Tuesday, November 29, 2011

HORROR EXPRESS (Blu-ray & DVD)

Director Eugenio Martín's 1972 fright film, HORROR EXPRESS (PÁNICO EN EL TRANSIBERIANO) is, arguably, the most interesting and enjoyable 70s pairing of acclaimed horror film stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Long considered to be in the public domain in America, this British-Spanish co-production has seen dozens (at least) of crappy, washed out, battered-looking video releases over the years. Now, thanks to the fine folks at Severin Films, this Gothic gem finally receives the high-quality, high-definition treatment it deserves in an extraordinary DVD/Blu-ray Combo pack.

In 1906 China, Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee, HORROR OF DRACULA, THE RESIDENT) unearths a frozen fossil in the Manchurian province of Szechuan that he believes may be the "missing link." Determined to bring the fossil back to England, he crates up the creepy creature's remains, drags it to Shanghai and boards the trans-Siberian Express train, where he encounters professional rival Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, SHOCK WAVES). During the trip, an alien entity trapped within the icy corpse is released, possessing various passengers, absorbing their knowledge and memories, and then moving on, leaving blank-eyed corpses in its wake. The two British scientists set out to identify and destroy the creature, but their efforts are complicated by paranoia among the survivors and the arrival of an overbearing Russian military officer (Telly Savalas).

HORROR EXPRESS is a delightfully claustrophobic and suspenseful mishmash of Gothic horror, zombie, sci-fi and serial killer tropes, with a dash of 70s Satanic possession elements tossed in for spice. With a twisty, witty and constantly surprising screenplay written to take advantage of a detailed - and startlingly realistic - vintage steam train model built for another movie, HORROR EXPRESS is 90 fast-paced minutes of thrills, chills, and terrific performances by a talented, International cast. The special effects are remarkably good - and surprisingly gory - for a film of its vintage, and the production values are top-notch. The eerie score by composer John Cacavas is also noteworthy, adding considerably to the overall success of the film.

Cushing and Lee are in fine form, the two old friends playing off each other magnificently, and - unlike many of their 70s pairings - enjoying equal screen time and prominence in the plot.  Eurobeauties Helga Liné and Silvia Tortosa provide lovely eye candy, and Savalas is a hoot as the arrogant Cossack, Captain Kazan, assigned by his superiors to investigate the murders on the speeding train.

As stated above, HORROR EXPRESS has seen many previous home video releases on VHS and DVD, including a fairly decent, non-anamorphic DVD from Image Entertainment back in the late 90s. For this new edition, Severin Films has used the original Spanish negative as the source of their 1.66:1 widescreen 1080p HD transfer. Clearly, the custodians of the negative didn't take particularly good care of it - there is minor damage throughout in the form of specks and small scratches. But the colors are bright, detail is astounding, and the overall visual presentation is light years superior to any previous home video release. Two audio options are provided: English and Spanish dialogue tracks in Dolby 2.0 mono.

Severin has assembled a nice batch of supplements, including an enthusiastic Introduction by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, new interviews with director Martín, producer Bernard Gordon and composer Cacavas, and a vintage audio Interview with Peter Cushing, which can be played as a commentary over the film, and which covers the distinguished actor's film career in great detail. Finally, there's the creepy theatrical trailer, along with previews of three other Severin titles - PSYCHOMANIA, NIGHTMARE CASTLE and the forthcoming THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

This new HORROR EXPRESS Blu-ray/DVD combo is, by far, the finest presentation of the movie to date, and barring a future, frame-by-frame digital restoration, likely to be the definitive video version for some time to come. Fans of the film and or the Lee & Cushing team - even if they don't own a Blu-ray player - should pick it up; it's reasonably priced and the DVD contains the same fine transfer and bonus material as the Blu-ray disc, albeit in standard definition.

HORROR EXPRESS is a classic chiller, and highly recommended.

BUY: Horror Express DVD/BLURAY Combo [Blu-ray]