The Films that Made Me: Horror Express (1972)

Directed by Eugenio Martin

Written by Arnaud d’Usseau (screenplay), Julian Zimet (screenplay)

Time for another film that had an impact on me as a kid. This time, the classic Horror Express from 1972; the non-Hammer, Hammer film!

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I saw Horror Express, but I’m guessing 9 or 10 as I don’t think I was at secondary school, but I do remember begging to watch it and, when seeing the creature’s glowing red eye, wondering whether I’d really made the right decision! But I’m a big boy now, so hopefully it isn’t as scary as I remember it!

All aboard for some mild spoilers!

A great cast led by Hammer stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee sees Lee’s Professor Saxton sparring with Cushing’s Dr Wells as Saxton transports a mysterious fossil through Siberia on the eponymous train; although I believe it was actually filmed in Spain!

As the fossil thaws out the passengers discover it was purely the host for an extra-terrestrial life form stranded on Earth millions of years before. As the life form kills and transfers between hosts in an effort to survive, Wells and Saxton work together in an attempt to try and stop it. Helped by Telly Savalas as a crazy Cossack and hindered by Alberto de Mendoza’s mad, Rasputin-like monk, they eventually manage to separate the creature from the surviving passengers and destroy it.

And if some of that sounds familiar, then you’d be right. Rewatching Horror Express for the first time in many years, I was amazed at the similarities between the film and The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Thing (1982), two films that involve an alien being hunting terrified people trapped in a snowy location.

The similarities are startling, with a creature found in ice and thawed out, on earth for millions of years, a creature trapped and trying to survive by moving between hosts so that no-one knows who might be “infected”. There is even a test devised to check if anyone is playing host to the creature. In Horror Express, the hosts eyes glow red in the dark, in The Thing, the classic blood test scene.

They both even have dodgy “technology”! However, the dated computer simulation in The Thing is, at least, slightly more realistic that the frankly ludicrous Optography-esque “science” in Horror Express, where Saxton and Wells discover the origins of the creature when they see images of Dinosaurs, and the Earth from space, in the fluid from the creature’s eye when put under a microscope. The creature kills by absorbing its victim’s life and stealing their knowledge and memories. As crazy as it might seem, this is still lodged in reality as Optography was popular in the late 19th and early 20th Century with people believing the human eye would record images of the last thing seen before death. Horror Express just takes this a bit further and presents a whole gallery of images that would put a smart phone to shame!

Cushing and Lee are supported by a great cast of characters including Julio Pena as Inspector Mirov, who plays a key role in the film and Angel Del Pozo as engineer Yevtushenko whose curiosity and interest in the creature might just get him into trouble. As one might expect for the era, the women don’t fare so well, with Silvia Tortosa as the Countess Irina Petrovska, and Helga Line as Natasha who largely seem to be there as eye candy, despite Natasha being a flipping spy! I felt there was more they could have done to create trouble for the Horror Express by letting a spy loose but, sadly, Natasha doesn’t get much chance to do any spying! Alice Reinheart plays Cushing’s assistant, Professor Jones as she firmly reminds him at one point, but is still only listed in the cast as Miss Jones!

As an older guy, Horror Express is no longer particularly scary, but it has its moments of surprise and suspense. Although not particularly gory, the method of killing, as the creature sucks its victims’ memories from their brains, is suitably unpleasant, leaving them bleeding from the eyes, nose, and mouth and with dead white eyeballs!

The film does, however, stack up pretty well to the years and it is a damn fine film under it all. Yes, there are a few moments of over-acting (although a film like this needs a bit of melodrama) and Telly Savalas’ part in the film feels a bit forced and ultimately pointless as it comes late and to little effect. Savalas is even listed last in the credits on IMDB, despite being a pretty big star in his own right by that time. He is also credited for The Assassination Bureau, another childhood favourite which needs revisiting – it’s not horror, but, hey – sue me!

Despite this I still had a lot of fun watching it and, unlike many films that you watch for the first time in ages, I finished Horror Express suspecting that this won’t be the last time I watch it.

One thought on “The Films that Made Me: Horror Express (1972)

  1. Pingback: Quick Review: The Burning (1981) | Dark Mark Writing

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