Express (British-Spanish 1972, dir: Eugenio Martia; cast: Christopher
Lee, Peter Cushing, Jorge Rigaud, Telly Savalas, Alberto de Mendoza, Silvia
Tortosa, Julio Peqa, Angel del Pozo, Helga Lini, Alice Reinheart; aka Panic
in the Trans-Siberian Train)
spooky horror/sci-fi thriller, Horror
Express is an atmospheric (albeit gory) period piece suffused with Hammer
Films and H.G Wells's sensibility. (Despite it not being a Hammer
Film, nor based on a Wells story.)
is 1906, the British Empire at its zenith. Christopher Lee is an
English archeologist, the kind who wears tweeds and bandies about the Empire
under the sponsorship of some sort of Royal Exploratory Society or other. (One reviewer called his character, Professor Saxton, an American, but
most for reviewers Saxton is British, which how I read the film). The Society should be pleased, because Lee has just discovered a two-million-year-old
frozen man in the snowy mountains of China.
up the corpse and loads it upon the Trans-Siberian Express, planning to
return to Europe with it. He's paranoid enough to chain the crate
shut. Much to his annoyance, as he prepares to depart the train station
in China, a Chinese spy dies trying to break into the crate. Then
another passenger, a Rasputin-style monk (played by Jorge Rigaud), accuses
the crate of containing the work of Satan!
Lee's difficulties, at the train station he runs into another passenger
and rival scientist, Dr. Wells (cute homage to H.G. Wells, no?), played
by Peter Cushing. Yes, it's a small world. Lee is mum about
what's in the crate, so Cushing bribes the baggage car clerk to investigate.
the train leaves the station, the clerk opens the crate ... and the body
the thing in the crate is alive. And it's no frozen "missing link",
as Lee hypothesizes. It's an ancient man whose body was possessed
by an alien from outer space. An alien who, once thawed, can possess
body after body. An alien like one of those mind creatures the USS
Enterprise was always bumping into, to Spock's constant surprise ("Fascinating. A lifeform of pure energy!") Seems there are hordes of "pure energy"
lifeforms out there.
is not to say that the "pure energy" lifeform in Horror
Express is white bread. It has its own identify. Its unique
talents. Things that make it ... kinda special. For one thing,
its eyes glow red. That's always nice to have in a horror film. And when its glowing red eyes stare at you, your own eyes start to bleed,
then turn white. You don't see that in Star
As the body
count mounts, what with everyone's eyes bleeding and turning white, Lee
and Cushing make some startling scientific discoveries. The alien's
eye fluid contains its visual memories. See, the two scientists examine
the alien's eye fluid under a microscope, and in the fluid they see tiny
pictures of dinosaurs and of planet Earth as seen from a spaceship. You could say the alien has a "photographic memory." (I don't buy
that Lee and Cushing could accurately speculate, in 1906, what Earth looks
like from space -- but hey, if you accept eye fluid memory ...)
from Lee and Cushing, there's a large and excellent cast of character actors. Rigaud's monk effectively vacillates between piety and villainy. Telly Savalas is under-utilized as a swaggering Cossack officer (John Stanley's
1994 Creature Features guide mistakenly
identifies Savalas as a "Hungarian cop") who boards the train to investigate
the murders. The actresses are attractive in the Hammer tradition.
effects and gore are fine by 1972's standards. The train looks like
a model train, which it is, yet there are some nice shots of it racing
across the snowy nighttime Siberian wastes -- especially the long shots,
when we're not too close to the model.
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