Horror Express

3 out of 5

Directed by: Eugenio Martín

Horror fans, on their first round through Horror Express, will probably be both amused and confused over how early the movie seems to play its cards: dropping dead bodies by its foreboding “fossil”-containing crate – procured by Professor Saxton (Christopher Lee) in an opening expedition scene, during which we also already saw that the fossils can more accurately be described as a creepy looking figure – and allowing us to hear audible moans from said crate within the first fifteen or so minutes, and then, sure, going ahead and showing us the creature that escapes from that crate a few minutes after that… What’s going to happen during the remaining hour or so?

Quite a bit. While Horror Express never quite exceeds its (charming) campiness, the story takes a few bonkers twists and turns that ping-pong it between sci-fi and horror, stopping a bit in a sort of thriller / mystery realm, elevated by a colorful cast which includes Peter Cushing as a fellow train-riding doctor, Alberto de Mendoza as a religious nut who likes to talk about Satan, and Julio Peña as the detective who’s going to keep this whole thing grounded in a whodunnit framework. Also, toss Telly Savalas in there.

The “science” is goofy as heck – you can sense writers Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet and director Eugenio Martín as having a bit of fun with the 1906 setting for that purpose – and the low budget limitations prevent the setting from ever really coming to life as it should, which definitely undercuts the inherent tension of unleashing a creature on a train. There’re also probably a few too many “main” characters when they’re just there as fodder; not that it isn’t nice to give people back stories, but it clutters up the movie’s focus a bit. That said, the low budget I think helps with the murders, requiring Martín to get quite inventive with showing certain things, and the dollars are wisely saved for some bigger moments towards the end; and the stumbling tone is part of that aforementioned charm – definitely the kind of movie you warm to (no pun intended) moreso every time you revisit it, with its playful nature and colorful cast making such revisits quite easy.