HORROR EXPRESS Blu-ray Review

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
Horror Express is not exactly the smartest of creature features, despite being a step up technologically from a lot of classic '50s and '60s fare.  It lacks the underlying political edge that the more cutting edge classic era films had, but what it lacks in insight, it more than makes up for in fun. This is an exceptionally fun, largely forgotten film that is getting another chance in the limelight thanks to Severin Films.  Their Blu-ray of Horror Express may not be reference quality, but chances are that it is better than you've ever seen the film, even though the disc has its issues.
The '70s horror classic returns like you've never seen it before! Screen legends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing star as rival turn-of-the-century anthropologists transporting a frozen 'missing link' aboard the Trans-Siberian Express. But when the prehistoric creature thaws and escapes, it unleashes a brain-scarfing spree that turns its victims into the eye-bleeding undead. Can the crafty colleagues stop this two million year old monster, hordes of zombie passengers and a psychotic Cossack officer (Telly Savalas) before terror goes off the rails? Silvia Tortosa (When The Screaming Stops) co-stars in this all-time fright favorite from director Eugenio Martín and the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriters of Psychomania, now featuring explosive new Extras and a stunning HD transfer from vault elements recently unearthed in a Mongolian film depot!
Horror Express began as an attempt for producer Bernie Gordon to make the most from a train he purchased for his 1972 film Pancho Villa, starring Telly Savalas as the Mexican revolutionary leader. He re-teamed with director Eugenio Martin for a train based horror film, Panic on the Trans-Siberian, AKA Horror Express. Martin wrote the story and directed this film which has become one of the most beloved midnight monster movies on TV for the last thirty years or so.

The classic Hammer team of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are joined on screen by a delightfully ebullient performance from Telly Savalas at his most macho. The story of a creature roaming a speeding train killing at will and stealing the memories of its victims is clever, and allows for a wee bit of gore as autopsies are performed for no discernible reason. But really, who cares?  When a movie is this much fun, some liberties can be taken with logic in the name of entertainment.

I really loved Horror Express, and I must admit that this was my first time watching this film.  At a brisk 87 minutes, there is never any time to get bored, and the action moves at a very quick pace. Christopher Lee dominates the majority of the film as Cushing was still in mourning over the loss of his beloved wife.  Cushing's performance was unusually subdued, but still effective, and that shows the kind of professional he was.  Lee's dominance over the film ends abruptly as Telly Savalas boards the train and all Hell breaks loose.  The final thirty minutes are outstanding and stand up well against any creature feature/possession film you can name.  I highly recommend this film.

The Disc:

For decades, Horror Express has hovered in the nebulous purgatory of the public domain.  It has been released numerous times, all of these releases being substandard to say the least. Severin Films have helped to resurrect the film thanks to a new HD transfer from Spain. To say that the film looks better is an understatement.  That's not to say it isn't without its issues.

The A/V on this disc is rather puzzling.  The image quality, while a huge improvement on its antecedents, is never quite great. There is some noticeable DNR that shows itself in some waxy faces, and there is some noticeable print damage, especially in the opening sequence, but sporadically throughout the film white specks show up as well. I've read reports of visible artifacting on the transfer as well, but I was unable to see that on my setup. The audio is not bad, but also not lossless. We are provided with a standard Dolby mono English language track and a Dolby stereo Spanish track, but no subtitles. This doesn't bother me much, as with a film like this, a lossless audio option won't bring a whole lot to the table.  Overall, though Horror Express has likely never looked this good, it could have looked better.

One area in which the disc cannot be faulted is the extras.  As is Severin's custom, Horror Express is loaded with both new and archival bonus material.  First up is an introduction by Fangoria editor, Chris Alexander, explaining a little bit about the film and it's effect on him.  Then there is a 17 minute interview with Eugenio Martin about the genesis and production of the film.  There is also an interview with producer Bernard Gordon about his years on the Hollywood blacklist.  There is also an interview with the composer, John Cacavas, and his collaborations with Martin and Savalas in Pancho Villa and Horror Express.  The doozy on this set, though, is a never before released eighty minute interview with Peter Cushing from 1973, which plays over the film like an audio commentary.  Cushing is gracious and entertaining, and the interview is filled with anecdotes from his fascinating life.  The extras round off with a theatrical trailer, and that's it!

Yes, Horror Express has its problems on Blu-ray.  However, I know that this film was problematic for Severin, and I appreciate the job they've done with it. It is a good disc, and I'm very glad to have it.  Recommended, but check the review for details.
EXTRAS:
* Murder On The Trans-Siberian Express: New Interview With Director Eugenio Martin
* Notes From The Blacklist: Producer Bernard Gordon Discusses The McCarthy Era
* The Guardian Interview With Peter Cushing 1973 (Audio only)
* Telly And Me: New Interview With Composer John Cacavas
* Introduction by Fangoria Editor Chris Alexander
* Theatrical Trailer
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