Review Date: November 1, 2004
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 10/26/2004
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Marketed as The New House on the Left
and Last Stop on the Night Train
, and sporting a tagline like “You can tell yourself it’s only a movie…but it won’t help!”, it is clear that Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders
was a film clearly in the same vein as Wes Craven’s influential The Last House on the Left
. Craven’s film is itself a remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring
, making Lado’s film a second generation retread. Lado is, however, famous for his artistic class commentary in films of less reputable genres, like the two gialli The Short Night of Glass Dolls
and Who Saw Her Die?
. Is Night Train Murders
a film of similar artistry, or is it more the exploitation rip-off that the American ad campaign promoted it as? Let’s chug through this new Blue Underground DVD.
Lisa (Laura D’Angelo
) and her friend Margaret (Irene Miracle
) ready themselves for a trip to Lisa’s parents house. It is Christmas Eve, and the two plan on taking the train through Italy to spend the holiday festivities with family. Simultaneously, a couple of thugs, Blackie (Flavio Bucci
) and Curly (Gianfranco De Grassi
), prowl the crowded city streets. They mug a drunk Santa Claus(!) and ridicule the rich by slicing a bourgeois woman’s mink coat. Fleeing the authorities, they hop onto a departing train. Little did the thugs or the girls know, that they would be embarking on a night train of...murder!
Also aboard the train is a bored and repressed bourgeois lady (Macha Meril
), unable to endure the aristocratic stuffiness of all those around her. She heads off to the bathroom, and Blackie breaks in behind her. She first attempts to buy him off with money, but he persists in raping her. She initially resists, but it is quickly apparent that she enjoys being violated, taking extreme pleasure being fucked, quite literally, by the working class. She ditches her previous train mates and stays the rest of the film with Blackie and Curly. Less a victim, she swiftly becomes the victimizer, as she coaxes the males around her to execute heinous crimes. The first of such crimes occurs to Lisa and Margaret.
The lady and the thugs bust into Lisa and Margaret’s coach, and they instigate a number of sadistic demands. Lisa is a virgin, and the bourgeois lady has the thugs deflower Lisa as she was deflowered…by a scalpel. Lisa eventually dies from a loss of blood, not soon after witnessing Margaret’s vicious beating and rape. Maragret throws herself from the train, choosing death over further torture. With the girls dead, the group flee, only to end up at the house of Lisa’s parents. It does not take long for the family to realize what happened to their daughter, and for the thugs to get their comeuppance. And all the while, the bourgeois lady watches in awe at the violence she has created.
The first thing one will notice when watching the film is how closely Night Train Murders
resembles The Last House on the Left
. Two thugs team up with a powerful woman to victimize two innocent girls, ending up staying unsuspectingly at their victims’ parent’s house. The parents of course overcome their socially passive role and take violence into their own hands, fighting fire with fire. Both films are also driven by the ideology that religion is no longer a redemptive force. The Virgin Spring
was about a priest who’s ultimate redemption would come in the afterlife, but in The Last House on the Left
, as the theme song repeatedly states “the road leads to nowhere”. Religion is also denounced in Night Train Murders
as the bourgeois lady objectively states “religion and philosophy don’t mean a thing these days”. Religion has no place in either House or Train, each film has ulterior motives. Last House
removes religion to focus on a post-Vietnam America, where the government has demonstrated its ineptitude overseas, forcing the common man to take justice into his own hands. Night Train
on the other hand, has much more European motives, removing religion to focus on how the bourgeoisie exploit the working class.
The bourgeoisie is represented in whole by Macha Meril’s character, who remains unnamed in the film to demonstrate her generalized symbol. She uses her manipulative power to control the two young thugs to serve as pawns for her sexual appetites. The thugs are relatively harmless before they encounter her, but she cultivates them into true murderers. In Last House
on the left, Krug and Frank were the main villains, with the girl (Sadie) merely along for the ride. In Night Train
however, there is never a mistake that Meril’s character is the true power holder of the group. I noted in my Last House
review that Sadie represented the growing power of woman’s liberation, but in Night Train
, the woman’s power is perverted to sadistic extremes. Meril’s character gets pleasure only through rape (be it on herself or others), torture and murder as a way to free herself of the constraining oppression of upper class life. She is truly a reprehensible character.
Lado’s characterization of her is so vile that it becomes undoubtedly misogynistic. Her enjoyment of being sexually violated seems to promote that rape is a way of freeing the sexually repressed. They don’t ask for it, but woman still enjoy it. It is also misogynistic in that all the deaths in the film come at the woman’s behalf, as she manipulates men to her convenience. The thugs are indeed her stooges, made clear by Lado naming one of the thugs “Curly”. Although Lado tries to generalize Meril’s character by not naming her, he still puts the onus of bourgeois vice upon women. There is no equally deplorable male representation from the upper class. There are honest priests, mild mannered bourgeois bystanders and even a bourgeois man who rats out the thugs. All are conceived of as redeemable characters, which makes the woman at fault. This is a tough notion to deal with, and although I don’t think Aldo Lado intended for such base characterizations, it nonetheless shines through. It is tough to overlook the misogynistic intentions of the film, no matter how artistic it purports to be.
Of course, it is possible to admire a film without entirely agreeing with the pervading ideology behind it. I do not agree with the nihilistic world (among other things) that Cabin Fever
promotes. I do not think that there is no hope for mankind, but I nonetheless still appreciate the artistry behind the first three quarters of Cabin Fever
. Similarly, the misogyny behind Night Train Murders
is very tough to take, and is even something I object to, but I still admire the film Lado has made and the commentary he has infused within it. The moody blues throughout the dark train scenes have the same effect as they do in Halloween
, creating a beautiful world of unease and uncertainty. The murder and rapes are very intense and manage to make the audience feel much more than is actually shown. The graphic scenes are counterbalanced by a wonderfully poetic death scene that makes sure to establish the fact that the violence being shown is indeed bad. The death scene has the same lingering effectiveness as Mary’s riverside death in Last House
The film is a very effective eschewing of the upper class, as Lado’s two previous gialli were. It even takes responsibility in discussing the nature of violence, contemplating the issue just as much as the film demonstrates it with rape and murder. Like The Last House on the Left
, Night Train Murders
rises above its genre to work as a powerful piece of social commentary. It is much smarter that most exploitation films, and in many ways even more powerful. It is a tough film to watch, the misogyny is too overt to overlook, but it is just as tough not to admire what Lado has done. Lado is, like the genre’s best directors, a very socially conscious filmmaker, and he has demonstrated throughout his limited number of films on DVD that he has a wonderful skill at directing. It is with great hope that some day the great majority of Lado’s still unavailable catalogue will find their way to DVD. He is too good of a filmmaker to be ignored.
Blue Underground delivers with yet another great transfer. It is apparent right after the credits at how sharp this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is, as there is very little grain present for a film of this age. The print is extremely clean, with only the smallest of blemishes that show up every so often. The quality of the transfer really comes through midway through the film, when the lights go out and the image is cast in a blue hue. The blue looks beautiful and its vibrancy really comes off the screen. Lado uses some pretty elaborate color patterns, like moody blues and passionate reds, and they all come out glowing throughout the transfer. There are plenty of dark scenes throughout the film, and at times the lack of light can cause a flatness throughout the picture, but for the most part it still looks very solid for a thirty year old film. Considering the obscurity of this picture, Blue Underground’s transfer is even more of a revelation.
A no frills mono track is all that is included, and it sounds rather flat. It is presented in a dubbed English, and sounds as if it would have fared better in its native Italian. Some of the train whistles sound a tad shrill, but dialogue is always audible thanks to the dubbing. The presence of yet another solid Ennio Morricone score always helps too. A little unsatisfying, but it will do.
Like Lado’s gialli released a couple of years ago by Anchor Bay, this disc is outfitted with a short little featurette with Aldo Lado, as well as some promotional materials. Lado is a very smart man, and his elaboration on Night Train Murders
is welcome and very informative. He talks about how it fits within his body of films, and how he was attempting to scrutinize the upper class. He also talks about the beginnings of the film, and how it began as an exploitative idea by a producer to rip-off The Last House on the Left
. Lado simply took the plot points (having never seen Last House
) and used them to create a story all his own. Lado is certainly looking much older…the Blue should hurry up and try to get a hold of his other films before it is too late. A great fifteen minutes.
The extras are rounded out with some promotional material. Most interesting are the two trailers, one European and one American. The American trailer plays up every connection the film has to Last House
, and is exploitation minded all the way. It totally promotes the film as something completely different than what it is. The European one is not surprisingly much more artistic, and is a much more accurate representation of the film. A still and poster gallery is included, and it is further evidence of how bad Night Train Murders
was marketed in the States. There is even a video cover with zombies lurking in the background, as if this were Last House by the Cemetery
. A couple bad American radio spots round off the disc.
Night Train Murders
is a tough film to recommend. It is a very sadistic motion picture, moreso certainly than Last House on the Left
, and features some disagreeable misogyny. Yet, despite this, it is a very well made attack on the bourgeoisie, with some solid performances, moody lighting and emotionally powerful moments. The video is yet another solid transfer by Blue Underground, while the audio is a much less impressive mono. A very enlightening interview with Aldo Lado makes the extras very much worth seeking out. Definitely not a film for all audiences, Night Train Murders
will undoubtedly entertain those looking to retire Last House on the Left
and I Spit on Your Grave
from their players. This little nasty has substance. Highly recommended.
Movie – A-
Image Quality – B+
Sound – C+
Supplements – B
- Running Time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Interview with Aldo Lado
- Theatrical trailers
- Radio spots
- Poster and still gallery