Horror Express, 1972, 91 mins, BBC iPlayer
The first casualty of a bad horror film is any shocks, it seems. Well, that and the reputations of all involved. I dare say there are a few revisionists out there who describe this film as some novel precursor to John Carpenter’s The Thing but that’s utter tosh. Okay, the film owes a little to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella “Who Goes There?” that both the original The Thing From Another World as well as John Carpenter’s version were based on, but its so poorly executed here its practically incidental- possibly it was even accidental (an alien is thawed from millions of years in ice and proceeds to jump from body to body killing travellers on a Trans-Siberian express). No, this is just a really poor, terribly bad horror film hamstrung by a zero budget and only enlivened by the casting of Hammer greats Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, albeit one has to pity them the misfortune of featuring in such a lousy film. Indeed, my overwhelming sensation watching this film was almost of pity, soberly considering that no matter how great we may now think both Cushing and Lee were, the truth is that back in the day they were likely poorly-regarded b-movie horror actors who had to bum around for gigs in awful productions such as this (see also Cushing’s appearance in the not-quite-so-dire The Devil’s Men). Mind, I’m not certain what Telly Savalas’ excuse is for appearing in this as a Cassock captain, who seems to drop in from nowhere on the hunt for the killer like some sabre-rattling Inspector Poirot (and no, its nowhere near as amusing as that likely sounds).
So it was a wholly irritating, sobering experience, this- I’ve been curious to see it for a few years now (thank goodness I was never tempted by those Arrow sales), entirely on the basis of seeing Cushing and Lee in a movie together again. Had this been a mid-sixties Hammer romp, it may have been just as silly but it would, curiously enough, have been a better-made film, even considering the limited budgets Hammer films were notorious for. At least it would have had Hammer’s signature gothic style, gaudy colours and fine period costumes/art direction, and would have been enlivened by seeing the usual Hammer retinue of actors with a dramatic music score. Sadly, there’s none of that here, and as one might expect from a cheap Spanish production there’s also woeful dubbing on any dialogue uttered by someone other than Cushing, Lee or Savalas, which only further detracts from what actually going on.
I suppose one can admire -although with considerable sadness- the professionalism of Cushing and Lee who heartily continue to act their best whatever the rubbish they are in (maybe all those Hammer flicks were ample practice), giving genuine effort here which the film hardly deserves. Truly, the two Hammer veterans deserved much better and its such a pity that they so needed to pay the bills that they had to sign-on to pictures such as this. Its far beneath them, but that’s true of quite a few films in each of their filmographies. Mind, its true most actors likely appear in films they’d rather forget- something that was much easier to get away with in decades before home video came along. What on Earth either Cushing or Lee would have thought had they know this particular film would still be widely available to viewers all these decades later? They would likely have been horrified. Its not often I ever say of a film featuring Peter Cushing “never again!” but its certainly true of this nonsense.