Terror Train! Terror! On a train! Not to be confused with Ptero Train where there’s a dinosaur on board.
From the nation that brought us Black Christmas and My Bloody Valentine, this Canadian slasher from 1980 also has a holiday theme, taking place at a New Year’s Eve frat/sorority costume party on a train. Needless to say, it’s also the anniversary of a cruel prank, and those responsible are in for a freight.
Following her breakout role in Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis cements her Scream Queen status by starring in Terror Train, Prom Night and The Fog all in the same year. Producer Daniel Grodnik aims to make “Halloween on a train” and misses his stop, churning out a trundling effort that puts the ham in Hogmanay.
Stanley Kubrick’s cinematographer John Alcott (2001, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon) cleverly uses medical and Christmas lights to spookily illuminate the claustrophobic interiors, but Roger Spottiswoode’s (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, The 6th Day) first-time direction can’t hold a candle to Halloween‘s sinister undercarriage.
Rocked by the crew to give the effect of a moving train, the carriages contain live music, obnoxious frat boys and the creepy David Copperfield as a party magician, but none of it’s weird enough to generate Snowpiercer-style traction. The result is more Murder on the Orient Express than Death Line or Creep, opting for suspense over gore by keeping the kills off screen, though without any comedy or characters it quickly runs out of steam.
Variety called it “competent” which in terms of the 1980s slasher cycle is quite high praise, and Spottiswoode keeps proceedings on track for a decent twist. What’s obvious is that Curtis is much too good for this rolling stock material, so Terror Train amounts to little more than a miscarriage of talent.