Night Train Murders (1975)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2010-12-21 01:52

Written by: Roberto Infascelli, Renato Izzo, Aldo Lado, and Ettore Sanzo
Directed by: Aldo Lado
Starring: Macha Meril, Flavio Bucci, Gianfranco De Grassi, Irene Miracle, and Laura D‘Angelo

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“She’s no good-she’s as tight as a frightened asshole.”

Wes Craven’s debut shocker Last House on the Left was a horror zeitgeist in more ways that one. Not only did it usher in an age of grim, nihilistic horror, but it also spawned scores of imitators. Many of these imitators crafted their own “Last Houses” on the beach or on Dead End Street. Other films, however, were created then re-branded by distributors as direct sequels to Craven’s film, with Bava’s Bay of Blood being one famous example. Another Italian shocker, L’Ultimo Treno Della Notte, similarly sports nearly a dozen titles, such as New House on the Left, Second House on the Left, and even Last House Part II. It’s most famously known as Night Train Murders, and is even more infamously known as one of the many Video Nasties that were banned from the UK.

Two college school girls, Margaret and Lisa, are headed to Lisa’s parents’ home for the holidays. They board a night train in Munich to make their way to Italy, and meet a couple of shady characters in the form of Blackie and Curly. Unbeknownst to the girls, the two are a couple of petty thugs that have boarded the train to escape the police. The duo creates all sorts of mischief on the train, mostly by harassing the passengers. Blackie goes a little bit further when he takes a middle-aged lady and attempts to rape her in the bathroom; however, to the shock of everyone (even Blackie himself), the lady actually likes it and seduces him instead. She then joins Blackie and Curly in Margaret and Lisa’s cabin, and, before long, they’re subjecting the girls to various forms of torture and rape. Will they ever make it home for the holidays, or will death be their Last Stop on the Night Train?

Anyone familiar with the film’s Last House-inspired setup know the answer to that question, and they’ll certainly chuckle a bit when they hear Lisa’s father tell his dinner guests that he’s not a violent person. Little does he know that his little girl is getting violated by a trio of maniacs on a train, so it creates a good sense of irony. It takes a while for the film to really get going, but once it gets its wheels on track, it moves pretty well to that ultimate conclusion where everything comes together in a climax of murder and revenge. It’s easy to see why American distributors tried to associate it with the original Last House because it essentially plays out like a follow up with the exact same premise, with only the setting being different.

That really isn’t how the film should ultimately be defined, though. It’s certainly derivative, but it also does a few things differently, mostly in the way of presentation. This film doesn’t take the raw, voyeuristic approach of Craven’s film; instead, it’s a much more stylish and moody piece that’s actually quite atmospheric at times. It’s a bit listless for the first half hour, but once night falls, the film becomes genuinely creepy and eerie. There’s a sort of bleakness that the film is able to capture, both in the train and outside of it, as even the landscapes seem desolate and lifeless. The train cabin interior is particularly spooky, as it’s awash in deep blues and blacks that set the mood perfectly. The Christmas setting is pretty incidental to the proceedings (despite the fact that another alternate title was XMas Massacre), but the winter atmosphere carries a sort of somber dreariness that serves the film well. The visuals are also accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s haunting score, particularly a piece of harmonica music that’s actually played by one of the maniacs.

The maniacal trio and their carnage is pretty much the centerpiece of the film, particularly the unnamed “Lady on the Train.” French actress Macha Meril’s portrayal of the femme fatale is excellent because she’s able to convey menace with simple facial expressions; she’s also able to switch between different modes depending on the situation. It’s particularly interesting that she’s really the ring-leader of this depraved circus, with the two thugs being lackeys at best. Their two victims are played well, with both actresses bringing an innocent quality to both characters that gets ravaged on the train ride. None of the characters are particularly interesting on their own, but once they’re gathered together, the meat of the film packs quite a punch and is pretty memorable.

It’s that portion of the film that has no doubt given the film much of its notoriety. Though the impact of the events might be diluted by other films since its release, it’s a fairly violent film. There’s multiple rapes (including one by a random, peeping tom passer-by on the train), and one girl is deflowered in a very sadistic fashion while being taunted. It’s not very explicit, at least in terms of what’s actually shown, but there’s a creepy vibe to everything because of the overall atmosphere. There’s also a disturbing montage that inter-cuts the train carnage with the parents dancing obliviously at their dinner party. Once we leave the titular train, the film again loses a bit of steam, and the climax isn’t nearly as violent, but it’s somewhat satisfying. The film also does something interesting with the fate of one of the characters, which I didn’t see coming. It really works well with the rest of the irony that’s been developed throughout the film from the moment the girls unwittingly help the thugs onto the train.

Night Train Murders is ultimately a nice little Italian companion piece to the film that obviously inspired it. The movie stands on its own as a decent shocker that has just enough tension and mood to move the plot along. The film was once banned in parts of the world as a “Video Nasty,” but fans don’t have to worry about that anymore. States-side fans can find this one on DVD courtesy of Blue Underground, who restored the film to its completely uncensored state. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is pretty immaculate and pristine, with the colors bursting off the screen. The 2.0 English mono track is also very clear throughout, and it especially reproduces Morricone’s score well. Extras are a bit light: there’s only an interview with Aldo Lado, some theatrical trailers, radio spots, and a poster gallery. I also like that the DVD cover has one of the film’s tag-lines that further connected it to Last House on the Left: “you can tell yourself that it’s only a movie…but it won’t help!” That might be overstating it a bit, but I will say that this is one ride that’s worth taking. Buy it!

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