• Horror Express

    Released by:
    Severin Films
    Released on: November 29, 2011.

    Director: Eugenio Martin

    Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Silvia Tortosa, Helga Line

    Year: 1972

    Purchase from Amazon

    The Movie:

    Directed by Eugenio Martin, 1974’s Horror Express (or, if you prefer, Panic On The Trans-Siberian Express), begins in Manchuria where an English scholar named Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) and his team discover some sort of animal-man frozen in the ice. They crate this big hairy guy up and load him onto a train bound for Moscow, Saxton hopeful that he’ll be able to get the thing back to his home turf for further study. The train is quite cramped, however, and it isn’t long before he runs into Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), a competitive researcher of sorts who takes quite a liking to one of the female passengers (Helga Line) onboard who needs somewhere to sleep during the long ride.

    Wells seems pretty jovial on the surface but his true colors show when he pays off one of the baggage men (Victor Israel) to open that mysterious crate Saxton has brought on board. When that baggage man disappears, people start to wonder what’s become of him. Eventually he’s found inside the crate, his eyes white and bleeding and it becomes obvious when more passengers show up in a similar state that whatever it is that Saxton discovered is running loose on the train and killing randomly. Complicating matters further is the presence of a Countess (Silvia Tortosa) and her keeper, a rather insane monk (Alberto de Mendoza) with a giant Rasputin beard – and then the train gets boarded by Cossacks (lead by Telly Savalas!). Wells, always the man of science, does some investigating of his own – namely examining the brains of the victims - and soon learns the truth about what this creature is up to.

    A staple of crap quality public domain releases over the years, it’s nice to see Severin take this title on, spruce it up as best they can and go all out with the extras. Why? Because the movie is a blast. Not only do you get Lee and Cushing doing some of their finest work together here (it’s been infamously noted that Cushing didn’t want to do the movie as it was too soon after his wife’s passing and that Lee talked him out of bailing, so they were probably bonding a bit during this shoot) but we get Savalas, completely miscast as a Cossack and given far too little screen time, and Eurohotties Helga Line and Silvia Tortosa thrown into the mix for good measure. With this rock solid cast, director Martin manages to overcome the low budget (yeah, those are obviously toy trains being used in a lot of the outdoor scenes but who cares) and deliver an entertaining monster movie with some great cinematography and cool effects.

    Those effects work really well here, actually. It’s fair to say that the guy in the monster suit is obviously phony but the whole ‘white, bleeding eyes’ thing is still creepy no matter how many times you sit through this one and we even get some impromptu brain surgery here too, just to up the ick factor a bit. John Cacavas contributes an excellent score that sounds like it was lifted from a spaghetti western and which helps propel the film to an unexpected but completely awesome conclusion which we shall not spoil in this review. In short, you don’t have to be a Hammer fanatic or Eurocult superfan to appreciate this one, as it’s really got something for everyone. Pretty ladies, great leading men, a giant killer monkey man, cool trains, some good gore, a crazy monk and a killer score – what’s not to love?


    Severin’s AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer presents the film in its original aspect ratio and in the best condition this reviewer has ever seen it in – BUT those put off by minor print damage might not fall in love with the image, taken from Spanish language elements judging by the titles. The opening ten minutes or so are the worst offenders, showing some consistent specks and related defects, and thankfully things do get considerably cleaner from there on out - there are still minor scratches and noticeable spots throughout the movie including one instance of what looks like some sort of water damage. That all sounds like bad news, right? Wrong. The good absolutely outweighs the bad here as the increase in clarity is definitely noticeable (and will be very much appreciated by most fans) even during those opening scenes. Colors look quite good here, and if black levels are sometimes not always as inky deep as some might hope for, they look pretty good. Skin looks like skin and not like wax and there are only minor compression artifacts to complain and there's no noticable edge enhancement to report. The disc is basically a well authored release of some source material that just wasn’t in perfect condition. Whether or not more could have been done to clean up the image is probably questionable, but what’s not is the fact that the movie has never looked better on home video than it does here.

    Audio options include English and Spanish language tracks, the first in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and the second in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (no lossless options are provided, unfortunately). Both sound just fine, if limited in range by their elements, and offer clean, clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. The film’s score also sounds very good here (and unfortunately the isolated score that was included on the Image DVD has not been ported over). For some reason, no English subtitles are provided for the Spanish language track. Annoying, but not a deal breaker.

    If Severin didn’t include the aforementioned isolated score, they sure made up for that with some pretty awesome exclusive new supplements starting with an audio interview that Peter Cushing recorded in 1973 which is presented as an alternate audio option overtop of the movie, kind of like a commentary. This isn’t always about the movie at hand, sometimes it delves into quite a few of the many other films that the late actor was involved with, but he does talk about some of the directors that he worked with and about the real life friendship he shared with co-star Christopher Lee.

    Video supplements are also plentiful, kicking off with a black and white introduction from Fangoria editor Chris Alexander in which he talks about discovering this film in a discount bin at K-Mart (this writer also discovered the film for the first time on VHS at a discount bin at a local drug store!) and how as he’s learned more about horror movies, this one in particular over the years, he’s grown to appreciate despite being instantly drawn in by it on that first viewing years ago. It’s a nice retrospective look at the piece, but not quite as interesting as the interview with director Eugenio Martin who talks about the state of Cushing’s personal life around the time this film was made, how the project came to be, what it was like working with Cushing and Lee and how he did the best he could with the budget he had. Martin is pretty open about his experiences here and the interview is a nice addition to the set.

    The late Bernard Gordon, who produced the movie, also pops up here and talks on camera about his problems in the 1950s with McCarthy era blacklisting, the writing of a few other films he was involved with, and of course, his work on Horror Express. Composer John Cacavas talks about his relationship with Telly Savalas – he not only scored this movie in which Telly appears but produced two of Telly’s albums and handled most of the musical duties on Kojak. It’s a fun look back at the time they shared together and Cacavas has got some interesting stories to tell about the late actor. Rounding out the extras on the disc are a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other Severin properties – Nightmare Castle (the trailer looks great in HD – bring on the Blu-ray please?), Psychomania (same here!) and the House That Dripped Blood (the trailer looks awful here but bring on the Blu-ray anyway!), some menus and chapter selection options. All of the extras on the Blu-ray disc are in HD. As this is a combo pack the case also includes a DVD release of the movie with the same extras.

    The Final Word:

    Despite the lack of lossless audio, this is a pretty solid release overall. The movie itself is presented in the best shape most of us will have ever seen it in and in its completely uncut form – it remains a lot of fun, with some great performances and loads of atmosphere. On top of that Severin have come up with a really good selection of extra features here as well. All in all, fans of Horror Express should be pretty darn happy with this Blu-ray.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Barry M's Avatar
      Barry M -
    1. Mike Howlett's Avatar
      Mike Howlett -
      Man, am I psyched to grab this one!! That Cushing "commentary" interview sounds like the stuff this geek's dreams are made of!
    1. Paul Casey's Avatar
      Paul Casey -
      Looks good. The bloody eyeballs pic is my new desktop.
    1. Shawn Francis's Avatar
      Shawn Francis -
      Have had this mother on pre-order since late summer, I think. Man, that is some upgrade that movie got. Shit, those disturbing "eye trauma" shots look even more disturbing. And this flick already does a number on me whenever I watch it.
    1. Jamie Edwards's Avatar
      Jamie Edwards -
      Great review Ian. This movie is one of my favorites and Im glad you mentioned the soundtrack, there's some nasty fuzz guitar going on in it. Really cool that they went out of their way to add extras too.