All Aboard the HORROR EXPRESS!

It’s hard to imagine that there are any seasoned horror film fans that haven’t seen or at least heard of Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS (1972). It often gets a mention in widely read books about horror movies. And many questionable companies out to make a quick buck have released this surprisingly entertaining Spanish/British production on video and DVD over the years but the quality was always lacking. The one minor exception was Image Entertainment, which made HORROR EXPRESS part of their impressive EuroShock Collection in 2000 but even their DVD was sub-par. Thankfully Severin Films has stepped up to plate to restore this cult classic in all of its bloody widescreen glory.

While many major Hollywood studios continue to cut back on their DVD output and limit their back catalog to MOD (Movies On Demand) releases, small boutique labels like Severin are releasing some beautifully packaged films that have been lovingly restored and are loaded with extras. The company’s latest project is an impressive Blu-ray/DVD combo package for HORROR EXPRESS, which will hit store shelves on Nov. 29th. Severin originally planned to release it in September but some technical setbacks delayed it and I think it was worth the wait.

The film features Christopher Lee as a solemn British anthropologist who has recently discovered a prehistoric humanoid creature buried deep in the ice covered mountains of China. He plans to bring it back to England by way of the Trans-Siberian Express. But before Lee can even board the train a curious thief tries to take a look at the cargo he’s carrying and mysteriously dies while his eyes turn completely white. This strange event grabs the attention of a fanatical Russian monk (Alberto de Mendoza) who accuses Christopher Lee of being in league with the Devil while a curious police inspector (Julio Peña) tries to figure out what’s going on. Fellow anthropologist and professional rival Peter Cushing is also along for the ride with his assistant (Alice Reinheart). Other passengers include a wealthy Russian countess (Silvia Tortosa), her husband (George Rigaud) and a beautiful master criminal (Helga Liné). When the ancient creature begins killing more passengers it’s up to Lee and Cushing to figure out what’s going on. But before they do, they’ll have to face down a band of rowdy Cossacks led by Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas).

HORROR EXPRESS has often been described as an unusual mix of THE THING (1951) and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974). But it also contains a dash of QUATERMASS AND THE PITT (1967) and a touch of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971) during its suspenseful final moments. The direction is somewhat static but the film manages to maintain a steady momentum throughout its 90-minute running time. In an interview with Spanish director Eugenio Martin included on the DVD he constantly refers to the film as an ”action” movie instead of using the word “horror” and I think that’s understandable. HORROR EXPRESS has plenty of horrific moments and it’s surprisingly gory for its time. But the film also features some effective action sequences including an explosive ending that’s particularly well-staged. Like many of Eugenio Martin’s westerns including BAD MAN’S RIVER (1971) and PANCHO VILLA (1972), the characters in HORROR EXPRESS also exchange some funny banter that lightens the mood without lessening any of the tension. This low budget fast-paced thriller is sure to gain many more fans thanks to Severin’s careful restoration. It’s a particularly modern horror film even though it takes place in a period setting and I think it’s aged well.

The entire cast is exceptional but Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are especially fun to watch together. They share some great lines in HORROR EXPRESS, which is often considered one of their better team-ups and I tend to agree. They play reserved British gentlemen who rarely seem fazed by anything that happens during the course of the film no matter how fantastic or absurd. Telly Savalas also stands out at as a boisterous Cossack who’s forced to confront the monstrous creature onboard the train but he gets very little screen time. They’re matched by their European costars, particularly, the lovely Helga Liné who appeared in some great thrillers before making HORROR EXPRESS such as NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965) and MY DEAR KILLER (1972) along with the charming Silvia Tortosa who went on to appear in the excellent Spanish fantasy film, THE LORELEY’S GRASP (1974). Julio Peña (CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT; 1965, SATANIK; 1968, RED SUN; 1971, etc.) is also very good as the frustrated inspector. But my favorite performance in HORROR EXPRESS is supplied by Alberto de Mendoza as the mad monk. This talented Argentinean actor appeared in some of Lucio Fulci’s best films including PERVERSION STORY (1969) and WOMAN IN A LIZARD’S SKIN (1971) as well as spaghetti westerns such as A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL (1969). He delivers a scene stealing performance here as a Rasputin-like character who goes by the name of Father Pujardov and eventually falls from his God’s good graces. His spiritual crisis brings an interesting dimension to this science infused horror film and when the credits role you’ll have a hard time forgetting his frightening red-eyed face.

I don’t own a Blu-ray player yet so I was only able to watch the regular DVD but it looked terrific. The beginning of the film is a bit rough and you can clearly see some artifacts during the opening few minutes but they quickly disappear as the film progresses. By the time HORROR EXPRESS leaves the station you shouldn’t see anything but a bright and clean widescreen (1.66:1 Anamorphic) picture that looks better than any print of the film that I’ve come across and I’ve seen a few. I was also impressed with the sound quality of the DVD. HORROR EXPRESS features a standout score by composer John Cacavas who was obviously deeply influenced by Italian composers such as Ennio Morricone and Stelvio Cipriani. And I suspect that he probably used European studio musicians and producers while recording the soundtrack.

The DVD package also boasts some great bonus material that’s available on the regular DVD as well as the Blu-ray. I especially enjoyed the interview with director Eugino ‘Gene” Martin who tells some fascinating stories about the film’s production including funny antidotes such as the difficulty he had trying to direct actors wearing special effect contact lenses that made them virtually blind. He also discusses how a model train was used for the film and explains that he and Peter Cushing enjoyed playing with it in-between takes. Blacklisted American scriptwriter Julian Zimet relates some stories about his experiences during the McCarthy era (an experience also shared by the film’s producer, Bernard Gordon), which should interest film historians. And in an insightful interview with composer John Cacavas he discusses his long friendship with Telly Savalas. There’s also a lengthy audio interview or Q&A session with Peter Cushing that’s well worth a listen. The humble actor makes no mention of his work on HORROR EXPRESS but he talks at length about his career, his love of American westerns and how he got his start in the movies. It’s hard to make out many of the questions Cushing is asked by a room obviously full of his fans and admirers but his answers are priceless. In response to someone who asks him, “Why are you so fond of horror pictures?” Cushing responds, “I’m fond of anything I love, anything I do, and I love my work. And when you’re dealing with these pictures, which are doing the impossible, you’ve got to believe in it and love it yourself if you’re going to try and get an audience to believe it with you.” This is wisdom that a lot of modern horror film actors and directors would be wise to remember. Last but not least the DVD includes an enthusiastic introduction from Fangoria Editor Chris Alexander who discusses his own history with HORROR EXPRESS and how it’s become one of his favorite films.

Severin did a wonderful job compiling these extras, which really adds to the value of this anticipated DVD release. If you’re a longtime fan of the film or just curious about seeing an exciting European horror film and much loved cult classic presented in the best possible format currently available, I recommend giving it a look. HORROR EXPRESS is a movie that seems to beg for multiple viewings and I can almost guarantee that you’ll want to watch it more than once.

34 Responses All Aboard the HORROR EXPRESS!
Posted By Greg Ferrara : November 10, 2011 3:57 pm

Hooray! There was a subpar version of this I refused to watch with Laura and Elle because of the quality. Another similar situation was with Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors which I got a copy of but man was it bad. Pan and scan, blurry, bad sound, it was really annoying because I really wanted to watch it with the two of them but didn’t want the experience sullied by such a bad print. I’m going to order my copy for the 29th right now.

P.S. – That first screengrab of Mendoza looks like Robert De Niro in Angel Heart.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : November 10, 2011 3:57 pm

Hooray! There was a subpar version of this I refused to watch with Laura and Elle because of the quality. Another similar situation was with Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors which I got a copy of but man was it bad. Pan and scan, blurry, bad sound, it was really annoying because I really wanted to watch it with the two of them but didn’t want the experience sullied by such a bad print. I’m going to order my copy for the 29th right now.

P.S. – That first screengrab of Mendoza looks like Robert De Niro in Angel Heart.

Posted By changeling : November 10, 2011 4:42 pm

LOved this one ever I saw it for the 1st time at eg 5:):):):)!!!! Peter Cushing RULLZZZZ:):):)

Posted By changeling : November 10, 2011 4:42 pm

LOved this one ever I saw it for the 1st time at eg 5:):):):)!!!! Peter Cushing RULLZZZZ:):):)

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 10, 2011 5:32 pm

Greg – Mendoza does resemble, De Niro! I think he’s actually better looking though but that’s probably just me. And he’s so great in this! Crazy, over-the-top and totally devoted to his character. This should be a fun one to watch with family if they can handle the gory bits. I tend to get a little queasy watching any kind of “eyeball gore” in movies like ZOMBI or OPERA and HORROR EXPRESS has plenty even though the movie’s a little older. And probably a bit tamer in comparison.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 10, 2011 5:32 pm

Greg – Mendoza does resemble, De Niro! I think he’s actually better looking though but that’s probably just me. And he’s so great in this! Crazy, over-the-top and totally devoted to his character. This should be a fun one to watch with family if they can handle the gory bits. I tend to get a little queasy watching any kind of “eyeball gore” in movies like ZOMBI or OPERA and HORROR EXPRESS has plenty even though the movie’s a little older. And probably a bit tamer in comparison.

Posted By suzidoll : November 10, 2011 7:09 pm

I love this film. I first saw it in a horror-film class when I was in college. We all thought it was terrific.

And, what a cast. Telly Savalas is always charismatic, and he is over-the-top in this film, but in a good way.

Posted By suzidoll : November 10, 2011 7:09 pm

I love this film. I first saw it in a horror-film class when I was in college. We all thought it was terrific.

And, what a cast. Telly Savalas is always charismatic, and he is over-the-top in this film, but in a good way.

Posted By Doug : November 10, 2011 7:15 pm

Kimberly-no Blu-ray yet? They are well worth the price of upgrading.
This looks like a fine movie- Cushing and Lee would make any movie worth watching.

Posted By Doug : November 10, 2011 7:15 pm

Kimberly-no Blu-ray yet? They are well worth the price of upgrading.
This looks like a fine movie- Cushing and Lee would make any movie worth watching.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : November 10, 2011 10:06 pm

Kimberly, you should make every effort to track down Blind Planet (1976), aka The People Who Own the Dark, with Alberto de Mendoza in pretty close to action hero mode, though the movie is downbeat in the extreme. He plays a government scientist who is caught in a brothel with a bunch of other bigwigs (including Paul Naschy) when the end of the world happens. I’ll say no more. Find it!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : November 10, 2011 10:06 pm

Kimberly, you should make every effort to track down Blind Planet (1976), aka The People Who Own the Dark, with Alberto de Mendoza in pretty close to action hero mode, though the movie is downbeat in the extreme. He plays a government scientist who is caught in a brothel with a bunch of other bigwigs (including Paul Naschy) when the end of the world happens. I’ll say no more. Find it!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 10, 2011 10:19 pm

Suzidoll – It’s such a fun movie. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. Savalas is great. I only wish he was in the movie a little longer. I want more of his crazy Cossack. They should have followed up this film with a sequel called Tombs of the Blind Cossacks.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 10, 2011 10:19 pm

Suzidoll – It’s such a fun movie. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. Savalas is great. I only wish he was in the movie a little longer. I want more of his crazy Cossack. They should have followed up this film with a sequel called Tombs of the Blind Cossacks.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 10, 2011 10:25 pm

Doug – Afraid not. I love the current all-region DVD player I have and I paid a pretty penny for it. Can’t afford to replace any of my DVDs anytime soon so I’ve been lazy about upgrading. I may try and look for a deal on a blu-ray player during the holidays.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 10, 2011 10:25 pm

Doug – Afraid not. I love the current all-region DVD player I have and I paid a pretty penny for it. Can’t afford to replace any of my DVDs anytime soon so I’ve been lazy about upgrading. I may try and look for a deal on a blu-ray player during the holidays.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 10, 2011 10:31 pm

Richard – You’re reading my mind! I came across an image from BLIND PLANET while I was doing a little research on Alberto de Mendoza and my first thought was, “I’ve got to see that movie!” I even watched a clip on youtube but haven’t tracked down a copy yet. It looks really good. And with Paul Naschy?! I just know I’m going to love it. Must see soon!!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 10, 2011 10:31 pm

Richard – You’re reading my mind! I came across an image from BLIND PLANET while I was doing a little research on Alberto de Mendoza and my first thought was, “I’ve got to see that movie!” I even watched a clip on youtube but haven’t tracked down a copy yet. It looks really good. And with Paul Naschy?! I just know I’m going to love it. Must see soon!!

Posted By Christopher : November 11, 2011 12:33 am

saw this first time at the Drive-in with Tombs of the Blind Dead and Night of the Bloody Apes..

Posted By Christopher : November 11, 2011 12:33 am

saw this first time at the Drive-in with Tombs of the Blind Dead and Night of the Bloody Apes..

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : November 11, 2011 12:48 pm

“It’s hard to imagine that there are any seasoned horror film fans that haven’t seen or at least heard of Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS…”

Believe it! I’ve even had two chances in the last three years to see HORROR EXPRESS on the big screen– most recently a screening in promotion of this Blu-ray release– and I blew it. I recently put it high on a list of ten movies I was “embarrassed” to say I’d never seen, and even higher on a much more important list– the one that gets mailed to Santa Claus.

Thanks for this piece, Kimberly. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll just print it out, soak up the frame grabs and wait until I’ve unwrapped the disc and seen it for myself, and then I’ll take in your observations with eager glee. As a Horror Dad, I can imagine with whom I might be seeing it too.

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : November 11, 2011 12:48 pm

“It’s hard to imagine that there are any seasoned horror film fans that haven’t seen or at least heard of Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS…”

Believe it! I’ve even had two chances in the last three years to see HORROR EXPRESS on the big screen– most recently a screening in promotion of this Blu-ray release– and I blew it. I recently put it high on a list of ten movies I was “embarrassed” to say I’d never seen, and even higher on a much more important list– the one that gets mailed to Santa Claus.

Thanks for this piece, Kimberly. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll just print it out, soak up the frame grabs and wait until I’ve unwrapped the disc and seen it for myself, and then I’ll take in your observations with eager glee. As a Horror Dad, I can imagine with whom I might be seeing it too.

Posted By Jenni : November 11, 2011 3:57 pm

Yep. I am one who hasn’t heard of Horror Express but now want to see it due to your enthusiastic post and to see Lee & Cushing, especially as allies. I also thought that one actor was Deniro too!

Posted By Jenni : November 11, 2011 3:57 pm

Yep. I am one who hasn’t heard of Horror Express but now want to see it due to your enthusiastic post and to see Lee & Cushing, especially as allies. I also thought that one actor was Deniro too!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 11, 2011 5:13 pm

Christopher – That’s a great triple feature of Spanish horror movies! I envy you.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 11, 2011 5:13 pm

Christopher – That’s a great triple feature of Spanish horror movies! I envy you.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 11, 2011 5:16 pm

Dennis – Thanks, Dennis! I think you’ll get a kick out of the film when you see it. It’s a lot of fun and it has got some great actors in it. It’s the kind of movie I like to return to every 5 years or so and it never disappoints.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : November 11, 2011 5:16 pm

Dennis – Thanks, Dennis! I think you’ll get a kick out of the film when you see it. It’s a lot of fun and it has got some great actors in it. It’s the kind of movie I like to return to every 5 years or so and it never disappoints.

Posted By manele : November 14, 2011 11:53 am

I watched this movie when I was 9 years old, and I couldn’t forget it at all. Its amazing that I could remember the movie’s name and find it on youtube after 16 years since I first watched it. I think I am lucky because I finally got it. I love this movie its really wonderful.

Posted By manele : November 14, 2011 11:53 am

I watched this movie when I was 9 years old, and I couldn’t forget it at all. Its amazing that I could remember the movie’s name and find it on youtube after 16 years since I first watched it. I think I am lucky because I finally got it. I love this movie its really wonderful.

Posted By Juana Maria : November 15, 2011 3:41 pm

I don’t know what Blu ray is. I still remember and have VHS, cassete tapes, and of course records(LPs). Yes, that is old tech. I don’t care. I first saw this movie at a Dollar store,but I didn’t buy it. I have seen some of it on You Tube, I don’t recall the picture being very fuzzy. I love the actors in the cast, good choice all around.

Posted By Juana Maria : November 15, 2011 3:41 pm

I don’t know what Blu ray is. I still remember and have VHS, cassete tapes, and of course records(LPs). Yes, that is old tech. I don’t care. I first saw this movie at a Dollar store,but I didn’t buy it. I have seen some of it on You Tube, I don’t recall the picture being very fuzzy. I love the actors in the cast, good choice all around.

Posted By muriel : December 11, 2011 5:25 pm

This has always been my favorite Lee/Cushing flick. One of the “whole family get together and watch” movies. Especially, I did not know it was widescreen! Time to exchange that old video tape recorded from TV for a shiny new disc. Great post.

Posted By muriel : December 11, 2011 5:25 pm

This has always been my favorite Lee/Cushing flick. One of the “whole family get together and watch” movies. Especially, I did not know it was widescreen! Time to exchange that old video tape recorded from TV for a shiny new disc. Great post.

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