In the spirit of Halloween and Sunday laundry, I’ve decided to liveblog some of the sillier horror movies in my and A.’s collection. First up:
also known as
Panic in the Trans-Siberian Train (ooh!)
This baby’s in the public domain, baby! Thus my copy is the epitome of shit: copyright (HAHAHAHAHAHA) 2007 by Synergy Entertainment,* it has no special features, no subtitles or alternate audio tracks, a shrunken and uglified version of this creepy cover with swoopy accents to show that it’s a part of the classy “Archive Series”:
Also, my cover title reads: Horror Express (1972) Because apparently there are many other Horror Expresses.** But who cares! Let’s get watching! And folding, because I have a lot of laundry and A. is going to make supper if I fold it. You true masochists out there feel free to watch along with me on Youtube:
The movie opens…with a train whistle. Hey, appropriate, right? Train whistle degenerates into a haunting shrill whistle, and then into a haunting jangly tune. This movie was made in Madrid. Whistly jangly song ends and we are treated to a misty mountain top, the voice of Professor Saxton (Christopher Lee), and this caption:
Obviously there is something archaeological going on. Sporting a sassy orange scarf, a very tall and dashing ushanka, and a wild black mustache, Prof Saxton “leads” his expedition of Chinese guides into a cave where no one has been in a really, really long time.
Electric guitar sounds as they sneak through the tight passageways. Suddenly, a minor fuzz chord: there’s a frozen withered body tucked away in a crevice. It’s golden-brown, crumbled with age, and covered with ice chunks. Its eyes seem to gleam at Saxton. “Jackpot!” says Saxton, and we cut to him and his guides walking down the mountain, lugging a long burlap-wrapped crate on their shoulders.
Cut to a train station (screen caption: Pekin: Concesion Rusa). The crate is now chained and padlocked. It is guarded by a stern Chinese man.
Cut to an office inside. Prof Saxton is arguing with a train station ticket guy about his reservation when in comes Peter Cushing and some lady. PETER CUSHING EVERYONE.
Dude but I love Peter Cushing. Look at that leap-slide at 2:00! And the candlestick cross action at 2:17! Just try to not love him! (Yes, dude I love Christopher Lee, too, and dude I love Michael Gough’s foppy-yet-stern Arthur Holmwood, but Peter Cushing wins today.)
Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) knows Saxton and introduces him to his throaty voiced technician lady friend, who we learn is Miss Jones. “She’s an excellent technician!” Wells says. “He means for a woman!” Miss Jones says. Guffaws all around. Yay, the 70s. Or ‘scuse me, yay, the turn of the 20th century.
Cut to back outside the office. A snazzily-dressed young man eyes up the guy guarding Saxton’s crate. He distracts the guy and pulls out a skeleton key – he’s a thief! He starts unlocking the padlock….and we cut away to more boring office/ticket talk. We cut back to see the guard returning to find the burlap messed up and the lock undone. He looks beneath the burlap and finds the young thief. He’s dead, and his eyes are open and completely white. Ick!
(They look partly like eyelids with goopy white paint on them, and partly like it’s real. Weird, contradictory, but true.)
Meanwhile, Prof Saxton gets mad, flexes his ‘stache, and pushes everything off the ticketmaster’s desk. What an academic diva. Some soldiers come in and give him some much needed support, and help him scare the guy into giving him a ticket. They leave to find minor chaos out by the train – a body by the crate! There’s also a monk there, lamenting. He looks like the lovechild of Charles Manson and Rasputin.
A police inspector scoffs at the death, saying the thief got what he deserved.
“Thief?” says the monk. “But he was blind.”
Cut to white goopy eyes! Eeek!
“The work of the devil!” says the monk, and tries to break into the cage.
“Step the hell back, that’s my crate.” says Saxton. He’s got on a new tall hat.
“But Satan’s in there!” says the monk. Damn, it really is a BIG crate.
After a lot of posturing the monk draws a chalk cross on the burlap and the soldiers put the crate on the train. Saxton supervises sans hat. Eerie church bells ring, the train whistle blows, and they all load up to leave. Dr. Wells asks Saxton some questions. Saxton says mind your own business.
Cut to a pretty lady (PL) with an annoying poodle. Saxton tries to flirt unsuccessfully, but is also thwarted by the dog, who cries at the crate. They leave, and Wells sneaks in to pay the cargo clerk to drill a hole in the crate and “see what’s inside.” Ooooh, foreshadowing!
Another pretty lady (PL2) in a teal dress cons her way into Dr. Well’s compartment. Saxton comes in and it’s decided – unhappily – that they will all share.
Meanwhile, cargo clerk is drilling a crate-hole (while he whistles the movie theme, heh). A creepy slimy hand snakes out of a gap in the crate. It picks up a nail and bends it into a hook, and picks the padlock! Way to go, unfrozen caveman Satan! Cargo clerk hears the ruckus and hurries back. He looks in, and BAM! Evil red caveman Satan eyes capture his gaze!
Cargo clerk’s eyes bleed, burn white and he collapses, dead. WHOA.
Cut to the Mansputin monk, who is traveling with PL and her husband. They are some kind of Polish royalty? They’re chilling in their royal traincar suite when they hear creepy music.
Back in the cargo hold, the Inspector from the station finds the bent nail. He scowls and stuffs the burlap back over the crate. In comes Saxton, filled with righteous archaeological anger at the removal of the padlock! (Man, Christopher Lee is a tall beast.) But they make him open it up, and everyone is shocked to see…the dead, staring-white eyes of the cargo clerk. SHOCK!
“It’s alive, it must be!” Saxton says. “Let’s study it for science!”
Naturally everyone else disagrees, and they start searching the train for Unfrozen Caveman Satan. A slimy hand momentarily threatens some sleeping children, but is frightened away by a searching soldier. No matter – another soldier stumbles upon him and UC Satan handily throttles him and gives him the white-eye treatment.
Meanwhile, everyone else dresses in their evening clothes and goes to eat dinner. Dr. Wells notices something interesting on their plates: “The eye of that fish. It’s white!”
“Why yes,” says his dinner companion. “It’s boiled.”
Wells grabs Miss Jones and they go to the cargo car to do an autopsy in their evening clothes. Peter Cushing – er – Wells looks pretty great with his tuxedo shirt sleeves rolled up. They saw open the dead man’s skull. His brain is “smooth as a baby’s bottom,” says Miss Jones, as Wells pokes it. “This brain has been drained! Memory has been removed…like chalk erased from a blackboard.”
Meanwhile Saxton flirts with PL. Wells, chipper from his autopsy, comes back and flirts with PL2. PL2 says she’s going to the ladies’ but then sneaks into the cargo car – she’s a thief, too! She starts fiddling with a safe, when she’s snatched by UC Satan! Throttling commences, eyes bleed, her irises fade as the thing sucks out all her memories.
Wells has on a smoking jacket now and he looks pretty ready for love. He knocks at the ladies’ toilet door. No answer. He investigates further, moving into the cargo room. Suddenly he’s grabbed by UC Satan! Luckily, the Inspector (nameless still. Oh well) comes up behind them and shoots UC Satan with his gun. Unfortunately for nameless Inspector, UC Satan glares at him with his magic red eye and…falls down dead. Nameless Inspector faints.
[Interlude to fold clothes and take dog and A. for walk]
We find the Nameless Inspector recovering and having rather too much knowledge for a mere man. He goes to interview Mansputin and the Polish royals. Mansputin declares: “Satan lives!”
He begins praying to the icon on the wall. Nameless Inspector glares at it and a candle winks out, and the icon falls. Mansputin is shocked and chagrined!
Meanwhile, Wells, Saxton and Miss Jones decide that they’re going to dissect the now-dead Unfrozen Caveman Satan’s eye, because of the glowy redness and the smooth braininess. They cut out the eye, stick a needle in it and exam the needle’s contents under a microscope. (Science!) What do they see? Prehistoric paintings. EARTH FROM SPACE.
Satan lives, indeed! A fallen angel! Or is he an alien?! Shit! W, S and MJ show the Polish Royalty Pretty Lady. Then Mansputin comes in and they show him. He starts quoting scripture, and then says, “The eye of Sataaaan!”
“No!” says Saxton. “There’s a scientific explanation.”
“Do you know it?” asks Wells.
“Well, no. Not yet.” :(
Mansputin takes the eye and runs! Our sciency detectives follow.
“I’ll look in the baggage car,” says Miss Jones. The first murder happened there. PL2 and Nameless policeman got killed there. WHY THE HELL DO ANY OF THESE PEOPLE EVER GO BACK TO THE BAGGAGE CAR. Plus it’s also a makeshift morgue – they’re keeping all the dead bodies there. Anyway. Miss Jones peeks at the bodies to check on them, when Nameless Inspector comes up behind her! His hand is all furry! Satan’s a werewolf! He wrangles out of her the information about who’s seen the satanic eyeball, and then turns out the lights and eye-sucks her.
Mansputin approaches and says, “are you going to kill me?”
“There’s nothing in your head of any use,” says Satan Werewolf Inspector. Haha.
[Interlude 2: dinner and Curb Your Enthusiasm]
Satan Werewolf Inspector tries to still the panic by threatening to shoot everyone on board the train. He stakes out Wells, Saxton and PL, he turns out the lights to kill some bearded dude. Mansputin interrupts to say, “Tell me who you are! I must serve you! I want to help you!” SW Inspector is not impressed.
Meanwhile, the Three Science Detectives (Wells, Saxton and PL) decide they’ll start looking at everyone’s eyes with a magnifying glass. Unfortunately, when they examine SW Inspector’s eyes, they appear normal. Damn! Things are getting crazy and Telly Savalas STILL hasn’t shown up.
Cut to some black-clad soldier dudes in a telegraph office. “The train will be here in exactly 14 minutes!”
“14 minutes,” says a familiar voice. It’s Telly Savalas! He’s passing the time with a lady under some furs while he waits. Sigh. “The Devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack.”
Meanwhile, back on the train, SW policeman is going from car to car, giving people the red eye. Wells and Saxton stalk him, and Wells has a really long gun. Suddenly the train stops at Telly Savalas’ station, and he and his troop of Cossacks board with panache. Telly drinks shots and tosses them over his shoulder. His coat has black fur trim and lots of buttons, very nice.
“I’m an American and I’m not accustomed to being bullied by foreigners!” says the sole American representative on the train. As always, nice.
Telly takes control and officially arrests everyone and points a gun and has his soldiers beat the hell out of Wells and Saxton. Mansputin threatens to curse anyone who touches Satan Werewolf Inspector. “On your knees, monk!” says Telly, and beats the hell out of him, too. The horror. He rumbles SW Inspector and Saxton, finally figuring it out, turns out the lights. Satan Werewolf Inspector’s eyes glow! All hell breaks loose!
Telly throws a knife into his back and shoots him, but SW Inspector gets away. Mansputin follows and takes Satan into himself, thus becoming…Mansputin. All the lights go out and Mansputin kicks his eye glowiness up to eleven and takes out the entire Cossack regiment. Even Telly gets the white-eye. Guess he wasn’t very honest, after all.
The train is out of control! Luckily the whistle still works. Mansputin comes back to the Polish Royalty’s traincar suite and tries to convert kill them. He kills the Count, but Saxton comes in with a light and a rifle. Yay!
Confession time: it’s not Satan. Mansputin reveals that he’s a being of energy from another world! He came joyriding to Earth with his buddies and they forgot him. He begs Saxton to let him go.
“WTF?” says Saxton. “Hello, scientist?”
“Okaaaay,” says Mansputin. He rolls his eyes around and proceeds to resurrect all the white-eyes on the train, using them as his own personal zombie army. Saxton and PL shoot and spear a bunch of them. The train continues to speed along. Who’s blowing the whistle if no one’s driving?
Cut to the engine room: Mansputin’s driving the train!
More zombies stalk Saxton, PL and Wells down the corridors. Wells has the bright idea of disconnecting their car, the last car, from the rest of the train. In a stunning climax of smoke and darkness and some explosions, the train goes over a cliff (there was a reason for this; “Moscow” found out about the energy being/Satan/Mansputin and diverted the train to an unfinished track) and our three Science heroes (well, a scientist, a doctor and a pretty lady who might be Polish Royalty) survive to peer out over the edge at the carnage. The end!
Oh, and there’s a hip rockin’ version of the theme song for the end credits. Whew, I’m pooped.
Bonus: this DVD is one of those great cheap ones that starts over immediately. Never quit, Synergy!
*For what, the cover design? Yeah, that’s going to win an award.
**No, according to IMDB, there aren’t. But what do they know, right? I trust Synergy implicitly.