Terror Train (1980) ***
D: Roger Spottiswoode
C: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, Derek McKinnon, David Cooperfield, Timothy Webber, Sandee Currie, Vanity
Plot Synopsis: A masked killer targets six college kids responsible for a prank gone wrong three years earlier and who are currently throwing a large New Year's Eve costume party aboard a moving train.
Review: Terror Train has the unique hook of a killer who dons the outfits of his various victims as he maneuvers himself through a crowded costume party, being thrown on a train, unbeknownst to those around him, as he seeks revenge on a group of college grads that played a prank on him, years earlier, that left him mentally scared.
We can't talk about the whole costume switcheroo thing without talking about the ending. It's one of those endings that took me by surprise, yet they haven't cheated to get to this ending. The answers are right there, in plain sight, but we're adsorbed by everything else that's going on, that we don't even notice until the final moments. It's that one-two punch that makes Terror Train an above average example of what a slasher can be.
In Terror Train, there's an impending sense of doom. The pranksters know that they have it coming to them, yet they're helpless to do anything about it. They're stuck, on a train, in the middle of nowhere. The only answer is that they have to finish this train ride out and hopefully survive.
Both the killer and the audience know that the person with the upper hand is the killer himself. It's not so much a matter of how, but when. And the film likes to tease us, very much like the killer likes to do to his victims, which makes the suspense all the more tangible. However, what really sells this, is the performances of its cast. Scream queen extraordinaire Jamie Lee Curtis projects the right amount of vulnerability and strength. Derek McKinnon is 100% credible as the antagonist, but the real standout is Hart Bochner.
His character is a self absorbed jerk who only has one friend in the world. In one particularly effective scene, that one friend meets an untimely demise. At first, he thinks it's a joke, but when he realizes what exactly has happened, he begs and pleads with that one friend to wake up even though he's already dead. Eventually, Bochner's character picks up that one friend and carries him throughout the train begging for help, but everyone dismisses it as a joke, because he's cried wolf one too many times. Knowing what's in store for him, those self adsorbed tendencies return. The acting here is so good, it's invisible, in that the performances are vividly present in the overall scenario that we don't notice the "acting" so to speak.
Terror Train knows exactly which buttons to push & when and does so with precision. [R] 97 mins.
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