Horror Express – Blu-Ray Review

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Alberto de Mendoza, Alice Reinheart, Telly Savalas
Directed by: Eugenio Martín
Written by: Arnaud d'Usseau, Julian Zimet
Original Year of Release: 1972
Studio: Granada Films
Distributor: Arrow Video, MVD Entertainment Group
Rated: R
Run time: 84 Minutes

As of late, I have been hunting for movies I haven't seen before. With this being the era of everything and anything being available, finding those movies has not been difficult, but watching them is another story. Seeing a movie, any movie, on an iPad (or a cell phone) is terrible. The screen is too small and the cinematic experience is limited. This is how I first watched Horror Express as it was only on a streaming service called Fandor (the only reliable thing you get with MoviePass). I found the film to be interesting but a trifle dull. When Arrow Video announced that they were releasing Horror Express on Blu-ray, with new special features, my love for both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing got the better of me and I gave it another whirl. After all, now I could watch it on my television. Boy, am I glad I did.

Our film opens in China, 1906, with Prof. Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) making a startling discovery. Saxton has found a missing link to man's past, frozen in the ice. This "Neanderthal" very well may re-write history. While traveling back to Europe, Saxton encounters Dr. Wells (Cushing).  There is a great animosity between Saxton and Wells which is one of professional rivalry. We quickly see that Saxton is a man of stature and poise, where Wells is a man of the people and quick to grease someone's palm when he needs something done. What Hammer Film enthusiasts will appreciate, from this point on to the film's conclusion, is that Lee and Cushing are only briefly rivals and quickly have to work together. Usually, they are at each other's throats and here they get to team up.
Once on the train, it is a quick introduction to the passengers, however, prior to that, we find that the "Neanderthal" has awakened and begun his escape. Where the story takes its cues from is John W. Campbell, Jr.'s novel "Who Goes There?". Horror Express is actually the second attempt to translate this story to the big screen, with the first being 1951's  The Thing from Another World. New genre fans will also appreciate how much of Horror Express is actually in the same vein of John Carpenter's 1981 classic The Thing. With all that being said, the premise is fairly straight forward. Saxton and Wells strive to stay one step ahead of the creature as it moves from body to body. The catch is that each time it takes someone over, it absorbs all their knowledge. So when the "Neanderthal" picks a lock like a pro, you have to remember it absorbed the knowledge of one back at the train station.  The film also goes into a subplot when a priest, Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza), begins to question his faith with the possibility that this creature can reveal more about existence than his faith in God. It doesn't dwell too heavily on it, but it is there nonetheless. By the time Telly Savalas' Captain Kazan arrives with his Cossacks, you are in so deep that Savalas' scene-chewing character feels appropriate, to say nothing of the zombies and men from the 20th century seeing the Earth from space for the first time in 1906.

If this is your first viewing of Horror Express, you'll marvel at how ahead of its time it is. It suffers from revealing the first/ frozen incarnation of the creature in too much light. A less-is-more approach would have been better. However, once the body swapping begins you'll quickly forget how mediocre it looked. You'll then ask yourself, why didn't this film do better? Thankfully, Arrow Films has included special features that deal with that very question (bad marketing being the first answer). Additional special features also go into screenwriter Julian Zimet's Blacklisting, the loss of Cushing's wife prior to filming, and how Lee kept Cushing on the film. In short, you will watch it for the Hammer veterans, be treated to a timeless tale, and learn something about film history. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

Bonus Materials

  • Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
  • Introduction to the film by film journalist and Horror Express super-fan Chris Alexander
  • Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express – an interview with director Eugenio Martin
  • Notes from the Blacklist – Horror Express producer Bernard Gordon on working in Hollywood during the McCarthy Era
  • Telly and Me – an interview with composer John Cacavas
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing by Adam Scovell
8 Total Score
A HORROR TREAT

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