Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Night Train to Terror (1985)

... aka: Night Train
... aka: Noche en el tren del terror (Night on the Terror Train)
... aka: Train express pour l'enfer (Express Train to Hell)

Directed by:
John Carr
Phillip Marshak
Tom McGowan
Jay Schlossberg-Cohen
Gregg C. Tallas

Here's a horror anthology fans of terrible / weird movies won't want to miss. It's a sloppy, carelessly slapped together and often downright inept trilogy of tales comprised of footage from one unreleased / unfinished (at the time) sleaze-gore flick, two edited-down feature length releases and unbelievable new linking scenes directed by Schlossberg-Cohen. Because much is obviously lost reducing the full features down to a shadow of their former selves, narration is employed to try to make sense of it all. An utterly ridiculous - though somewhat amusing - framing sequence features God (according to the credits playing "Himself" but actually Ferdinand "Ferdy" Mayne of The Fearless Vampire Killers fame) and Satan (who is credited as "Lu Sifer" but is actually character actor / former magician Tony Giorgio, who's a long way from The Godfather) going back-and-forth on a train, viewing "cases" on a large TV screen and then trying to stake claim on the souls of its participants. And that's not even the really weird part! That would be the opening hilariously awful music video-style choreographed intro featuring dancers in spandex, headbands and ripped sweatsuits and an unbelievably stupid and mean-spirited theme song about how we're complete losers for wasting our time watching this. After all, "Everybody's got somethin' to do... everybody but you!" Yeah, yeah. Tell me about it.






First up is "The Case of Harry Billings." Harry (John Phillip Law) is a "hard-working salesman" and a drunk who kills his new bride on their wedding night after running his car over a bridge. He wakes up at a sinister sanitarium strapped down to a bed in a padded room. Before long, Dr. Fargo (Sharon Ratcliff) and Dr. Brewer (Arthur M. Braham) are giving him shock treatments and shooting him up with a “hypnotic injection” to make him do their bidding. They then send him into town to drug and kidnap a succession of young, attractive women who are brought back to the clinic, stripped naked, tied down and then chopped up with a meat cleaver or hacksaw so their body parts can be sold to “medical schools all around the world.” Dr. Fargo falls for Harry and gives Dr. Brewer a lobotomy to get him out of the way, with hopes of running the establishment with her new lover instead. "Charles" / Richard Moll (with hair) has an early role as sadistic manservant Otto, who makes sure to add a little rape and torture to the pre dismemberment ritual and keeps a collection of pickled several heads in jars labeled with the owners' names!






Directed by Carr way back in 1982 under the title Scream Your Head Off, this was never finished or released at the time, so what's shown in Train was the first look anyone ever got of this footage. Based on what's seen here, this looks like something I'd rather enjoy. The plot seems fun (cut from this reduced version is a subplot about a white slavery ring where the better-looking females are sold to Middle Eastern sheiks!) and it's filled with nudity, gore and sleaze gore. There's a bloody decapitation and hacked-up body parts are hung on hooks in a white, blood-spattered meat locker. In the 90s, many were surprised when the “full” version of Scream was finally released on VHS by Simitar. I've not see that cut, but supposedly it was just cobbled together using footage from the first incomplete shoot. Carr also had nothing to do with that release and prepped his own version of the film with new scenes shot on video. He brought Law back to reprise his role, added a subplot involving Marilyn Monroe (!), removed most of the questionable content and then released it as the PG-13 rated MARILYN ALIVE AND BEHIND BARS.






Before our next story begins, we're treated to some more of that ridiculous song / dance routine plus some soul bargaining. Verdict? A one-way ticket to hell for both of the doctors and Otto, but Harry gets a little leniency with 100 years in purgatory. “The Case of Gretta Connors” (also by Carr) is an abridged version of THE DEATH WISH CLUB (1984), which I just viewed here a few days ago so I can tell you exactly what was added and what was taken away. In this cut, the narrator makes Gretta (Meridith Haze) out to be an innocent small town aspiring musician (a far cry from the full movie!) who's corrupted by wealthy, older "Svengali" George Youngmeyer (J. Martin Sellers) but then leaves him for college student Glenn (Rick Barnes). “Burning with revenge,” George decides to get back at the two young lovers by introducing them to a “Death Club” where rich sadists get their thrills putting themselves into life-threatening situations. This drops a lot of what made the original film so interesting and special and instead concentrates almost entirely on the club (just a subplot in the full feature) in scenes that involve a killer bug, electric chairs and a construction ball.






Newly-added scenes / shots include: 1. A girl seen only from behind (who's supposed to be Gretta) looking at a magazine. 2. A shot of a fog-enshrouded model castle to represent the Death Club. 3. Close shots of the “Tanzanian winged beetle” in a jar. 4. Numerous shots of the beetle, brought to life with very crude stop-motion animation, replacing all of the shots of the plastic one. 5. A brand new scene of the beetle flying around outside and attacking a couple about to have sex. It stings the guy in the face and causes his head to explode, which spews blood all over his screaming girlfriend. 6. The control panel used to activate the electric chairs has been replaced by a talking robotic one. 7. An awful-looking dummy head representing the African Prince shakes, vibrates and smokes while he's electrocuted with a few additional shots of his melted hand and smoking corpse afterward. Also, a new country music song has been added and the Italian character has been ridiculously re-dubbed.






Back on the train, Satan claims he wants Gretta's soul but God says he'll have to settle for George and the other death club members instead. The argument gets heated, God threatens to open the gates of hell (?!) and then we go visit the passengers and hear the three most horrifying words in this film: “From the top!” Yes, it's that song again. This time we also get slow-motion break-dancing and some “worm” action from Byron Yordan, who's been lip-synching the main theme this entire time. Byron is the son of the film's writer, Philip Yordan, which explains why he's getting so much screen time. That also explains why Yordan's fourth and final wife, Faith Yordan aka Faith Clift, has the lead role in the final story despite the fact this woman cannot act to save her life.





The train porter then introduces story #3; “The Case of Claire Hansen,” a reduced version of 1980's Cataclysm aka The Nightmare Never Ends aka Satan's Supper, directed by Marshak, McGowan and Tallas. Claire (Clift), a highly-respected surgeon, devout Catholic and wife of Nobel Prize winning writer James (Moll again, this time wearing an oily, gray-streaked hairpiece) is having nightmares about demon faces and a young SS Officer (Robert Bristol) gunning down an all-female Jewish string quartet (!) Meanwhile, elderly Nazi hunter Abraham Weiss (Marc Lawrence) sees the same Nazi general who killed his family (and the same guy from Claire's dreams) on TV... only he hasn't aged a day in thirty-five years. Abraham is unable to convince a cynical police lieutenant (Cameron Mitchell) about any of this, so he grabs a gun and decides to pay the former Nazi, who's actually the "devil's emissary" and goes by the name Mr. Olivier, a visit. After he's killed, his corpse ends up at the hospital where Claire works and she notices he not only has a concentration camp tattoo but also a “666” burned into his stomach. All of this strangeness coincides with James' controversial new book “God Is Dead,” which he thinks will be the most important work of his career, while his wife (later revealed to be “the chosen one” to battle Satan) and others in the know plead with him not to publish it.






I won't really go into too much detail about this one as I still have to eventually write a full review for it on here, but I will say this segment doesn't make a lick of sense. The fact they used nearly twice as much footage from Cataclysm as they did for the other two shorts and the first two still make more sense should clue us in to just how kooky Cataclysm is in its uncut form. Just like with the “Greta Connors” segment, new effects shots have been sprinkled throughout to try to spruce things up. One of these is a simple, passable rubber witch face with fangs and glowing eyes, which is included in several scenes. Another bit involves a tall, skinny, silver-colored stop-motion monster with red, glowing eyes. It's hysterically funny and random, especially as it squashes a shaggy-haired brunette actor who suddenly becomes a claymation doll with short blonde hair during his death. Other newly-added stop motion bits involve a giant spider crawling out of the Earth and pulling a guy down into a hole and a demon that makes a doll-man fall onto a cross and burn up. Now I'm a huge fan of stop-motion, so I liked these new additions despite how poorly-executed and improperly integrated into the story they were.






After “Claire” concludes, we're back on the train. Satan can't have Claire's soul, but God leaves it up to her to decide if she wants to deal with James or not for all eternity. The train, which is usually shown roaring down the tracks courtesy of obvious stock footage, is scheduled to crash and kill all of the musicians and dancers on board (praise Jesus!), which leads up to a hilarious final shot of the train ascending into heaven! And then we hear it (that damn song) yet again over the end credits. What is that now? Four times? Five times? I've lost count. While all of this is undoubtedly horribly edited, acted and written, incompetent, corny as hell and pretty much just plain terrible from start to finish, there's so much going on at all times and such an overload of 80s cheese that I pretty much loved every second of it.






Unlike the three films this pilfered most of its footage from, Train amazingly did play in theaters and was given a release by Yordan's short-lived company Visto International Inc. in 1985. That was followed by a 1986 VHS release from Prism, a horrible EP mode tape from Simitar in the later 90s, numerous cheap public domain DVDs (Alpha, Mill Creek, etc.) and, finally, a remastered DVD / Blu-ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome, who've thrown in the feature-length Death Wish Club (which they've re-titled Gretta) as a bonus feature. IMDb incorrectly lists Shiver as an alternate title but it's actually the fourth (!) American VHS release title for Cataclysm. Oh well. Dance with me, dance with me! Come on and dance with me, dance with me! Damn it! Get out of my head!

SBIG
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