1980, Movies

Terror Train (1980, Roger Spottiswoode)

What is it with Americans and dressing up in costumes for New Year’s Eve? Or, rather, what is it with Jamie Lee Curtis starring in movies in which Americans dress up in Halloween costumes on New Year’s Eve?

I like a good train suspense movie. But it’s relatively rare to see one at all and rarer still to see a great one. A train horror movie is new to me and it’s a premise full of possibilities. Especially when you add inexplicable Halloween costumes for New Year’s. (Seriously. Is this a thing?)

But, I don’t know whether it’s because this was Spottiswoode’s first movie or what, but this is a pretty dull train horror film. It’s one of those “something bad happened in the past and now he wants revenge” movies. The thing is just a silly prank but I guess that makes one a killer.

Anyway, from the first kill, things are not particularly tense. The conceit is that the killer is always wearing a different costume so you don’t know who it is, but the audience knows which costume the killer is in (except one). (At one point, the white killer pretends to be a black guy, and they change the costume so that the cast can’t tell his skin colour, which feels cheap.) And there isn’t much doubt about what he’s going to do, though there is some doubt as to how. (They’re not very interesting. Mostly strangling and stuff.)

Given the presence of David Copperfield (seriously), it feels like there is just an absolute ton of of wasted potential here: a train, weird costumes, a magic show. But, instead, it takes forever to get going (despite two early kills) and it’s just not clever enough. (It is trying, though.)

And there’s a typical complaint about these movies but it involves SPOILERS.

I understand that, in a slasher film, the killer needs to pretend to die and come back. But Curtis basically kills him and then throws him off the train and he comes back and he’s totally okay. It’s one thing when it’s Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. But this is just some guy who got pranked in a frat house. It makes zero sense to have him get stabbed in the head and then somehow get back on the train capable of having a conversation with Curtis’ character. Ugh.


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