting stabbed in the crotch could fail to elicit much of a reaction.


Image Quality

inline ImageThe film may not be stellar but itís given a presentation that far exceeds the value of the film itself. Iím starting to sound like a broken record, but the quality of Blue Undergroundís Blu-ray transfers is simply astonishing. Scenes drenched in red light display no bleeding or smearing and the deep murky blues never suffer from compression problems. Thereís a fair amount of grain, but detail never suffers; distant signs in the train station were clearly legible while I was sitting on the couch. What amazes me most is not the actual transfer, which is beyond reproach, but the effort it must take to locate such pristine source materials.

Sound

inline ImageThe DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track is not quite as revelatory as the video quality, but still leagues better than I would have expected. The only real issues with the high end, which is used mainly by the music; Ennio Morriconeís harmonica-heavy score can sound shrill as the higher notes are hit. Thereís also a ridiculously upbeat song by Demis Roussos that bookends the film over the credits, and as the singer affects a falsetto pitch the audio tends towards distortion. Dialogue has the hollow, canned sound that youíd expect but dialogue is always easy to discern. The audio mix is pretty minimalist when it comes to sound effects. There are no other audio language tracks included for comparison.


Supplemental Material

inline ImageCo-writer and Director Aldo Lado offers his insight into Night Train Murders in the featurette Riding the Night Train (14:57). He starts off by acknowledging the similarities between Night Train and Last House but largely dismisses them out of hand, claiming he never saw Last House. Whether he did or did not is pretty moot considering the similarities too obvious to be ignored (he also skims over the fact that the producer made reference to Last House when pitching the project). One point I do agree with is that a film that is as sickening as Night Train canít credibly be blamed for glorifying violence.

inline ImageNight Train Murders was apparently re-titled ďLast Stop on the Night TrainĒ in the US, as evidenced by the US Theatrical Trailer (2:33). It looks like the title was changed just prior to release, given the completely different font used for the first and last parts of the title. The ad shamelessly invokes Last House and Death Wish.

The longer, less sensationalistic International Trailer (3:49) actually takes time to set up the premise of the film. Itís a better trailer, by far, but I can see how it wouldnít have sold the film to the grindhouse market in the States.

Two Radio Spots (0:30 each) from the US ad campaign hilariously make no reference to the film being set on a train. The new title, New House on the Left, and the canned doorbell sound effect punctuating the ads imply the complete opposite, in fact.

inline ImageUsually Iíd be pretty blasť about a Poster and Stills Gallery, but the marketing for Night Train in the various territories alternates between fascinating and outright hilarious. You have to love how itís advertised as ďLast House Part II,Ē complete with picture of David Hess and Godfather font rip-off, how Irene Miracleís miraculously wearing panties during her escape scene on the German lobby cards or the Anglicizing of the castís names on the American ad materials.


Final Thoughts

inline ImageIt spends so much time invoking Last House on the Left that itís really hard to evaluate Night Train Murders on its own merits. From a technical standpoint itís certainly more polished than Last House, but it winds up being far less effective. Even its one big, showstopper moment doesnít really have much impact. Itís bleak, depressing and sleazy but not particularly envelope pushing. The storyís a total mess and the movie is not particularly well paced. While its presentation is superb, this Blu-ray release is for hardcore fans only.


Rating

.
Movie - C

Image Quality - A

Sound - B

Supplements - B





Technical Info.
  • Colour
  • Running time - 1 hour and 34 minutes
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
  • English SDH subtitles
  • French subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles

Supplemental Material
  • ďRiding the Night TrainĒ Interview with Director/Co-writer Aldo Lado
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Radio Spots
  • Posters & Still Gallery

Other Pictures

 

 

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Old 10-04-2012, 04:14 AM
Remaking My Soul
FINALLY, a sober review of this film. I've come upon review after review trying to claim this film is superior and you know it comes down to something like resentment over the film's tagline (I've actually heard people say I Spit on Your Grave is a good film because it doesn't feel like a film and therefore, in comparison and because of the tagline, Last House was a failure) or prefering this due to its' more polished style or being Italian.
 
 

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