The Motion Picture:
'Night Train to Terror' (1985), directed by John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen and Gregg C. Tallas
Also Known As:
'Death Wish Club,' 'The Nightmare Never Ends' and 'Scream Your Head Off,' the three films that footage was "borrowed" from to make this movie.
Featuring the Talented:
Ferdy Mayne as Mr. God, Tony Giorgio as Mr. Satan, Byron Yordan as the '80s-tastic singer of the rock band traveling on the titular locomotive and Richard Moll (Bull from 'Night Court') in not one, but two roles!
What Is It?
A deliriously wrongheaded, staggeringly incompetent 1980s horror anthology film that steals footage from three other films (two of them unfinished!) to pad out its running time. Full of extended claymation sequences, rapid voice-over work to fill in gaping plot holes, philosophical debates that feel like they came from a dorm room for the mentally impaired and frequent use of a massive, synth-driven '80s band rocking out on a doomed train occupied by God and Satan, 'Night Train to Terror' is easily one of the worst films ever made. It's also incredible.
We open with stock footage of a 19th century steam engine. We venture inside this train and meet the passengers: the world's largest rock band, all of them performing their latest opus entitled "Dance With Me." We'll see a lot of them throughout this movie. They sing the same song every time we see them. There is no audience, and they're in an empty train. In fact, here's that song right now:
They breakdance and they badly mime playing their instruments, all the while unaware that the train is scheduled to crash at dawn and that Mr. God and Mr. Satan (seriously) are sitting in a neighboring train car, discussing who gets to keep their souls when they meet their fiery end on this Night Train to Terror (they never actually say that out loud, but oh, I wish they did). God, a well-dressed older man with a white beard and even whiter suit, and Satan, an Italian guy, pass the time by examining recent events and deciding who gets to keep the souls involved. Their compartment window magically transforms through the power of bad optical effects into a portal that allows them to view footage from other movies that the producers stole without asking permission.
The first story follows a man who is drugged, hypnotized and forced to abduct women so an insane surgeon and his even more insane orderly can do all sorts of nasty business to them involving hacksaws and machetes. A lot of events that don't make any sense occur, including women being locked in padded cells, a man collecting severed heads in a neatly labeled jars and lobotomized people performing impromptu surgery on their enemies.
And then it's back to the train, back to the rock band and back to God and Satan going about their merry way. After God and Satan blather on about who's better (God brags that he can weep and laugh at the same time), we get into the next story, this one making even less sense. It has something to do with a rich man enticing a popcorn vendor into the world of pornography, growing jealous when she finds another man and forces them both to attend a "death wish club," where members place themselves into suicidal situations and see what happens. After avoiding death by a massive stop-motion bug, our heroes decide this is not for them, but armed thugs say otherwise and not even our protagonist's sudden knowledge of karate can save him. A net is thrown over him and he's dragged back into the deadly game once more. I dare not spoil the ending.
We're back on the train once more. We get to see the band play "Dance With Me Again." God and Satan still can't agree on anything. We enter the third and final story, this one involving a Nazi with Satanic powers who goes around not doing much while a bunch of other people try to kill him. This story (the longest of the three and the only one to come from a finished film) has the magical power to put everyone watching it into a deep sleep.
Finally, we go back to the train for the denouement. The train, which turns out to be model all along, crashes. God claims the souls of the rock band. Satan's not happy. The Night Train to Terror flies into heaven. The end.
Shocking Acts of Violence:
Although horror fans will not find anything particularly new going on with the gallons of red stuff in 'Night Train to Terror,' it has its moments. My personal favorite scene of violence is when the madman who decapitates his victims and preserves their heads gets beheaded. You know, because of the irony. Also of special note is the massive mutant mosquito, whose sting will cause your face to swell up and explode, and the scene where the woman attempts to surgery a demon to death, both of which are not without their charms.
Sexual Deviancy and Mindless Perversity:
At one point, God and Satan discuss the morality of the rock stars in the other train car and Satan claims that all rock stars' souls go to him because of their very nature. God doesn't agree and says that all rock stars are secretly praying to him through their music. Seriously. Because God seems to approve, 'Night Train to Terror's' stance on sex is pretty liberal overall, with one character entering a career in the adult film industry and seemingly having a blast while letting herself get bent over a bed by a fellow performer dressed like a frontiersman (complete with coonskin cap). Also: lots and lots of boobs, but that's a given. It was the '80s and this is a horror film, after all.
Is There A Robot?
A robot is the only thing 'Night Train to Terror' doesn't have and it's probably the one thing that could have possibly made it better than it is (and it's kind of amazing as it stands right now). While the film certainly lacks in robots, it does not lack in lousy claymation effects that were spliced into the already finished stolen footage. This is a good thing for two reasons. Firstly, this footage is terrible and the inclusion of an exploding head made of Play-Doh can only make things better (and it does). Secondly, it allows us to see a large demon, also made of Play-Doh, batter a helpless monk around a beach for about two minutes. Take comfort in the small things, boys and girls.
Just How Cheap Does It Look?
'Night Train to Terror' looks about as cheap as a movie that stole 95% of its footage from other movies should look. Considering that the other movies were also cheap pieces of garbage, the answer is super duper cheap. This is no more evident than in the final moments of the film, where the electric model train driving toward the camera across a wobbly tabletop meets its end through an abrupt cut to an explosion. It's impossible to imagine that more than $100 was spent on the making of this movie and surely most of that went to cocaine. And that's not a lot of cocaine.
To call 'Night Train to Terror' a bad film would be doing it a disservice. It's the worst film. In terms of production quality and such obvious behind-the-scenes greed, there is no better example of the film industry at its nadir than this nightmare. It's difficult to imagine anyone involved in this movie being proud of their work or having any motivation other than pocketing a quick buck and profiting off of other filmmaker's (admittedly, also awful) work.
But -- and this is a huge but -- 'Night Train to Terror' is also one of the most entertaining movies ever made, a one-of-a-kind example of how obvious disdain for things like story and character and tone can lead to something that's not only completely and totally watchable, but absolutely fascinating.
For example, take a look at the scenes that actually take place on the train, the wrap-around stuff that was shot to allow for the "stories" to exist. You have a modern rock band, dressed in typically '80s (i.e., garish) clothes riding on a train that is big enough to house their daily routine, which looks like a MTV music video. This band adds nothing to plot, never actually share a scene with God and Satan and feel crudely forced in because one of the producers seemed to have a crazy idea that if kids like pop music and break dancing, surely they have a place in a horror anthology film.
That lining of selfish, greedy reasoning leads to scenes that stand up against the best intentional modern art. If surrealism and absurdism are ultimately about deconstructing our normal view of the world, often by contradiction, what's stopping 'Night Train to Terror' from being an absurdist masterpiece? As bad as most of the ideas in this film are -- from God and Satan's incomprehensible debates to the train conductor breaking the fourth wall and winking at the audience -- they pile on top of each other, one after another, so fast and furious that you simply can't keep up with the incompetence on display. Most "good" bad films feature a handful of wonderful moments surrounded by an ocean of boredom. 'Night Train to Terror' plays like a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy; despite the film's completely straight face, it's nothing but one wacky gag after another, an accidental 'Airplane!' for '80s horror films.
It's one thing to make a bad movie. It's quite another to make a movie so bad that it shifts the paradigms of your brain, crawls through your grey matter and emerges from the back of your skull as a work of accidental art. You really, really need to see 'Night Train to Terror.'
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