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John Ary Boards TERROR TRAIN!!

John Ary here with a look at a new Blu-ray release to help get you in the Halloween spirit.  When a train full of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters embark on a night of drinking, sex and David Copperfield magic tricks, their lives are forever changed.  This my friends is the setup of Terror Train, a 1980 slasher that cemented Jamie Lee Curtis as a certified “scream queen.”

It’s New Year’s Eve and an excited group of college students plan to party in style, on a train!  For our main characters, this appears to be their final big college blowout as several of them will soon be graduating and getting jobs.  The first 15 minutes establishes just what kind of people we’re dealing with.  The members of Sigma Phi love a good prank, especially if it involves stealing cadavers from the college research lab.  Their ringleader Doc Manley, seems to drive the gags and cruel jokes played on the freshmen.  We find out early on that one of his freshman pranks ended very badly, sending a pledge into a mental hospital where he hasn’t been heard from since.  They also like to drink and have sex.  Annnnnnyway, enough of this boring exposition.  It’s time to don a costume and get this party started.  Throughout the trip, college kids begin to disappear one-by-one.  Is this just another dumb prank by Doc Manley and his fraternity brothers or are the partygoers in real danger?  That’s what the train’s conductor must find out before it’s too late.  Did I also mention that these college kids like to drink and have sex?

Terror Train surprised me.  This little picture delivers some decent kills, good performances, and tight production values throughout.  It handles the murders in a clever way, never really showing the bloody details.  Instead, it usually just gives us the bloody aftermath.  With everyone wearing costumes, you never truly know if the person standing next to one of the main characters is a Sigma Phi member or deranged serial killer. This also makes the protagonists question throughout the movie whether the deaths are part of a sick prank or the deadly plan of a deranged individual.  Thanks to a tight script that allows for some minor character development and brisk pacing, the film never slows down, continually chugging away to the finale.  If you’re really paying attention to all of the characters and clues, it won’t be hard to spot the mastermind behind this New Year’s Eve massacre.  Even if you do figure it out, the pace and atmosphere will keep you engaged until the train pulls into the station.

The film benefits from having a great mix of talent.  Although it was an independent film shot in Canada, it featured an impressive roster both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.  This was Roger Spottiswoode’s first film as a director.  Before this he was editing movies for Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill.  He brought with him a strong sense of timing as the film ebbs and flows nicely in between the exposition and the bloody killings.  The look of the movie can be attributed to John Alcott, a cinematographer who frequently worked with Stanley Kubrick on films like Barry Lyndon and The Shining.  He relies on practical lighting for the train’s brooding darkness, using items like christmas lights, flashlights and the fixtures within the scene to set the mood.  On screen, Ben Johnson played Carne the train conductor.  The Oscar winner adds some depth to the role as he works to protect the young people from the torment of their attacker.  Johnson’s scenes with his younger co-stars have a wonderful grandfather-like quality to them.  Then there is THE go to girl for slasher movies between 1978 and 1981. This is the fourth starring role for Jamie Lee Curtis in a horror flick and she gives a strong performance.  Before this, she proved herself to be bankable genre lead with films like Halloween,  The Fog and Prom Night.  Terror Train gives Curtis some good material to work with as she constantly shifts between scenes of soft vulnerability and gritty toughness.  It’s a fine performance that anchors the film.


Then there’s the Copperfield effect.

Yes.  David Copperfield shows his acting range by playing a creepy magician.  Before he made the Statue of Liberty disappear or he walked through the Great Wall of China on TV...


...there was Terror Train.  Not only does he perform for the drunk college kids in a terribly generic stage show, but he attempts to woo Jamie Lee Curtis with his greatest weapon... the power of magic!  For those who enjoy a good drinking game may I suggest taking a shot every time Mr. Copperfield gives his best “blue steel” facial expression and two shots for every terrible trick he performs.  I guarantee that you’ll be wasted before the final act.  As someone who doesn’t appreciate the talents of Mr. Copperfield, I find myself conflicted.  His appearance in the film actually works.  The filmmakers incorporate his dark and intense persona into the movie and make him a convincing suspect in the killings.  Why Jamie Lee Curtis’ character would ever be attracted to him is a mystery to me, but then again, this guy was somehow engaged to Claudia Schiffer for five years.

The movie got a VHS release in 1988 and a couple of barebone DVD releases in 2004 and 2008, but on Tuesday, October 16 Shout Factory will give it the Blu-ray treatment.  The pack comes with a DVD copy of the film, interviews with some of the production folks involved and your standard photo gallery and marketing materials.  The image quality on the transfer is okay.  The print has lots of small dusts particles and scratches, but in a way it adds to the early 80’s vibe.

Terror Train holds up well with solid production values, good performances and a script that keeps the viewer engaged until the end.  It’s not as good as the horror movie it stole much of it’s material from, but few films can rival the filmmaking of the original Halloween.  

If you can’t get enough horror this month, check out my Ain’t It Scary Reviews series.


And for more news, reviews and interviews subscribe to the AICN Youtube channel and follow me on Twitter.






Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 9, 2012, 8:34 a.m. CST

    haven't seen this one yet, but I'll seek it out

    by Monnie Knapp

    I too love drinking and sex.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST

    I need a good horror flick recommendation for 10-11 year old girls

    by prince_fufu

    My daughter's bday is on Halloween, and she will be having a bunch of friends over. My plan is after the party, settle them down to a horror flick that is scary as hell, but with mild language and no sexual content. During the movie, about 3/4 into it, I'm planning on cutting the power to the house. I will bring out a battery powered radio that will have a prerecorded newscast about strange events happening around town (strange green mist, reports of violence...etc. ) I will go "outside to check the circuit" whereby I will die a horrible death and my adult friends will assault the house dressed as zombies or something similar. I figure this site could point me to a good movie to get them primed, and maybe also a movie with a precanned "news report" that I can rip and have play on the radio. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  • Hell, my grown-up self is utterly jealous of your daughter. Why aren't you my dad, damn it?

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 9:30 a.m. CST

    So how much money did Shout Entertainment give you to plug this?

    by Smerdyakov

  • I can't think of too many movies that meet your requirements off the top of my head. You could always cut the power before the movie gets bloody. Halloween is a classic and may have the least amount of blood and sex in the beginning. Maybe the original Night of the Living Dead, that would go with your friends zombie attack. You'll really have to watch them before hand and see if you feel they are ok to watch. The Mist was good but as I said, I'm not sure about the swearing and blood.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 9:37 a.m. CST

    I have a confession

    by Stan Arthur

    I saw this on my honeymoon. It was playing at the little twin theaters in Andrews, North Carolina. Also seen during honeymoon, Fulci's Zombie at The Cherokee Twin in Cherokee, which has been a clothing outlet store now for at least 20 years.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 9:42 a.m. CST


    by John Ary

    My suggestions would also be Night of the Living Dead, Gremlins, or Poltergeist. Your daughter and her friends are very lucky.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 9:43 a.m. CST


    by Horrorfanatic

    Any of the paranormal activity films would probably fit the bill. Blair Witch might be okay as well. I know people's propensity on this site to condemn the "found footage" genre, so I expect to hear about that.

  • ...that way, instead of a blackout and newscast, you could just make scary noises, slam doors or have someone (out of view of the girls) toss stuff.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 10:31 a.m. CST

    prince fufu - I'd go with Drag me to Hell or the Thing.

    by dalcross

    kids today won't look favourably if you go with a 30 year old film with bell bottoms and tube socks, so I'd go with probably the finest PG-13 recent horror film Drag me to Hell. But if you want monsters, start at the top - The Thing. No nudity, no major language, just flat out monsters.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 10:39 a.m. CST

    Time to put Fatal Pulse and Invisible Maniac on Blu-Ray.

    by Smerdyakov

  • Not only is David Copperfield in it, but Jamie Lee Curtis is in top form as well. And some how the slower pace to its first act doesn't lose your attention. Great fucking movie!

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 11:39 a.m. CST

    BTW, "Terror Train" is available to watch in full on youtube!!!

    by notcher

  • I know you gentlemen have been through a lot. But when you find the time... I'd rather not spend the rest of the winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH! Plus the movie is pretty bloody.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 12:09 p.m. CST

    prince fufu: ma-ma-ma Monster Squad!

    by Monnie Knapp

    Fred Dekker's 80's send up of the classic Universal Monsters is perfect for your daughter's party. Lots of monsters (with great make-up) and good scares, but no kids die and there's no sex (though they do talk about sex quite a bit).

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 12:26 p.m. CST

    prince_fufu - The Hole

    by dpc01

    Joe Dante's The Hole, which just came out on video, is kind of like a child's introduction to horror films. It has a lot of scenes suggestive of other genre films, but is geared towards younger teenagers. A 10 year old would be frightened, but in a fun way. Drag Me to Hell or The Thing would cause serious nightmares, and anger other parents.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 12:42 p.m. CST


    by Bryan White

    I highly recommend any of Romero's original work, any of his zombie flicks will accompany your planned scare wonderfully. If you wanna take an offbeat path and play a movie you may not even be familiar with I recommend a film by an italian filmmaker by the name of Lucio Fulci called "Zombie" made back in 1979, this film is very fun to watch and filled with tons of gore. Those films are very good if you want to go the zombie route. Now when I was a kid I was shown 2 films as starters, these 2 films were "People Under The Stairs" and "Pet Cemetery"; I highly recommend these films. Introduction to horror is a very special moment in anyone's life, so have a fun time with it, I would even say show her the first horror film you ever saw; have a wonderful Hallow's eve with your daughter.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 12:58 p.m. CST

    @prince_fufu precanned news

    by Bryan White

    I recommend any an emergency noise like followed by

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 1:02 p.m. CST


    by Monnie Knapp

    So your parents were as cool as mine. We cannot expect, though, that these kids' parents feel the same way. Fulci's Zombi would probably not go over really well with most parents. Night of the Living Dead is pretty tame, comparably, but the kids may find the black & white to be "boring" ('cause they are kids). I think that's why something more attuned to kids would be a better choice.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 1:13 p.m. CST

    @the g_mork

    by Bryan White

    Ya, my parents took me to see all the horror flicks I wanted growing up, I am fairly young, but I remember being 8 and seeing Thirteen Ghosts, Ghosts of Mars, as well as Happiness of The Katakuri's and then being 9 and my dad taking me to see Cabin Fever, 28 Days Later, and Ghost Ship all in the same year, so I guess I had a little more open minded parents than most, but I feel like I grew up just fine.

  • American Werewolf in London. Yes, it has a bit of the 80's style in it but not so much that it should be distracting. No bell-bottoms that I'm aware of anyway. Though, not being a 10-11 year old girl, I really have no idea what would be distracting but I do know that AWiL is a holy-shit scary movie. A bit of nudity here and there tho - might be too much...but if that doesn't deal-break it... I saw it in the theater around that age and it's still one of the scariest and BEST theater experiences I've ever had. Either way, you need something with lots of atmosphere and lots of mood. Gremlins is a fantastic movie but not overtly scary, ya know? Same for Poltergeist (tho admittedly much scarier than Gremlins). A tough call as most of the better atmosptheric horror films are also rated R with boobs or something. Great idea tho - Halloween (the holiday) rules absolute!!!!

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 1:33 p.m. CST

    Guys, thanks for your responses

    by prince_fufu

    As to the Thing, I believe there would be too many F-bombs to watch. I will look into People Under the Stairs, that may be a potential contender. I am thinking of the original Night of the Living Dead also might work. I loved the Mist, but there is too much language in that ast well. I almost need a cut for TV version of Halloween or something. Think creepy, not necessarily gorey...

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 2:19 p.m. CST

    Have a psychologist on standby.

    by Bubba Gillman

    Just in case.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 2:20 p.m. CST

    And how about Woman in Black?

    by Bubba Gillman

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 2:41 p.m. CST

    bah give me HORROR EXPRESS...

    by foree forehead

    ...telly savalas, peter cushing, christopher lee instead!

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 3:06 p.m. CST

    @prince_fufu OOH

    by Bryan White

    I just thought of one that really creeped me out as a kid, but is pretty kid friendly! HOUSE is a great one! For a 10 year old I would say this is the best one to watch!

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 3:33 p.m. CST


    by Terry Powell

    ...might I suggest Psycho? Black and white, sure(but I don't think that made color a requirement) but no nudity, no extreme violence(at least by modern day standards) and no foul language. And best of all, it is a bona fide classic of horror. Kinda too bad you probably can;t find a copy of I Saw What You Did about a couple of teenage girls playing phone pranks who prank the wrong guy. In the same vein there is I Know What You Did Last Summer, but I don't remember how much cursing and graphic violence there is. The same with the first Jeepers Creepers. Or there's always The Sixth Sense or The Ring.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 3:59 p.m. CST


    by Glenn

    Eh...just get permission slips from their parents. It's not like they're unaware of what boobs are. This country, I swear...(or maybe I shouldn't swear).

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 4:08 p.m. CST

    Awesome suggestions!

    by prince_fufu

    House is great, I forgot about that one. It does have a couple of F-bombs though. Horror Express looks pretty good, I haven't seen it, so I'm not sure if it being such an old film will be a turn off? Woman in Black looks like it is scary as hell and has minimal swearing according to IMDB. I saw this as a play in London a few years back and it may just do the trick! Thank you for you suggestions they have been very helpful.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 4:10 p.m. CST


    by Nichole

    I would recommend The Fog. Creepy atmosphere, opens with a ghost story, lots of lights going out. You could even use Barbeus' radio broadcast. Remember watching it as a kid, and it does the trick. You could even get a fog machine!

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 4:20 p.m. CST


    by prince_fufu

    My daughter has seen that one and loved it, but I want her scared and since she has seen it, the scare factor will be lessened. One that I saw a few years back and liked was Joyride, it had elements of the Duel that creeped me out. I think it had too may curse words and innuendo though. There have been a few Dr. Who episodes, like "Blink", "Midnight", and "Silence in the Library" all scared the crap out of my kids. To this day they still get creeped out by stone angels in people's yards. I think Woman in Black may be a contender, but I'll rent and watch the movie version before I proceed. Doesn't some zombie movie (I haven't seen all of them) start with a news cast about the dead coming to life?

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 4:36 p.m. CST


    by prince_fufu

    I have 5 fog machines! (I really play up my daughters party/halloween) I remember watching this as a kid and jumping up off the floor and getting on the couch with mom. I wonder if it is still as scary to kids all these years later? I could really tie that in with what I'm trying to do! Great suggestion! That is now my top pick. :)

  • Been looking for the title. It was a real cheapie.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 4:42 p.m. CST

    Yeah! I think it would still hold up.

    by Nichole

    Not really gory. Has some drinking, but that ain't too bad. It just drips with atmosphere, and the fact you all ready have fog machines is great. The mariners are essentially zombies too :) Don't forget all the radio broadcasts to the town.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 5:31 p.m. CST


    by Jared Parker

    what about john carpenter's THEY LIVE? good old fashioned horror flick with a comic touch.

  • The Gate is another good scary one for kids, or Troll, Ghoulies, Frankenhooker... oh wait, not Frankenhooker.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 9:29 p.m. CST

    prince fufu. Cool idea.

    by adeceasedfan

    So far I think The Ring is your best bet, but you might consider Argento's Suspiria or Phenomena. Both are scary, have female protagonists and mild language.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 5:19 a.m. CST


    by BackoffmanImaScientist

    I can't believe some of the suggestions... the guy asked for light on the gore and sex and someone throws out ZOMBIE? C'mon! Maybe those kids haven't seen The Sixth Sense? PG-13, no sex or real violence I can remember, although that little ghost girl barfing was grody. Here's some more suggestions: The first CHILD'S PLAY (some cursing) Dark Night of the Scarecrow (made for tv) Stuart Gordon's DOLLS (PG but pretty creepy)

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 8:13 a.m. CST

    backoofmanimascientist, those are good too

    by prince_fufu

    But phantomcreepreturns suggested the Fog and I think that will definitely be my pick this time. My plan is to cut the power to the house, then start the fog machines going, and when enough fog is out start some creepy lighting outside the house with some effect lights. I'll have my friends dressed in clothing similar to the movie, maybe with plastic sythes and sickles and they can stand out side the windows.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 9:24 a.m. CST


    by JamesT

    Salem's Lot the original 79 TV movie. Still holds up and what's better than a vampire movie?

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 10:58 a.m. CST


    by BackoffmanImaScientist

    Hope your medical insurance is stellar - she's gonna need a good therapist after this! Try, in some fashion, to keep us posted on how it goes!

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 12:51 p.m. CST

    I'll try

    by prince_fufu

    Though I'm not sure this discussion thread will be relavent after halloween, but I'll try to get the word out. :)

  • Oct. 28, 2012, 12:20 a.m. CST

    The fog was a giant hit, video follows

    by prince_fufu

    Guys, this went off beautifully. I'll post this to a more recent review as well. Video is dark, but audio is wonderful.