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Last train on the left
A UK region 0 DVD review of NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS / L'ULTIMO TRENO DELLA by Gort
 

There are a few minutes at the start of Aldo Lado's 1975 horror Night Train Murders (L'Ultimo treno della notte – literally The Last Train of the Night, but see the right-hand bar for the many alternative titles) that chill me to the bone. They don't involve physical violence or graphic imagery, but a truly horrible song that runs under the opening credits, warbled at an ear-piercing pitch by Demis Roussos. Remember him? No? You lucky bastard. It's a skin-crawling start to a film that deserves better music, and after this it gets it, courtesy of one Ennio Morricone. Now him you SHOULD know.

Night Train Murders kicks off like an American disaster movie, with characters gathering to take their seats on what you assume is going to be the train of the title, in spite of the fact that it departs in the day. There are a few decorative macguffins, including a compartment crammed with clerics and a collection of boisterous old ex-Nazis, but our attention is soon focussed on a specific few characters. There's an unnamed woman with an air of superiority, who engages in conversation with the bookwormish academic sitting opposite her when she realises that he's famous for something. Then there's bubbly teenage friends Margaret and Lisa, who are travelling back to Italy to spend Christmas with Lisa's family. And let's not forget Blackie and Curly, two leather-jacketed yobs who almost make that opening song tolerable by beating up Santa Claus and stealing his money. They don't have tickets, of course, and wander through the crowded carriages with a big sign saying WE ARE BAD NEWS figuratively hovering over their heads.

When the journey is delayed by a bomb scare, Lisa and Margaret decide to abandon the train and catch one that promises to get them to their destination sooner than hoped. It's a lot less crowded than the one they've just left, and someone's clearly forgot to switch on the heating or lighting in the carriages. And night has now fallen. Uh-oh. The train departs and the pair make the best of it by fixing themselves a Christmas meal by candlelight, but guess who else is on board? Yes, every one of the characters we've recently been introduced to, including Blackie and Curly. The problem for the girls is these two really are as unpleasant as their attitude and clothing suggests. They've already threatened another passenger with a knife and knocked him unconscious, and followed the woman with no name into the toilet and grabbed her privates. The thing is, she rather liked it and has now teamed up with the boys to actively egg them on.

Once this trio of reprobates are installed in the girls' compartment (their presence creepily announced by Curly's wailing harmonica in the manner of Charles Bronson in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, also scored by Morricone, of course), things take a turn for the nasty. What starts with verbal humiliation quickly escalates to physical abuse and rape. But even that's not enough for the drug-wired Curly, who uses his knife to knife to... well, if you're looking reasons why the UK censor originally rejected the film outright, I'm willing to put money on this sequence as the chief culprit.

It's in this grim midsection, weakened only by the breathing-space cross-cutting to a dinner party being held by Lisa's parents, that the film finds its feet and moves into the darker territory promised by the title. But it's also here that it starts to come clean about its key influence, confirmed by later events that I see no reason to reveal here but which horror fans will pick up on in an instant. Yep, Night Train Murders is effectively a reworking of Wes Craven's notorious 1972 Last House on the Left, which as we all know was a partial remake of Ingmar Bergman's 1960 The Virgin Spring. Opinion is divided on this, but for me Lado's film falls some way short of its predecessor, in part because of the distancing effect of a competently performed but rarely mouth-matching English dub. But it's also not as disturbing as Craven's no-holds-barred horrorshow, and its antagonists – Curly's nasty knife work aside – do not represent as convincing a threat.

Night Train Murders is still well enough executed (pun intended) to be of interest to genre fans who enjoy variations on a theme, and to devotees of those Italian takes on American horror hits, which constitute an often entertaining sub-genre in their own right. The film has also found favour with some of those who liked the idea behind Last House on the Left but disliked Craven's handling, but for Last House fans – and you can count me among them – full enjoyment of this well-made and occasionally unsettling take on the same story can't help but be diluted by a rather vivid sense of déjà-vu.

sound and vision

A slightly variable but generally decent anamorphic transfer that appears sharper on close-ups than wider shots, though the print is in fine shape otherwise, with no real complaints about colour and contrast and hardly a dust spot to be seen.

The mono 2.0 soundtrack does the job without either distinguishing or disgracing itself. There's a slight fluff to some sounds and a faint background hiss throughout, but it's till better than some of is age and origin.

extra features

Only the Theatrical Trailer (3:33) and the six trailers for other Shameless releases. The DVD cover is reversible, by the way, so you can display it as Night Train Murders or its intriguingly unspecific alternative title of Late Night Trains.

summary

Despite its similarities to a genre favourite, Night Train Murders just about holds its own by virtue of its handling and a few effective moments unique to this take on the story. Once again Shameless have delivered a fine transfer of a film you can't help but be surprised to see in such good shape.

Night Train Murders
L'Ultimo treno della notte
Don't Ride on Late Night Trains
Last Stop on the Night Train
Late Night Trains
Torture Train
Xmas Massacre

Italy 1975
90 mins
director
Aldo Lado
starring
Flavio Bucci
Macha Méril
Gianfranco De Grassi
Marina Berti
Laura D'Angelo
Enrico Maria Salerno

DVD details
region 0
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Trailer
distributor
Shameless
release date
25 Feb 2008
review posted

8 March 2008


See all of Gort's reviews