Terror Train (1980) - Roger Spottiswoode
Writer: Mikey B
The 80's were all about bad hair, an even worse sense of fashion, synthesized music, and a little horror sub-genre called "The Slasher". The formula was, and still is for that matter, almost always the same. 1: A group of teens or young adults who usually indulge in sex, drugs and rock'n roll. 2: A secluded location. 3: A masked killer looking for vengeance who kills the group in various and often elaborate ways. 4: A "final girl" that often ends up besting, but not always killing, the “baddy”. Halloween (1978) ushered the gere ino the spotlight in 78' and the genre was extremely successful for most of the early to mid 80's, peaking in 83 with almost 60% of the year's box office take! Most of them are just downright crappy and meant as a quick cash-in on the craze, but every once in awhile a true classic distinguished itself from the pack. The aforementioned Halloween is considered the pinnacle of the craze, and just like Halloween, Terror Train stars Jamie Lee Curtis and is one of the best that the “Slasher” sub genre has to offer. Along with Halloween (1978) this film would give actress Jamie Lee Curtis the title of 'Scream Queen' because of her frequent appearances in horror films early in her career.
The plot follows the formula stated above to a "T" (T for Terror...and for Train!). It centers around a fraternity of male and female Medical school seniors who throw a New Year's Eve bash, but just to make the evening extra special, and really because we gotta get these kiddos away from civilization so we can start hacking away, they rent out an entire train for the evening's festivities. The only problem is that three years ago at a different New Year's Eve bash the same group decided to play a prank on one of their young pledges by having Alana (Jamie Lee) lure him into a dark bedroom with promises of sweet, sweet, booty. The gag is they've stolen a corpse from the school's morgue and are gonna trick that unsuspecting pledge. Sadly, the trick works all too well and causes the boy to go completely nutso. At a new party three years later, the student body starts losing pieces and rumors abound of the pledge back for revenge on those who've wronged him.
As I've stated before, this film follows all the Slasher conventions to a "T", but what I've failed to mention is that it deviates in one seriously cool and clever way: The party is not only on a bitchen’ train, but is also a costume party and with each kill the murderer takes the victim's costume. This sets up the film as more of a murder mystery and keeps you guessing to the very end. The film is also surprisingly bloodless and features some really good performances by all involved making it a great Slasher to watch if you don't like the genre or trying to get into it. Please do yourself a favor this halloween season and check it out if you have yet to see it.
Fun Facts from IMDB for Terror Train:
The idea for Terror Train (1980) came from a dream that Daniel Grodnikhad. One weekend night after seeing the films Halloween (1978) and Silver Streak (1976), Dan woke up and said to his wife, "What do you think about putting Halloween on a train? His wife answered, "That's terrible. He jotted down "Terrible Train" on a piece of paper on his nightstand. In the morning he changed the title to TERROR TRAIN, wrote up 22 pages, and made a deal on it with Sandy Howard's company at three in the afternoon.
Jamie Lee Curtis shot this film back to back with the similarly themed slasher film Prom Night (1980) in late 1979. Both films were shot in Canada; Prom Night (1980) in Toronto and Terror Train (1980) in Montreal.
To create the train for the film, the producers leased an actual Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive from the Steamtown Foundation. The train's engine was renumbered from its original 1293 to 1881, and, along with five passenger cars, painted black with silver stripes. Afterward, the Steamtown Foundation reverted the engine back to its original number and had it restored to an historic color and lettering scheme. As of February, 2002, Canadian Pacific Railway No. 1293 continued to be an "operable locomotive." It was filmed in Montreal, Quebec, Canada from November 21 to December 23, 1979. Terror Train was the first motion picture directed by Spottiswoode, who would go on to make such films as Tomorrow Never Dies, Turner & Hooch, and Air America.