Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Why ZOMBIES & SHARKS? Well, those are the two things that I’ve had the most nightmares about. It’s the reason I rarely swim in the ocean. It’s the reason I have an escape plan from my apartment just in case of a zombie apocalypse. Now if you’ve ever had those fears or fears like them, inspired mainly by nights upon nights of watching films of the frightening kind, this is the place for you. Look for AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS every Friday for the foreseeable future, horror hounds, where we’ll be covering horror in all forms; retro, indie, mainstream, old and new.
So UNSTOPPABLE comes out this weekend. I haven’t seen the film. Probably won’t. I know I shouldn’t judge a film by its trailer, but since a) the trailer pretty much showed me the whole movie (hate that, by the way), b) it’s got an incredibly lame plot of a runaway train carting every action movie cliché Tony Scott could think of, c) it’s got Denzel Washington doing his damndest to act this shit like it’s Shakespeare, and d) I seriously thought it was a preview for an action farce right up until the trailer ended, you can pretty much guarantee you won’t be seeing my butt in an UNSTOPPABLE theater seat this weekend. I mean, seriously, after seeing the trailer for this one for the first time, I leaned over to my friend and said, “They should have called it TRAINWRECK.”
So what’s a horror fan to do instead?
Well, I found three worthy horror alternatives that seem like ten times the film UNSTOPPABLE looks to be. I may be wrong. It could be the next MONEY TRAIN. If I am wrong, sue me. But at least it gave me a chance to check out these three train themed terrors and share them with you.
But before the train leaves the station, I have a cool horror themed contest for you guys…
ZOMBIE TRAMP CONTEST!
ALL ABOARD! Get your tickets ready, the terrors are about to leave the station…
THE GHOST TRAIN (1941)
TERROR TRAIN (1980)
GHOST TRAIN (2006)
And finally… BILLY BOB'S MEDICINE SHOW AND ZOMBIE HUNTIN' EMPORIUM!
THE GHOST TRAIN (1941)Directed by Walter Forde
Written by J.O.C. Orton with dialogue by Marriott Edgar & Val Guest from a play by Arnold Ridley
Starring Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch, Kathleen Harrison, Peter Murray-Hill, Carole Lynne
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s nice to take a trip back to yesteryear every now and then and check out the classics. With this train-themed column I blew the dust off of this golden oldie, THE GHOST TRAIN, a British film adapted from a play written by Arnold Ridley. It definitely feels like a stage adaptation in that most of the film takes place in a single room: a train station. I love blood and guts and highly CGI-ed monsters as much as the next guy, but every now and then, it’s good to see why the classics are called classics and THE GHOST TRAIN is an effective little ghost story.
As many know, the quality of any ghost story is all in the delivery. Here, a handful of random characters are dropped off at a train station later than scheduled. The passengers find out that there won’t be another train until morning and in spite of the station master’s warnings, they have to hunker down and sleep in the abandoned station all night. So the stage is set here for a pretty terrifying “One Dark Night…” story. But this is a story more of the power of superstition than actual ghosts. It does have a couple of really chilling scenes, though. Apparently the station is haunted and in an eerie scene, one of the locals describes a train wreck and how the train still passes by causing folks to go insane and some to drop dead from fright.
Sounds pretty terrifying, huh? Well, don’t get too excited. Apart from a few great gloomy scenes, this film is mainly a farce in that vaudevillian actor Arthur Askey chews the scenery like a zombie who…uhm…eats scenery…instead of brains…never mind, bad comparison. What I’m trying to say is that every time things get somewhat scary, Askey shows up and pisses in the punchbowl. Askey seems to be a part of a different movie altogether, as if the filmmakers were afraid to scare the audiences too much, so they filled the film with scenes of Askey hamming it up like a modern day Mr. Bean. Some of Askey’s antics are funny, but a little bit of this clown goes a long way. I started to get as annoyed with his wannabe Chaplin routine as the rest of the cast. Askey basically plays the Bugs Bunny character here, but with material as ripe as a train filled with ghosts, I was wishing he’d shut the fuck up and let me be scared already.
Though Askey proved to be annoying, the rest of the film is fun and I really liked the way THE GHOST TRAIN ended. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s a different kind of scare this film was going for, playing on our susceptibility to superstition and legend. If you can stomach all of the goofy bits, there’s a damn spooky film somewhere in THE GHOST TRAIN and it’s worth checking out. Watch the whole movie below if and when you have the time.
TERROR TRAIN (1980)Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Written by T. Y. Drake
Starring Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield(!), & Vanity(!!!)
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Man, I hadn’t seen TERROR TRAIN in ages and I couldn’t wait to check it out when I knew UNSTOPPABLE was coming round the bend and I was going to be putting this column together. Let me tell you what I remembered from the film prior to seeing it: it had Jamie Lee Curtis (post-HALLOWEEN, when she was just starting to look hot), it took place on a train (of course), and it had illusionist David Copperfield in it. Apart from those three facts, I completely forgot pretty much everything else about this film. For some reason though, every time the film popped up in my mind, there were fond memories, so I couldn’t wait to check it out again to see if it was just nostalgia or if the film was actually as good as I remembered, though in finding images for this review, I could only hope that the ad wizards who came up with the tagline in the poster to the right weren’t talking about the movie itself…
Note to self: Next time I think it’d be a good idea to play a practical joke on a twenty year old virgin by luring him into bed with a cadaver, watch this film to see how bad of an idea that is. This is a pretty twisted little movie. Sure, it’s basically HALLOWEEN on a train, but where it falls short on gore, its’ cup spilleth over with weirdness. The aforementioned virginal nerd is tormented by his pre-med school “friends” and after a prank goes wrong in the opening scene of this film, we quickly skip to a party occurring years later as the kids graduate college. Though it’s not Halloween, the kids decide to have a costume party on a train across a frozen wilderness. What could go wrong?
There’s some real talent behind the camera in TERROR TRAIN. A little investigating uncovered that this was director Roger Spottiswoode’s first film. Spottiswoode went on to direct SHOOT TO KILL (a personal favorite of mine starring Sidney Poitier, Kirstie Alley, Tom Beringer & Clancey Brown), TURNER & HOOCH, STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT, and TOMORROW NEVER DIES. While I wouldn’t categorize those films as classics of cinema (aside from SOMMWS of course), it is an impressive resume. Here Spottiswoode amps up the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped on a train with a killer. The corridors are tight and poorly lit. There are all kinds of closets and nooks for a killer to hide in (as exemplified with perfection in a scene where the ageless Hart Bochner holes himself into a room only to find the killer hiding in there with him). There’s all kinds of close discomfort going on in TERROR TRAIN, probably because the movie was filmed on a real train and the camera equipment back then was pretty bulky, so the close up shots were probably the only shots that could be taken. This is basically a whodunit: although we know who the killer is, there’s a train full of masked partiers. The tension is amped because the killer doesn’t stick to one costume. He switches from one to another throughout the film, making everyone a suspect, which plays on a Halloween motif never taken advantage of even in the HALLOWEEN films. Damn cool stuff.
There are good performances mainly provided by Ben Johnson (who many will know from THE WILD BUNCH, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, and maybe RED DAWN, but I know from THE TOWN THE DREADED SUNDOWN and THE SWARM) who plays a protective conductor who loves magic, Hart Bochner as a whiney med student who you can’t wait to see perished, and Jamie Lee Curtis finishes up her horror trifecta with this film after filming HALLOWEEN’s 1&2, and PROM NIGHT just before this one. Curtis gets down and dirty with the killer in this one as she runs from car to car trying to get away from him. This is a pretty physically demanding performance here, but I guess it didn’t cure Curtis from trains given that she starred in TRADING PLACES just a couple of years later which ends on a train too. As an added bonus, we have some pretty keen magic from illusionist David Copperfield which occasionally skids the story to a screeching halt much like the brakes on a train. These magic stops are fun, sure, but I couldn’t help but scoff a bit at how dorky Copperfield’s mesmerizing stage stare is.
More times than not, returning to a film I dug as a kid leaves me disappointed. Not the case here with TERROR TRAIN. Though I hear it was to be remade starring Thora Birch, it looks like that one got distributed as TRAIN, minus the terror. Haven’t seen that one. Maybe I’ll seek it out, but it’s got its work cut out for it if it’s going to match the quality scares and thrills in this TERROR TRAIN.
GHOST TRAIN (2006)A.K.A. OTOSHIMONO, GHOST TUNNEL, LOST & FOUND
Directed by Takeshi Furusawa
Written by Takeshi Furusawa & Erika Tanaka
Starring Erika Sawajiri, Shun Oguri, Aya Sugimoto
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I can’t say I’m an expert on J-horror, but I plan on checking out more in the future. In seeking out train related films for this column, this J-horror gem popped up. A little boy finds a ticket in a train station and as with films like ONE MISSED CALL and RINGU, the boy is cursed to die soon after. The initial sequence in this film gets right to the point and lets you know the rules this one is playing by: a) find a train ticket, b) sayonara. Simple as that and you have to admire the indiscriminate way this one plays out by killing an innocent kid right from the get go. Here, the makers of GHOST TRAIN let you know in the first few seconds that no one is safe. Well, unless, of course you choose walking or driving as your main mode of transportation.
Much like TERROR TRAIN, GHOST TRAIN is very derivative of previously successful films and though this one doesn’t add a lot to the genre, it does do what films like THE GRUDGE and THE RING do just as well. Creepy pale children, creepy pale women, ghostly images appearing and disappearing in the dark; we’ve seen it before in those other films. Basically, GHOST TRAIN has all of the stuff that made those J-horror films good and creepy set against the backdrop of a train and a train station.
Just because it’s not terribly original doesn’t mean it’s a bad film though. There are some really scary scenes in GHOST TRAIN. An effective sequence where a teen is hit by a train stands out as genuinely terrifying. Director Takeshi Furusawa does a great job of establishing mood and paying off the tension build-up with creepy imagery. Furusawa knows how to scare and fills this movie with a ton of jumps and frights, though I think a lot of this film takes its inspiration from the popular internet video of the ghostly face caught in a Japanese train station a few years ago that genuinely gives me shivers every time I see it.
GHOST TRAIN sets up a good mystery with a death no one wants to talk about and a ghost that no one wants to believe is real. The actors do a decent job in this film, though the two main actresses form a deep friendship that is played a bit melodramatically and occurs a bit too soon if you ask me. The story gets convoluted before the end, but the scares hit on the mark most of the time. The final scene where an entire train tunnel is overrun by creepy ghosts is a pretty striking image and ends the film with a bang. I found this film to be a pretty creepy albeit not too original flick, though if I had as many scares in a train station as they did, I may consider purchasing a bike. If you were ooked out by THE GRUDGE and THE RING, GHOST TRAIN is right up your alley.
And finally, seems now that THE WALKING DEAD is such a big hit, everyone’s trying to cash in on the zombie craze. Check out this infomercial I saw a few nights back…
See ya, next week, folks!
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Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the titles for purchasing info)! MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 & MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1. VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1 and #2 (interview, interview, preview, & review). VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #20 WITCHFINDER GENERAL (preview, review). NANNY & HANK miniseries #1, #2, #3, and #4(interview, interview, interview, preview). Zenescope’s upcoming WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010. THE DEATHSPORT GAMES miniseries #1, #2, #3, and #4 (in September Previews Order #SEP 100860, in stores in November 2010!).