Vic’s Review – “Terror Train” (1980)

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What’s it About?

A masked killer targets six college kids responsible for a prank gone wrong years earlier and whom are currently throwing a large New Year’s Eve costume party aboard a moving train.

“Terror Train”

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

7 out of 10

By Vic

Director Roger Spottiswoode has brought us some pretty cool flicks. Like The 6th Day, Tomorrow Never Dies, Turner and Hooch and even underrated Shoot to Kill. He began, like so many directors, with a slasher starring then scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, The Fog and Trading Places). Sure it is a “Halloween” clone in some ways and it barely tries to hide it’s copy cat trappings but it has some good things in it to appreciate. First and foremost it is a cyclical type of horror film that repeats beat by beat some of the more traditional types of formulaic horror. For this review I would like to keep it pretty much spoiler free for those who haven’t seen it or would like to revisit it.

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Jamie Lee plays Alana Maxwell who unwittingly participates in a prank gone wrong at her High School rally.  Like most of these prank  gone wrong films some time usually passes by the time we get involved in the horrific happenings to come. Revenge is the motive here and as the graduating class, a few years later, takes a trip for the celebration on a creepy Locomotive we get to witness first hand some scary wrong doings on the ole Terror Train.  The poor conductor, Carne, (played by vet actor Ben Johnson) starts to discover dead bodies on the train. At first he thinks they are pranks and since it ‘s hard to find out who’s who because of all the costumes that the students wear, he gets frustrated and just a little bit more than worried.

Also bodies seem to disappear too. After a sweep of the train, the students and the crew are let back on but there are no bodies or killer to be found. Writer TY Drake (The Keeper) treats us routine interactions among the students. Pretty basic stuff. Guy has girl, guy has a jealous friend, girl has a girlfriend that sleeps around with guys and girl is a smart and virginal goody two shoes. Guy gets jealous of the cool magician that has the girls enraptured somehow, etc etc, Yep and Jamie Lee would be the good girl with her head on straight here in order for us to sympathize with her.

Even illusionist David Copperfield turns up as a magician named Ken.  One by one, though, the killer, in a very strange mask, goes silently around dispatching unsuspecting students in a revenge fueled frenzy. Carne shows Alana the body of her girlfriend who was unfortunately a victim and killed. Alana doesn’t take it all too well and she and Carne try to solve the crimes with Alana dead sure that she is the one the killer is really after. It turns into a game of wits and survival in the best tradition of these early 80’s horror films.

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The best thing about Terror Train is that while it is a decent clone of better made horror films and it doesn’t really disappoint in either the reveal or conclusion. Albeit predictable in parts the way that Spottiswoode executes the suspense makes this movie stand out above other “by the numbers”  horror movies of it’s time. The camera work is splendid and claustrophobic. The film has mood and dread in spades and Jamie Lee Curtis, Copperfield and Ben Johnson are all fun to watch and give decent performances. While building suspense especially towards the end with the showdown between Alana, Carne and the killer, Spottiswoode supplies us with some shock moments and very dark and scary corners and rooms. All inter-weaved with glorious exterior shots of a very blackened and creepy locomotive speeding along in the night.

Then in the end we get a very cool double twist that was rarely done to good effect back in the day. An odd thing with Terror Train would be the lack of real gore, I say odd because many of these knock offs would go apeshit with the gory stuff. I think it works in it’s favor though. Unfortunately it is a slasher and some more die hard fans will find many things to like while others may find Terror Train a bit tedious and very formulaic. I had fun revisiting it but it neither really scared me or terrified me. What it did was made me nostalgic for other films of better breeding. It is “Halloween” on a train but it still had some legs and if your are a bit undecided if TT is up your alley I would recommend it on the merits of scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and Director Spottiswoode’s creepy mood, style and camera work. It is old school and it is a slasher copy cat but it works in places and doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.


    • Thanks, Dave! I just kinda whipped this one up because I revisited it recently and I realized that I hadn’t ever reviewed it. It is solid but not great like you said. I look forward to your review of it. Thanks for reading, bro! 🙂

      • Yup my thoughts exactly. I also,recently revisited this. I also haven’t seen it in a while. I’ll post my review sometime down the road, still wanna get other reviews first than do that box office numbers I was telling you about

    • That’s not the first time I’ve heard that! lol. 🙂 Many can’t seem to get through it. Like I said many will find it routine and by the numbers. Thanks for stopping by, Misty!

    • It was indeed fun. The setting was cool and Curtis was great. I’m glad you enjoyed the review. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it!

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