This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the Christopher Lee – Peter Cushing horror movie HORROR EXPRESS (1972) is now up in the April edition of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.
It’s a reprint of a column which originally was published in the HWA NEWSLETTER in April 2006. And remember you can read all of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook, available now at www.neconebooks.com.
HORROR EXPRESS is one of my favorite Peter Cushing-Christopher Lee movies, and I had fun writing about this one. Hope you enjoy it.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
You gotta see HORROR EXPRESS (1972), at least once, anyway.
Though it stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it’s not a Hammer Film, and this actually works in the film’s favor, because as a result of not being part of the “Hammer formula” it’s offbeat and refreshing. It’s an international production, Spanish-British, filmed just outside Madrid at a studio that Christopher Lee described in his autobiography Tall, Dark, and Gruesome as “unspeakable.” “The food was deadly, salmonella the principal sauce,” Lee wrote.
HORROR EXPRESS was written and directed by Gene (Eugenio) Martin on the same train sets from the movie NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (1971), which the producer owned.
Christopher Lee plays anthropologist Sir Alexander Saxton who brings a fossil of what he hopes will be the missing link on the Trans-Siberian Express. The frozen remains of the “man-ape” causes a stir before it even makes it onto the train. A thief attempts to break into the crate housing the fossil, but ends up dead and inexplicably blind. Peter Cushing plays rival scientist Dr. Wells, also on board the train.
Once the train starts moving, the monster escapes from the crate and the fun begins.
Perhaps the most fun part about this movie is the script by director Gene Martin. HORROR EXPRESS is not your run of the mill monster on the loose movie. The script fills the tale with twists and turns that keep you guessing throughout. It turns out, that the monster is not just an ape-man creature gone amok. There’s much more going on here, which I won’t give away.
The monster itself is quite chilling looking with frightening make-up and glowing red eyes.
You can’t talk about HORROR EXPRESS without talking about the performances. The whole cast is good, particularly Alberto de Mendoza as the priest, Pujardov, and Julio Pena as the police inspector. Of course, you have Lee and Cushing, and the most fun part about their performances in this movie, is that, unlike most of their films, where they’re adversaries, one the good guy, the other the villain, here, they work together against a common enemy. They’re both given star screen time too, it’s not like one’s the star, and the other just has a cameo. They’re both on screen doing their thing, and it’s tons of fun watching them work together taking on a deadly creature.
HORROR EXPRESS is also blessed with an abundance of humor. For instance, in one scene, Cushing approaches his middle-aged female assistant to help him with an autopsy, and he says, “I shall need some assistance.” She glances at the young woman he’s been having dinner with on the train and says, “Well, at your age, I’m not surprised.”
And just when you think the film can’t get any more unpredictable, who shows up but TELLY SAVALAS (!!!) (Yes, the original KOJAK himself!) as the ruthless Cossack, Captain Kazan, who stops the train with his regiment of brutal soldiers.
Savalas gets to ham it up and deliver lines like, “The devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack,” (Or was that, “The devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack, baby?”). The only thing missing is the lollipop in his mouth. He even gets to bully Lee and Cushing. It’s great stuff. You’ll never forget it.
The film has a gory, bloody conclusion. In fact, there’re generous amounts of blood and gore throughout HORROR EXPRESS.
There’s also a haunting music score by John Cavacas.
Ready for a vacation? Take a trip on the HORROR EXPRESS. You’ll have fun, but be wary of bald Cossacks sucking lollipops.