What’s up, weirdos? Welcome back to Awfully Good, a monthly column where we celebrate some of the worst horror movies ever made! This time around, we’re looking at Night Train to Terror, a truly baffling relic of the 1980s. There’s a whole lot to dig into, but before we get into that we need to cover some disclaimers.
First: calling a movie “awful” or “trash” isn’t a slam. You may have guessed by the concept of this article, but I love bad movies. Second: this isn’t a place to just dump on all of a movie’s mistakes, we’re here to *honor* the mistakes that make a bad movie more enjoyable. Third: it’s important to stay hydrated. Go grab some water, check out this trailer that Vinegar Syndrome put together for the Blu-Ray release, and I’ll meet you back here.
Welcome back! If you watched that trailer, and don’t know anything about the movie, you’re probably super confused right now. Why are there monsters and gore intercut in this music video? Why does the singer look so much like glam-rock Dennis from the episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Is this “Mr. Satan” actually a Dracula?! What does this have to do with the titular train? Well, buckle up for safety as we hop aboard Night Train To Terror!!!
The film begins with the title glowing and exploding into the screen, like a Shaw Brothers intro. Within seconds, we’re on board with a band that somehow missed all the cool parts of 80s music and *just* stuck with the lame bits. This song and dance is so laboriously uncool it almost seems intentional, but I really don’t think it is. I think that this record’s producer finished mixing this track, adjusted his ponytail, and called an ex from a payphone to brag about how great things are going for him now. He’s gonna be the next George Martin, and you’re just gonna be the dummy listening to his hit record through the headphones purpose-built to accommodate your perm, Darlene.
Of course, I have no evidence for any of that. I just don’t think the song sucks on purpose.
Anyway, the band continues, and the drummer does an awful job pretending to play drums. Animal from the Muppets is a more realistic drummer. The lead singer jumps between two outfits, and the first verse of the song lands on the soon-to-be-familiar refrain “Everybody’s got something to do, everybody but you!” As the revelry of the band fades away, a train attendant with a knowing look enters a private train car. There are two men sitting at a table, and the attendant says, “What can I do for you, Mr. Satan?” The exchange that follows is almost as subtle as the naming. In short, God, who looks like Christopher Lee as Saruman, and Satan, who looks like Christopher Lee as Dracula, are having some sort of moral debate about the nature of man and free will. The message is so heavy-handed that you’d think this movie was made for the Sunday School circuit, but there are enough nipples and gore in this movie that I don’t think that’s the case. Without further ado, the film moves into its first segment, “The Case of Harry Billings.”
Harry Billings is a thrill-seeker, and it hasn’t ended well for him. The idiot drove himself and his new wife off a bridge, and wakes up in a hospital… of some sort. Within seconds, the story jumps around to the staff at the hospital kidnapping and experimenting on other people. Watching the movie, you’ll notice that the pacing of this segment is ABRUPT, ABRUPT, ABRUPT! Story ideas and scenes are picked up and dropped with such speed that it plays more like a trailer than a movie. The reason for this is the best part about Night Train to Terror– the segments are all from unrelated, mostly unfinished movies that the producers decided to piece together with a frame story about God and Satan (that’s MISTER Satan!) having a rational debate on a train. These segments were never meant to be shorts! The whole movie is just a collage of footage that the studio had on hand. I love it so much!
So the story jumps all over, and many victims are abducted and brought to the facility. There’s a decent amount of voiceover work to tie the unrelated parts together, and we learn that the victims are being parted out and sold to medical schools around the world. This was before the era of fair-trade body farms. There’s a good amount of gore, and the gratuitous nudity you’d expect from a low-budget 80s horror movie, but there’s so little in the way of plot between these clips that they seem extra gratuitous. From here, the story moves into some fight choreography that’s about what you’d expect from a high school play. But not a good high school play, and then it JUST ENDS. If the theme of the segment is ABRUPT, the ending is perfect.
We cut back to a gleeful Mr. Satan laughing about how great murder is, and he and God argue about the protagonist. Then the train attendant suggests Harry Billings serve a hundred years in Purgatory, and God and Satan are like, “sure.” Then they discuss the band in the next train car, and we’re treated(?) to a second verse of the song. Sensing it’s about time for another segment, God introduces part two, “The Case of Greta Connors.”
Greta Connors is selling popcorn at the fair, until an older man buys all of her popcorn with like five hundred dollars. Through some voiceover, we find out that she was a musician that the old guy turned into a porn star. One of her movies is playing in a frat house, and a yuppie alumnus falls in love with the naked lady on screen and tracks her to a club where she’s playing piano. It’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet, but with all the boring parts cut out. They end up together, and it isn’t long before they’re targeted by the old man who made Greta a star in the first place.
He runs The Death Club, a secret society where rich people who have had near-death experiences go to have more near-death experiences. Greta and her yuppie boyfriend are now subjected to a series of death games, essentially Russian roulette with more steps. The first one is a big claymation bug that flies around the room amplifying tension, until it decides not to sting anyone at the table and fly out the window. “But Mac,” you might be saying, “what if there’s a couple doin’ it outside, and the bug flies down and stings the guy, and his head explodes all over the girl?” To that I would say, “good guess!”
The next death game is a robot connected to a series of electric chairs. I don’t wanna spoil anything, but there’s a pretty good play on words and some fun practical effects. Then there’s a Kung Fu fight and another death game, but I’m already close enough to spoiler territory so I’ll end it there.
Back on the train, the attendant says that the story actually has a happy ending. Oh. Well, ok. After some more debate, God threatens to open the gates of Hell and at that very moment the band starts playing again. I don’t know if that’s the editor being super self-aware or just a coincidence, but I’ll take it either way. Then the lead singer does something like break-dancing in slow motion for what feels like ages, and then the film pivots to segment three, “The Case of Claire Hansen.”
If you weren’t already on board the Night Train to Terror for a thrill ride into exploitation schlock, this is the segment to convince you. It’s all about Nazis, blasphemy, the devil’s unaging assistant, and claymation demons. I really and truly don’t want to spoil any part of it, so just trust me and check it out for yourself.
After the third segment wraps up, or at least ends, we come back to the Night Train. It’s almost judgement time for the souls of the passengers, and if you think I’m gonna tell you how the movie ends you’re kidding yourself! Then the credits roll, with Satan being credited as “Lu Sifer” and God credited as “Himself.” Insane!!!
So there’s a basic overview of Night Train to Terror. If it seems like a nonsensical rambling mess, that’s because it is. Most importantly, though, is that it’s an incredibly enjoyable nonsensical rambling mess. It’s one of my all-time favorites in the WTF genre, and I’m so glad to be in a position where I can talk about it and maybe introduce it to a new fan! If you wanna see Night Train to Terror, and if you’ve made it this far you probably do, you can get the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray/DVD combo, or as part of this grindhouse movie collection. For more info on the beautiful garbage collage, check out its IMDb page.
Be sure to check in next month for an extra-spooky installment of Awfully Good! And, as always, keep your browser locked to Nightmare on Film Street.