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“NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR” (DVD Review)

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Within its opening three minutes, the 1985 bizarro horror anthology film NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR segues from a choreographed New Wave dance number—think the FLASHDANCE wardrobe department projectile vomiting across the set of a 1980s LOVERBOY video—to a grandiloquent debate over human freewill between a Count Dracula-ish Satan and a God so ridiculously archetypal he makes George Burns’ turn in OH, GOD! look like Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST.

And this might very well be the least surreal sequence in the whole damn film.

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR somehow manages to draw together extremely disparate elements including (but not limited to!) feather-haired immortal demon Nazis with a penchant for silk shirts and disco; the pre-VHS/Internet 8 mm underground porn industry; white boy Kung-Fu fighting; stop-motion animated malignant ghouls; a Death Club whose members gleefully submit themselves to face-melting shocks from an “electrocution computer,” bashes from a (head) wrecking ball, and the Tanzanian winged beetle’s “sting of death”; Bull from NIGHT COURT (AKA Richard Moll) as an firebrand atheist with a gateway to Hell in his closet; garish breakdancing (not to be confused with aforementioned white boy Kung Fu); the most clear-cut case of operating room medical malpractice, like, ever; one fiery claymation crucifixion; a sanitarium moonlighting as a Burke & Hare-esque for-profit limb-hawking slaughterhouse run by…Bull from NIGHT COURT (AKA Richard Moll); various and sundry spectral manifestations; and, pace Bill Hicks, an exchange, which appears to decisively settle the issue of whether God digs rock n’roll. (“Some of it,” he avers, “is quite touching.”)

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Now, if this kind of kitchen sink-ism sounds like a recipe for a hopelessly disjointed narrative—well, it’s all that and a bag of popcorn. The three “chapters” woven into the overarching God-and-Satan-suss-out-the-fate-of-certain-souls-while-waiting-for-a-train-full-of-musicians-to-derail structure were at one time all feature length films, edited down here to fit the anthology format. It’s the textbook definition of a hot mess, but, oddly enough, the lack of coherence ultimately serves the film. NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is more a kinetic, unwieldy, almost-giddy insane fever dream rather than, you know, a feat of linear storytelling.

That’s either your jam or it isn’t. Caveat emptor.

As for supplemental materials, Vinegar Syndrome offers up another superb package, setting edifying, inspiring interviews with director/producer Jay Schlossberg-Cohen and editor Wayne Schmidt alongside an excellent commentary track from THE SLASHER MOVIE BOOK author/Hysteria Lives! podcast host J.A. Kerswell. Then, for those who would like to catch a glimpse of the weird well from which the NIGHT TRAIN essence was extracted, there is GRETTA, an unexpurgated eighty-minute source version of one segment that indulges its wanton gritty, seedy 70s-style exploitation to the hilt.

Crazy train, indeed.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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