Horror Express (1972)
By: Rip on May 16, 2012  | 
Severin Films (USA) | Region Free | 1.66:1, 1080p | English DD 2.0 | 87 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Eugenio Martín
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Alberto de Mendoza, Telly Savalas
Screenplay: Arnaud d'Usseau, Julian Halevy
Country: UK / Spain
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After years in public domain wilderness, Spanish cult fave, Horror Express, finally receives a legitimate remastered release from the good folks at Severin Films. And on Blu-ray no less! So, for those horror fans who are unaware of what this wonderfully oddball flick is about (which surely couldn't be too many of you!), here's a brief synopsis...

Leading a scientific expedition in 1906 China, Professor Saxton (Christopher Lee) has discovered in a cave what he believes to be a fossil or corpse of the 'missing link' between apes and man. As he's about to board the Trans-Siberian train with his prize, he encounters old friend Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), who's very curious about the mysterious crate that Saxton seeks to shield from all prying eyes, including those of Wells. Once the film moves on board the train, a series of strange events begin to occur, such as when a Chinese thief attempts to pick the lock on Saxton's crate, but is found dead with blood streaming from his now-blank eyes. As the train rattles West across the frozen wastes of Siberia, we meet all the usual types one finds aboard movie trains, including a weird monk (Alberto De Mendoza) who is convinced that there is something evil about the crated fossil and even Kojak, I mean, Telly Savalas as the obnoxious Kazak, a Cossack who along with a bunch of his mates, helps keep the proceedings lively. Cushing's character, Dr Wells, evenually lets curiosity get the better of him and decides to pay the baggage car attendant to sneak a peek inside Saxton's crate. While whistling the film's wonderful title theme, the attendant sees a glowing red eye looking back at him from inside the crate, and in no time, his eyes bleed and turn blank, too. And the ape-creature picks up the tune, whistling to itself as it picks the lock. Needless to say, the specimen is obviously still alive... Victim after victim fall prey to the monster and gradually, we learn that the menace is really an alien, a form of living energy left behind on Earth a millennia ago. It can absorb the memories from people, killing them in the process, or with a little more effort, can switch from one body to another. And this is how heroic police inspector Miroff (Julio Pena) becomes the main menace during the second act, but I'll stop right here so you can all find out what happens when you see this little gem for yourselves.

Horror Express moves at a very brisk pace and Eugenio Martin's generally able direction helps keep it moving right past the script's many holes. The science of the sci-fi element in the film is pretty silly when one thinks about it too much, but who cares when a movie is this much fun? Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are, as always, wonderful together, though sadly, Cushing is given very little to do. And the great Telly Savalas, fresh off the set from Pancho Villa, is clearly having a whale of a time, even if his character clearly has nothing to do with the plot. I guess a bit of 'star power' always helps and Savalas was conveniently hanging out making films in Europe at the time. Whatever the film lacks in the script department, it certainly makes up for in atmosphere and though it was probably made on a pretty lean budget, the period production design is convincing, as are the make-up effects. And the body count is surprisingly high too. All in all, Horror Express comes off as one of the finest European horror films of the period.
Severin's Blu-ray/DVD 'combo' package has been a highly anticipated release by horror/cult fans and it doesn't disappoint. Whilst the picture hasn't had anything like a full restoration done to it, it has been remastered to some degree and the Blu-ray transfer looks pretty decent, if not perfect. Truth be told, when compared to its past mistreatment on the home video format, it looks pretty darn amazing. Colours pop like never before, detail is high and the overall transfer is quite sharp, especially given the film's age and budget. Yes, it's a bit rough around the edges and the backs are a mixed bag, but the clarity is fairly high, and overall, this may be the best we'll ever see it. Many reviewers feel that Severin dropped the ball with the authoring, but you'd have to view it on a gargantuan screen to notice any problems. In the end, the improvements over any SD version are more than obvious.
No lossless mixes here, I'm afraid. There are two Dolby Digital audio tracks, with the first being a default English one and the second, a Spanish stereo track. I only sampled a little of the Spanish track and it didn't sound so stereo to me, so I went with the English track, especially given that it's the language most of the cast are speaking (even if they are dubbed). Plus, who doesn't want to hear the dulcit tones of Mr Lee and Mr Cushing? But the soundtrack is nice and clear, and at times, quite robust. John Cavacas' memorably haunting score comes through with a reasonable level of clarity. How much better a full lossless track might have been is debatable, but there's no complaints here.
Extra Features
Whatever issues one may have with the A/V presentation, one can't fault the truckload of supplemental material offered here by Severin. Aside from a 2nd SD disc and the film's theatrical trailer, first up is an introduction by Fangoria editor, Chris Alexander, banging on about how much he loves the film. There's also a 14 minute interview with director/co-writer Eugenio Martin, an 8 minute sit-down with Horror Express composer John Cavacas, who reminisces about his friend Telly Savalas, and a very interesting 31 minute chat with producer Bernard Gordon, who recounts his struggles with the infamous anti-communist Hollywood Blacklist in the decade after WWII. But the jewel in the crown here is an 80 minute audio interview with the legendary Peter Cushing, which can be played as one would an audio commentary whilst viewing the film. Recorded in 1973 in front of a live audience, this is an absolute delight and is worth the price of the BD/DVD set alone. Cushing proves to be quite the raconteur as he discusses everything from his beginnings as an actor trying to break through, to his work with Hammer Films and his friendship with Christopher Lee. I was quite surprised at how funny Cushing was, especially as he cracks jokes and drops in to various accents along the way. Wonderful stuff and a track I've enjoyed listening to three times now already. And just to note, all the bonus material here is replicated on the SD DVD included.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Horror Express is a unique, somewhat unusual horror film and one that cannot be pidgeonholed. Is it a sci-fi flick, a zombie movie, a tale of possession or an adventure film? Well, it's kind of all of them and more. With even a nod to Lovecraft, this oddball British/Spanish co-production is a film like no other and thoroughly deserved of its cult status. Severin's release is the one fans have been waiting for, and whilst the A/V quality isn't reference material and does exhibit a few issues, the film has never looked as good as this before, and with a raft of high quality extra features, it's purchase is a no-brainer.

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