Terror Train

Year:  1980
Director:  Roger Spottiswoode
Cast:  Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, Sandee Currie
Fright Meter Award Winner:  Best Actress

A college joke-gone-wrong comes back to haunt a group of co-eds as they celebrate New Years Eve years later by having an extravagent masquerade party on train.  An unknown killer, hellbent on seeking revenge for the prank, begins killing those responsibility and in a clever move, stealing their costume to easily blend into the crowd.

Prom Night on a train.  That pretty much sums up the plot of this film, as the same motives and themes are explored in this film.  And, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis is in both films.  She plays practically the same character she did in Prom Night, but she is actually given more to do here and delivers a very solid, layered performance. But it is the atmosphere and setting of Terror Train that sets it apart from its obvious inspirations.  As simple as the idea of a train setting is, director Roger Spottiswoode does a marvelous job at making it as creepy and clausterphobic as possible as he utilizes tight and long shots of the train's empty corridors to project the tightness of the setting.  Not only are the characters in tight restricted space, but this does not allow them many escape options, which is another brilliant aspect to the train setting. This definitely is highlighted during one of the most memorable final confrontations between heroine and killer in horror history. The vision of the killer coming down the narrow corridor of the train wearing a black robe and the creepy old man mask and clutching the axe is an iconic image from the 1980's slasher genre.  However, the rest of the plot is not nearly as memorable and the killings are pretty tame, considering the time period the film was released when it was becoming all about the gore and bodycount.  The revelation of the killer is very clever and again, the film contains one of the best final chase scenes and final killer vs. herione showdowns of the genre. The cast is solid, including Oscar winner Ben Johnson and a young David Copperfield.

Overall, a solid film, much more stylish and polished compared to other horror films of its time.  A tad slow in parts, but the real payoff comes in the last fifteen minutes.

Fright Meter Grade:

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