Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians meets Hammer Films meets a prehistoric creature from another galaxy meets Telly Savalas in the 1972 Euro-horror curiosity Horror Express, now unearthed for a lovingly curated Blu-ray/DVD, which offers an absurd abundance of riches for cult-movie aficionados. And yet in spite of its pedigree, the film still had to be rediscovered and championed after slipping into the public domain and becoming one of those oddities that people half-remember seeing on late-night cable or murky VHS. Poised on the edge of camp, Horror Express nimbly cycles through genres, with drawing-room mystery and procedural elements bleeding into Universal-style monster effects and science-fiction hokum. By the time Savalas shows up as a crazed, vodka-swilling Cossack officer an hour in, the film doesn’t really need him, but given its wild conceptual excesses, he fits in perfectly.
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing team up as rival turn-of-the-century anthropologists who come together after Lee discovers a prehistoric beast in a Chinese cave and attempts to transport it back to England via the Trans-Siberian Express. (The Spanish-language title, Pánico En El Transiberiano, suggests what happens from there.) After trying to pick the lock on Lee’s cargo box at the train station, a thief is found dead with his eyes glazed an opaque white and blood seeping from his facial orifices as if his head were a squeezed fruit. The pattern continues once everyone’s on board and the creature runs amok, leading Lee and Cushing to the startling discovery that it isn’t only killing the passengers, it’s absorbing the contents of their brains. And even that doesn’t account for the full extent of its abilities or origins, which give it power that even Telly Savalas and his cat o’ nine tails might not be able to counter.
Providing a nice counterbalance to blood-curdling mayhem on the train, Lee and Cushing set about solving the case with even-tempered professionalism and a lot of dry British humor. For all the outrageous developments in the screenplay—mesmerism and transference, fiendish alien plots, a devoted monk turned Satanic lackey—Horror Express feels oddly dignified, even conventionally thrilling, and much of that is owed to the legendary partners at its center. On this speeding train to hell, it helps to have steady conductors at the helm.
Key features: A wealth of extras includes an enthusiastic introduction by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, a new interview with director Eugenio Martín and composer John Cacavas, a 30-minute discussion with blacklisted producer Bernard Gordon, and more.