The Film (4/5)
Anthology horror films although once popular have become quite an underrated subgenre amongst modern horror films, but going back you could find many popular horror anthologies from Amicus films like Tales from the Crypt and the Vault of Horror to Dan Curtis' TV film Trilogy of Terror to the famed collaboration between George Romero and Stephen King Creepshow. What most of these films have in common is that they were planned out as anthology films, the stories were crafted to maximize the scares in a short amount of time. Night Train to Terror, while anthology in style does away with that pre-planning altogether.
Night Train to Terror is unique amongst anthology horror films in that the stories contained within it's running time were not crafted specifically for this film, rather they were 3 features films (Cataclysm, Death Wish Club, Scream Your Heads Off) 2 of which had seen a release prior to their inclusion in Night Train to Terror. These films were taken by the producer and cut down and manipulated to fit the anthology horror framework. If that wasn't enough the film was given a wrap around story involving God and Satan having a discussion regarding the fates of the main participants of the 3 stories while aboard a train bound for the afterlife. This train ride also has an 80's new wave/rock band playing the same song over and over again between stories.
The film begins with "The Case of Harry Billings" a film that begins with Harry (Danger Diabolik's John Phillip Law) driving maniacally down a series of city streets with his bride to be in tow. He soon drives off a dock and into the water below, killing her, and landing him into a mental hospital. NOW in any other movie he would be treated for being a murderous psychopath. In Night Train to Terror he is given, for no reason whatsoever, electroshock therapy in order to convince him to KILL MORE. He now goes out, violently kills women, and returns them to the hospital so the doctors can slice them up for specimens.
The second story is called "The Case of Gretta Connors" This film follows a guy named Glen, who falls in love with the titular Gretta after partaking in her beauty having seen her in a porno film at a frat house party one night. He decides he must have her, at any cost, but she is taken by an older gentleman. This gentleman extends an invitation to the two of them to join his "Death Club," basically Russian Roulette, but an a grander scale. They now participate in games that involve a swinging ball that will crush them if it stops while hovering over their body, or a game of human roulette where the loser gets terminally electrocuted. This latter scene, while having FX that could be described as low budget was one of the highlights of the film for me. The execution of the whole thing made it awesome and hysterical to watch.
The third story is entitled "The Case of Claire Hansen," and involves a Jewish man determined to get revenge on the Nazi that did his family wrong. The anomaly at play here is that it's 40 years later, and the Nazi looks precisely the same as he did in World War II. He cannot get the police to believe him, and so he decides to play Vigilante, only to discover that the Nazi is actually a demon, and then things get really weird (in an awesome stop-motion sort of way).
Vinegar Syndrome since their inception has brought to light so many films that I, even as a hardened film geek have never heard of. So many wild, weird, and fun exploitation, sexploitation, and horror films, that I occasionally wonder if they are pulling these films out of a secret inter-dimensional portal where the Golden Age of Exploitation never ended, and these films are still being produced. The reason I bring this up, is because a) I'd not heard of Night Train to Terror before this Blu-ray release and b) This film is so unbelievably bizarre it calls out to be seen by any true fans of the genre.
Normally as a enthusiast, and writer in the horror genre I attempt to seek out, and in turn encourage others to seek out the most complete versions of a film available. With Night Train to Terror the fact that three 90 minute films have been cut down to the length of a TV sitcom has given each episode part of it's strangeness. Within each episode events occur, which then lead to other unrelated events without any sort of linking plot to help make sense of them. The only analog I can even come close to is the Nova Tetralogy of William S. Burroughs, and that was an intentionally decision by the author in that case. Normally, the lack of a grounded plot would be a count against a film, but in the case of this film it helps it stand out, and gives each episode a unique pacing that could never be (and probably shouldn't be) recreated.
The FX in the film come off as rather cheap, but not in a way that many would write off as bad, rather the mix of stop-motion animation and practical FX at play here comes off as fun and even charming at times, and I found myself getting excited for what the film would throw at me next.
The wraparound story present in the film is obviously a rather silly one, but works for the film itself, and concludes in a satisfying manner. It also helps that someone thought that putting in a crazy 80's pop band would be a good idea, because I will never EVER forgot those moments. Night Train to Terror is an absolute batshit insane attempt at anthology horror that I cannot recommend enough.
Vinegar Syndrome maintaining their out of the gate tradition of quality has presented Night Train to Terror with a quite pleasing 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. This transfer considering the age and restrictions of the source material is absolutely stunning. Fine detail throughout is fantastic, as are black levels which are solid and deep. Colors are nicely reproduced, flesh tones are accurate, and there is a healthy organic grain structure throughout the presentation. There are some moments of softness, and print damage throughout, but that should be understood with film of this pedigree.
Vinegar Syndrome has given Night Train to Terror a DTS-HD 2.0 MA track in English. The track works for what it is. The dialogue comes through nice and clear, as do the effects and music. I did detect a few moments of hissing throughout, but not many, and not enough to detract from the overall quality of the audio.
I'll admit I was a tad confused with the listed extras on Night Train to Terror on first. It offered an "interview" with director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen and another with editor Wayne Schmidt. I thought these interviews would be traditionally presented, however, both are presented as alternate audio tracks. The Schlossberg-Cohen interview plays as an alternate audio track to Night Train to Terror. Also, included on the Night Train to Terror Blu-ray is an MST3K style commentary by a group known as the Hysteria Continues. The Blu-ray also includes the films theatrical trailer.
On a separate DVD we get "Gretta" the feature film version of "The Case of Gretta Connors." I found this terribly interesting, because we get a glimpse into what one of the Night Train segments looks like in it's full un-edited form. This is where the 29 minute alternate audio track containing an interview with Wayne Schmidt is located.
Night Train to Terror is one of the most bizarre, and addicting anthology horror films I have ever seen. The A/V restoration courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome is spectacular, and the extras just push this release over the top. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.