Monday, October 22, 2012

31 Days Of Horror Movies 2012 (Part 8)

TERROR TRAIN (1980): This was the second Jamie Lee Curtis slasher movie I watched this year that began with a prank gone wrong, resulting in a killing spree. Terror Train opens with the scream queen playing the bait in a hazing stunt that goes too far-- a hapless weirdo named Kenny is lured into climbing in bed with a pilfered cadaver by a group of cruel med students. He then suffers one of cinema's most memorable spaz attacks, spinning around & getting caught up in the bed sheets while shrieking girlishly (as the credits begin, the footage goes to slow-motion and his screams become a slowed-down moan). Cut to several years later, and the med students are having a costume party on a train to celebrate New Years' Eve...however, a masked killer has other ideas about what constitutes a good time. Terror Train is a somewhat better-than-average entry in the deluge of post-Halloween slasher fare, mostly due to the nowhere-to-run setting and the killer's cool gimmick of shedding his disguise in favour of the one worn by his last victim. The cast is decent--along with Curtis, there's Ben Johnson (The Wild Bunch) as the train's conductor, a pre-Die Hard Hart Bochner as the sleazeball ringleader of the prank-happy pre-meds, and David Copperfield as an intense illusionist who is something of a forerunner to Arrested Development's Gob Bluth. The biggest problem with the film is that there's never really any doubt as to who the killer is, despite the efforts of director Roger Spottiswoode (who would later direct Tomorrow Never Dies, The Sixth Day, and... Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot!?!) to package the proceedings as a whodunit. The reveal of the killer will surprise no one, but the revelation of how he got on the train in the first place is a neat twist. Terror Train is another of the retro horror titles newly available on Blu-Ray for the first time courtesy of Scream Factory, complete with a shiny new transfer an and eye-catching illustrated cover (the also-memorable original box art is featured on a reversible sleeve). It's no Halloween, but Terror Train is a cut (slightly) above most of its peers.
THE PACK (1977): More evil dogs, and this time, only Joe Don Baker can stop them! The Pack takes place on a resort island where summer families have an unpleasant habit of buying dogs for their kids to play with all season, then leaving them behind when it's time to go home. The forsaken dogs, mad with hunger, band together into a pack of ferocious killers, intent on turning the island's remaining inhabitants into puppy chow. The Pack was directed by Robert Clouse, who helmed Enter The Dragon four years earlier. Sadly, he's incapable of doing for roving packs of dogs what he did for martial arts battles--the dog attacks are pretty vicious, but they're mostly preceded by endless slow-motion montages of the killer pooches running happily through the forest. The cast, headed by the aforementioned Baker, also features some other folks who keep turning up in this year's 31 Days Of Horror lineup--Bibi Besch and R.G. Armstrong appear, both of whom would later star in The Beast Within, and Armstrong also starred in Devil Dog: Hound Of Hell (making this the second evil dog movie I've seen him in this year). Watch for Paul Wilson, best known as Paul on the later seasons of Cheers, as a cowardly nerd who gets what's coming to him. The Pack is a middling entry in the subgenre of 1970s nature-run-amok horror films, and it probably won't do much to convert anyone who isn't already a fan of that type of film.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935): "The human heart is more complex than any other part of the body", says Dr. Pretorius in The Bride Of Frankenstein, which may be why the assembled Bride screams in terror when she meets her monstrous groom. What's her problem, anyway? After all, they were made for each other. Hollywood's first sequel (and still one of the best), James Whale's follow-up to the legendary 1931 original improves upon the mad doctor's tale in pretty much every way. Boris Karloff's performance as the tragic, now-speaking monster is even more tortured, inhuman, and ultimately sympathetic than it was the first time around. Franz Waxman's rousing score lends a fairy-tale quality to the story of weird science and doomed romance. Ernest Thesiger's wickedly campy turn as Frankenstein's mentor, Dr. Pretorius, lightens the tone while amping up the blasphemous elements of their experiments ("Sometimes I have wondered whether life wouldn't be much more amusing if we were all devils, no nonsense about angels and being good", says the doctor at one point). And Elsa Lanchester (who does double duty here, also appearing as Mary Shelley in a prologue sequence), even with her limited screen time as the monster's intended mate, is unforgettable in both design and performance.
John P. Fulton's visual effects still pack a how'd-they-do-that punch to this day, in a memorable sequence where Dr. Pretorius showcases his attempts to create life in the form of tiny homunculi displayed in jars. Probably still the best of the classic Universal Monster Movies, The Bride Of Frankenstein remains a potent combination of atmospheric thrills and gallows humour.

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