While the Spanish produced “Horror Express” is a film that started out as a guilty pleasure, that spark of enjoyment has since grown into appreciating it as true classic of the early 70s. True horror fans will need little to take a ride on the “Horror Express” beyond the colorful Blu-ray box art and the towering names of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Telly Savalas. Viewers who delve deeper into this Hammer Studios copycat effort, however, will find a treasure trove of reasons to put this unfortunately obscure film on their list of favorites from the period.
Archeologist Sir Alexander Saxon (a mustached Christopher Lee) makes an ancient frozen discovery high in the Himalayas. While attempting to freight his specimen across the continent and back to Britain, Lee encounters rival scientist Dr. Wells (the great Peter Cushing). Before long, mayhem and murder ensues on the train and somehow Lee’s ancient discovery is culprit. What follows is a cross between “Murder on the Orient Express” and “The Thing From Another World” with a dash of “Kojak” mixed in for good measure. I only mention the later because the legendary Telly Savalas shows up briefly as a Russian police Captain to collect his paycheck for about 15 minutes of screen time. The mystery continues to unfold, the body count rises, and the train races on while Cushing and Lee put their professional rivalry aside to try and stop the creature. Along the way they encounter a variety of colorful characters, including a Rasputin-like monk, a Polish countess, and a police inspector. Once the unfrozen creature’s motives become clear, only one question remains: can it be stopped before the runaway train reaches civilization?
Despite its low budget, “Horror Express” is quite atmospheric and impressive from a production standpoint due to it being shot cheaply in Spain, with the train comprising the majority of it’s locations. Wonderful early 20th Century costumes are worthy of note, not to mention the star power of Lee, Cushing, and Savalas. While genre fans are used to seeing Cushing/Lee pairings, I would argue this picture is their best pairing. Allies rather than enemies this time around, watching two brilliant horror icons play off each other in this manner is a rare treat. Fans will know of course that off-screen, Lee and Cushing were the best of friends, one of the reasons why they worked together so often. What is less well known is that “Horror Express” is the first film that Cushing made after the death of his beloved wife, and as such, he almost backed out of the production last minute, but was convinced to go through with it by his great friend Lee. Watching with this in mind, there are some genuinely touching moments between the two, where Lee’s support for his friend comes through in what was the most difficult time of his life.
“Horror Express” is a sadly forgotten video gem that I can’t recommend enough – classic performances by icons Lee and Cushing, with Savalas entertainingly playing himself as always, and a plot that is a clear forerunner to John Carpenter’s classic “The Thing”, taking the best of its Howard Hawks precursor while leaving the 50s cheese on the cutting room floor. The English language track is dubbed, but luckily our three main stars did their own voice recordings so it’s barely noticeable. Unfortunately, there are no English opening or end titles, but the film doesn’t suffer because of it. “Horror Express” is not a perfect film, but I’m not ashamed to admit it’s one of the movies that I most often let play on my television as I fall asleep. As bizarre as it might sound, there is great tranquility to be found lying comfortably on my bed while Lee and Cushing deliver classic dialogue. If you haven’t seen “Horror Express,” pick up a copy of the Blu-ray by Severin and let yourself fall in love with it like I have. You won’t regret it. You might just find yourself putting it on late at night and letting it run as sleep takes hold.
About the Author:
Christopher Challis is an Army Veteran of seven years who is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, as well as the Combat Action Badge, and has served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Prior to his military service, Christopher owned the largest independently owned video rental and sales store in western Pennsylvania that specialized in rare horror and science fiction films. In addition, he is a collector and expert in the field of horror and sci-fi pop culture collectibles to include autographs, posters, action figures, and much more. Christopher currently resides in Texas with his wife and daughter, where they wish the temperature would occasionally drop below the boiling point in the summer. You can follow Christopher at @TheChrisChallis on Twitter.