“I hate magic. It’s just tricks.”
Several years after playing a vicious prank on a classmate (Derek McKinnon), a group of pre-med students dressed in various costumes — including a monk (Hart Bochner), Groucho Marx (Howard Busgang), an alien lizard (Anthony Sherwood), a witch (Sandee Currie), and a bird (Timothy Webber) — find themselves serially murdered on a New Year’s Eve train trip featuring a magician (David Copperfield) as a guest performer. While the conductor (Ben Johnson) tries his best to protect the passengers, the lone survivor (Jamie Lee Curtis) is still at risk.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Horror Films
- Murder Mystery
- Serial Killers
Jamie Lee Curtis developed a well-deserved reputation as a “scream queen” after her starring turn in Halloween (1978), and she lives up to it in this inferior but reasonably shock-filled thriller, set on a train moving through remote and snowy territory. John Alcott’s rich cinematography is appropriately atmospheric, and the presence of real-life magician David Copperfield is an inspired component of the script, contributing to a pervasive sense of tricks lurking around every corner. Otherwise, this is simply standard slasher-fare, with only one likable character (Curtis) and a somewhat inevitable ending (albeit it with a creative twist to the “reveal” of the killer).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Jamie Lee Curtis as Alana
- Many effectively scary moments
- John Alcott’s cinematography
No, though fans of the genre will want to check it out.
2 thoughts on “Terror Train (1980)”
Not must-see…unless you are a major fan of the genre, in which case you will want to catch this as (for what it’s worth) one of the better examples.
I’d seen this once before – probably only because Peary listed it as a title in his book. It’s not the kind of thing I normally seek out – formulaic, serial killing does little for me overall (esp. in a very realistic setting).
[It should be noted that Curtis is not the only likable character. Ben Johnson, for example, gives a surprisingly sturdy performance – considering he doesn’t have all that much of a role. Actually, compared with other similar films – in which many or most of the characters are seemingly brain-deprived – the bulk of the young adults on display here come off as garden-variety.]
This was Roger Spottiswoode’s directorial debut. Not that he went on to add a lot of major films to his credit…but he clearly shows ability with ‘TT’. You can almost hear him thinking, ‘OK, how do I approach this material in a way that doesn’t completely show it up for the crap that it is?’ He acquitted himself well in handling less-than-distinguished stuff – and was helped immensely by DP Alcott.
Spottiswoode would go on to direct one of the best of the AIDS dramas, ‘And The Band Played On’.
This is actually copyrighted 1979.
Ace editor Roger Spottiswoode gets his directorial debut making “Halloween on a Train” and he does a great job with this fun programmer. Good fun.
Spottiswoode went on to making the superb Under Fire (1983).