Director: Eugenio Martin
Severin Films

Along with the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, HORROR EXPRESS has to be one of the most exploited horror titles on home video due to its public domain history. Since the dawn of video, company after company released varying looking editions of this highly entertaining gem on both VHS and DVD, the best to date being a non-anamorphic disc from Image Entertainment which has gone out of print. Severin Films now delivers the ultimate ride on the HORROR EXPRESS, like you’ve never seen before, in a remarkable High Definition transfer presented as a must-have Blu-ray/DVD combo package.

During an excavation in Manchuria, a stuffy, pompous English professor, Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) unearths a prehistoric ape-man preserved in ice in a secluded cave. Having discovered the scientific find of the century, Saxton secures the frozen creature in a wooden crate and boards it on the Trans-Siberian Express bound back for Europe. At the Peking station where the crate is to be loaded, a thief mysteriously dies after attempting to pick the lock. His eyes are left completely white.

Aboard the train, Saxton encounters an old rival, Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) who is all too curious to see what's in the crate. He bribes the baggage man (Victor Israel) to take a peek inside. He obliges, and after gleefully whistling the film's theme song, he too is killed. The ape-man is now loose and starts to wreak havoc among the passengers before being shot by a humorless police investigator. Subsequently, it turns out that the hapless creature was being controlled by an alien who survives by inhabiting different bodies and obtaining their knowledge before moving on to the next one.

Although it was shot 40 years ago, HORROR EXPRESS stills packs a punch and its special effects (except for the laughable microscope's view of the alien's memory via sketches of dinosaurs) are still quite impressive. Cushing and his butchy, cigar smoking assistant Mrs. Jones (Alice Reinheart, who displays about as much femininity as Edward G. Robinson wearing a wig) convincingly saw open the victims' heads to reveal wrinkle free brains ("Smooth as a baby's bottom," as Mrs. Jones proclaims), completely washed of their memory. Aside from the impressive-looking ape creature, there's the horrifying white pupil effect (complimented by quick shots of blood dripping from them) on each victim, as well as the great red glowing eyes of all those that the alien embodies. A small-scale model almost always represents the train, but it never once fails to convince in the context of the fast pacing and tight editing.

Directed by Eugenio Martin (a veteran of several spaghetti westerns who would later do the interesting A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL), the Spanish/British co-production uniquely merges the traditional English Goth with the sexier and gorier excesses of Euro horror. Lee and Cushing are tastefully juxtaposed with the largely European cast of faces that are familiar to those diehard fans of Spanish and Italian genre flicks. Helga Line (as a sexy spy), for instance, appeared alongside Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy many times and made a cult item out of herself by disrobing frequently in front of the camera (while in her forties). Speaking of Naschy, it would have been great to have seen him in the role of the film's mad monk, Father Pujardov (although Alberto de Mendoza is quite intense), a part that would've suited him perfectly. A pairing of Naschy with horror cinema’s all-time greatest duo was considered, but unfortunately never happened. The cast also includes gorgeous Silvia Tortosa (THE LORELEY'S GRASP), Julio Peña (WEREWOLF SHADOW), Ángel del Pozo (ASSIGMENT TERROR) and George Rigaud (A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN).

Telly Savalas (who is vastly underrated as a character actor) shows up in the last half of the film as an unorthodox Cossack. Savalas nearly steals the show as he calls his inferior "little papa," gargles Vodka, and physically abuses anyone that says the wrong thing, including the monk who he gives a whipping to. As far as Lee and Cushing films goes, this has often been called the "ultimate" one and by far the duo's best pairing of the 1970s. This is hard to dispute since their characters work so well together, appearing to at first despise each other but increasingly nurturing a mutual likeness linked by their deep devotion to science and their proud affiliation to their homeland.

Severin Films has transferred HORROR EXPRESS in Hi-Definition from the original camera negative for this Blu-ray release, and needless to say, the film finally looks as stunning as its modest but resourceful production values dictate. Presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic format with 1080p full HD resolution, the level of detail in every scene is simply amazing when compared to what we’ve previously been dealt with on this title, with fleshtones and background scenery coming to life on screen. The negative transfer source is also in nice shape, except for some occasional debris, and grain is never a problem. The credits (as well as the on-screen location markings) are in Spanish, and there’s some additional train footage in the opening not seen on American prints (it was only heard under a blackened background) as well as the complete scrolling end credits. The audio options are English mono and Spanish mono, both being very strong tracks with no noticeable hiss or background noise. A standard DVD with the same anamorphic transfer and the same features is also included in this combo pack.

Extras on the disc include a number of featurettes, including “Murder On The Trans-Siberian Express” (13:59), which is a new Interview with director Eugenio Martin. Martin talks about how the project came to be, the importance and pleasurable experience of obtaining Lee and Cushing (as well as their professionalism), the inventive acting style of Savalas, as well as anecdotes about the model train and the various contact lenses that the actors were subjected to wearing. Martin also clears up the facts about how Lee convinced Cushing to work on the film after his wife had passed away and his deep depression resulted in a request to back out. Producer Bernard Gordon is on hand for “Notes From The Blacklist” (30:30), as he discusses the infamous McCarthy Era. The interview was conducted in 2005 (Gordon passed away in 2007), as he talks about his blacklisting from Hollywood which lead to his work on Samuel Bronston’s epic productions of the 1960s. “Telly And Me” (8:04) is a new interview with composer John Cacavas, who gave us HORROR EXPRESS’ unforgettable score (once you hear it, you'll be “whistling” it forever!). Cacavas mentions how meeting Savalas lead to him writing the theme song (which Telly sang) for PANCHO VILLA, which lead to his memorable work on HORROR EXPRESS. He mentions THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA only in passing (as a “Dracula” film he did for Warner Bros.) and talks about his long-time affiliation with Savalas, including doing the arrangements on some of his albums and of course the music for the hit 1970s “Kojak” series.

The crown-jewel supplement here is an audio interview with Peter Cushing from 1973. The legendary actor can be heard speaking in front of a large crowd (at a British film festival hosting a number of his movie performances) as he’s asked questions from a host, as well as from the audience. Cushing is just a delight to listen to, and this was at a time when he was still working like crazy (he mentions FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL as yet-to-be released) as he goes through his early years up until his association with Hammer Films. You’ll love hearing Cushing repeatedly refer to FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED as “the one with Simon Ward”, revealing that he thought the gore in the Richard Greene segment of TALES FROM THE CRYPT went too far, as well as his explanation of the failed 3-D process for I, MONSTER. The interview lasts for just under an hour and 20 minutes, and is playable along with the movie, much like a commentary track. Rounding out the extras is an on-screen intro by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, the original theatrical trailer and trailers for other Severin titles, including a TV spot for their upcoming release of THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. (George R. Reis)