Blu-ray Review: NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS

Charlie Hobbs, Contributing Writer
Aldo Lado claims he never saw Wes Craven's Last House on the Left. He says that his producer came to him with an idea after seeing some American film, and Lado ran with it. The producer must have been pretty goddamned specific with his notes, because Night Train Murders shares a lot with Last House, and, to be honest, it would be really hard for me to choose a winner if I had to.  I have a personal history with Last House on the Left, this is a film that left a big impression on me when I was young, and this makes it very strange watching a film ape it so shamelessly.  However, Night Train Murders holds its own in every regard, and I think it is a worthy addition to the revenge canon.

I saw first Last House on the Left as part of an all-night horror marathon when I was 18.  The other films on the bill that night were Blacula, It's Alive, Rabid, Dead Alive, and Army of Darkness, this was back in the days when all of these films were projected on film. It was one of the formative experiences of my youth, and probably largely responsible for my desire to write about film in general. Last House was the fourth film on that bill, between Rabid and Dead Alive, and it was the only film that made me get out of my seat after it played. I had to walk out into the world and remind myself that the world I saw in that film wasn't the world I lived in. I felt dirty, abused, uncomfortable, and even a bit queasy.

Before that I'd never had a film affect me on such a primal level. I suppose the next closest thing was the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but this was a whole other kind of messed up.  Seeing it in a theater on a big screen and being enveloped by the sleaze and misanthropy was a whole other world for me. Not too long after that night ended, I realized that I enjoyed the exhilaration and adrenaline that coursed through my veins after that film. Thus, a sleazehound was born.

Fast forward almost fifteen years and here I am, still seeking out those thrills. Still seeking out that experience to make me question my sanity, and push my own limits. There are thousands of good films, hell, there are thousands of great films, but the ones that punch you in the chest are few and far between.  A few nights ago I popped in Night Train Murders expecting a trashy, but slight, revenge film, but I got more than that.

Aldo Lado's reworking of the Virgin Spring/Last House story line holds up firmly next to Craven's film. I couldn't help thinking to myself that this film was sleazy in a way that hasn't really existed since the '70s. The nihilism on display among the villains is astonishing, and easily challenges Krug & Company for dominance over the macabre asshole tribes. In addition to the two main male baddies, Lado employs Macha Meril (Deep Red) as a sadistic female con artist and blackmailer who ups the ante on the fucked-up goings-on in the titular Night Train. The poor school girls never had a chance.

One area in which Night Train Murders trumps Last House is providing a motive for the heinous crimes on display. In Last House on the Left, the girls who are ultimately humiliated and murdered are less than angelic, as they've only managed to get themselves into trouble by looking for drugs on their way to a rock concert in the city. It is certainly a monumental leap from pot smoker to murder victim, but it is a transgression and leaves the viewer with the slightest hint about flaws in the girls' characters. In Night Train Murders, the victims in question are pretty much saints. They talk a little bit about sex, but they don't actively seek vice, in fact, the attempt to repel the villains at every opportunity. This tips the sleaze-meter ever so slightly in Night Train's favor.

There are many comparisons to be made, but I think that the main point is that even though this film has been saddled with the Last House rip-off label, I think it completely stands on its own merits. If it had been Night Train Murders on that screen those many years ago, I think it would have affected me very similarly. Don't dismiss this film simply because it shares a story with Last House, I think it deserves to be judged on its own merits, and on those merits, I can recommend it easily.

The Disc:

Blue Underground's Blu-ray disc of Night Train Murders is very good, and certainly an improvement over any DVD presentation. The disc isn't perfect, it is becoming difficult to believe that any Blu-ray coming from an Italian film ever will be, but it is good.  The colors pop nicely, and there is sufficient detail in the images, but the film seems to be overlaid with the thinnest layer of video noise.  It is only noticeable because I was looking for it, it didn't affect my enjoyment (?) of the film one bit, but it may be distracting for people who are more interested in the technical aspects of the disc than its content.  The audio is presented in English Mono and sounds perfectly fine. There is a ridiculous theme song sung in horribly stilted English, but it sounds great, so that's what is important.

The main extra on this disc is a twenty minute interview with Aldo Lado about the genesis and making of the film.  This is where he makes his case for it not having been a rip-off. He insists that his producer brought him the story pretty much fully formed.  Like I said above, I'm not sure I buy it, but with the end result, I couldn't care less.  This is a damned fine film.
Special Features:
- Riding the Night Train – Interview with Co-Writer/Director Aldo Lado
- U.S. Trailer
- International Trailer
- Radio Spots
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