Horror Express aka Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express (1972) UK/Spain Dir: Eugenio Martín (as Gene Martin) Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Alberto De Mendoza, Telly Savalas
During an expedition to China in 1906, British anthropologist Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) discovers the frozen corpse of an ape like creature. Believing it to be the Missing Link in human evolution, he has the cadaver packed into a crate aboard the Trans Siberian Express ready for transport back to England. When the ‘corpse’ thaws out the creature springs to life and begins butchering various stock euro actors. Refusing to believe it at first Saxton is spurred into action by the mounting body count, aided by rival scientist Dr Wells (Cushing). Nowadays, this would be the setup for the whole movie, but this being a visually lush bonkers Euro co-production from the early 70’s, matters do not rest here. Soon after offing several of the passengers, the ape creature is seemingly despatched, only for it to be revealed that it was merely the vessel for a malign alien intelligence that arrived on earth millions of years ago. Possessing the body of the Rasputin like priest Father Pujardov (a great scene stealing turn by Alberto de Mendoza), a companion and spiritual advisor to fellow passenger Count Petrovski, a Polish aristo. The alien seeks to utilise the Count’s metallurgical expertise to construct a craft to escape earth in. Of course…
Based very loosely on The Thing from Another World (1951), Horror Express is every bit as crazily wonderful as it sounds, firmly underpinned by the presence of horror generalissimo’s Cushing and Lee playing the whole thing straight (no mean feat given some of the hilariously bad ‘science’ uttered by the actors), de Mendoza’s Grand Guignol performance as the priest pledging allegiance to the alien intelligence believing it to be Satan(!), and a scenery chewing late entrance by Telly Savalas as police officer Captain Kazan, convinced that the whole imbroglio is a revolutionary plot to overthrow the tsar.
A graveyard schedule regular on the BBC in the 80’s and early 90’s, Horror Express exhibits the lush and decadent visuals unique to euro productions of the era, and is one of the last glorious gasps of the stylised old world horror period kicked off by Hammer studios in the late fifties. Produced between more visceral and immediate films like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and auteur horror The Exorcist (1973), it’s strange to think that only a couple of years separate this delightfully old fashioned romp from the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
A must see for fans of Cushing and Lee and a respectable addition to any horror fan’s collection.