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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Terror Train (1980)

"You can't have a good time without hurting someone."
- Alana (Jamie Lee Curtis)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 09, 2004

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis
Other Stars: David Copperfield, Hart Bochner, Ben Johnson, Derek McKinnon, Sandee Currie, Timothy Webber, Steve Michaels, Howard Busgang
Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, violence, language)
Run Time: 01h:36m:50s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 024543128380
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B-B- D

DVD Review

Ah, the hazy crazy days of the 1980s slasher genre. Teenagers (no matter how old they looked) were just not safe from any manner of demented killer, and over the early years of the decade their bodies piled up pretty high in countless hack 'em ups. The problem filmmakers generally encountered was coming up with a premise that made their particular dead teenager film sort of stand out amongst the plethora of campgrounds, college campuses and small towns where these movies killers seemed to like to congregate.

As a directing debut for Roger Spottiswoode (The 6th Day, Tomorrow Never Dies) this 1980 entry in the genre not only had a uniquely clever setting (a private train full of boozing, costumed college students) but a supporting and suspicious role for a young David Copperfield, and a small legion of diehard horror fans have been clamoring for this one to hit DVD for quite awhile. Fox, while unfortunately bypassing any kind of extras short of a trailer, have at the very least had the good graces to issue Terror Train in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (with an optional full-frame transfer on the flipside).

Before the train gets a-rolling, we get an intro sequence setting up the carnage to follow. A nasty freshman college prank goes really, really wrong when a bunch of pre-med wisenheimers lure virginal nerd Kenny Hampson (Derek McKinnon) to a darkened bedroom on the promise of an easy sexual conquest—with the payoff being that the female is actually a partially dismembered corpse. How's that for a mood killer?

While the thick-headed collegiates laugh their beer-addled asses off (all except the kindly Alana—played by perennial victim Jamie Lee Curtis), poor Kenny goes completely bonkers, twirling around like a whirling dervish. A bit of post-prank exposition establishes that Kenny ended up in the looney bin as a result, and the narrative then jumps ahead three years for the big New Year's Eve train ride, where everyone is wearing a mask or costume of some sort, which comes in handy for the arrival of a murderous psycho. The private train hasn't left the station before one of their own gets gut skewered by a long sword, but since he's the practical joker of the bunch, everyone naturally assumes he's goofing around. Assuming the Groucho Marx mask of the first victim, the killer boards the train and mayhem ensues.

Curtis seems like her Halloween's Laurie Strode all grown up and off to college, still making the same mistakes of skewering a masked killer and not going in for the final kill. Yeah, she's nice, but inanely lemming-like, and when she's screaming and blood-covered it's only then we realize that the people that have already died were kind of obnoxious anyhow. Pretty much like Haddonfield.

In real estate it's location, and for a hack 'em up the same rings true. Terror Train, with its masks, costumes, and creepy magicians, is made even more weirdly fun by locking the victims on a train. If you're on your game the killer's identity won't be a big surprise, but Spottiswoode dresses up a potentially clichéd and hackneyed story into something that seems better than it really is, when all is said and done. It's dumb, dopey and the usual things like severed hands and people with swords sticking out of them somehow seems more fun when Jamie Lee Curtis—perpetually tormented slasher victim—gets all agitated.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: 20th Century Fox has doled out a two-sided disc for Terror Train, with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on one side and a 1.33:1 full-frame offering on the other. I think there might have been a minor revolution amongst early '80s horror geeks if this one hadn't come with an anamorphic transfer, so right out the box the proper mood has been set, even if the quality of the transfer is simply average. I wasn't expecting this disc to look pristine by any means, and the print itself is in fair to decent condition, revealing quite a bit of specking but not much else in the way major phyiscal defects. The biggest flaw is actually in the poor smeary black levels, which is unfortunate in a film with so many dark, shadowy sequences. Colors are medicore, in that kind of washed out early 1980s look, and fleshtones tend to run a little hot in certain scenes, but overall look tolerable.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The primary audio options are available in either English mono or stereo mixes. The stereo track comes across as a slight spatial improvement over the mono, adding some marginal fullness, though the overall fidelity improvements are minimal. Either choice offers discernible dialogue, though neither can do much about the shrill harshness of Jamie Lee Curtis' screaming.

A Spanish language stereo dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: It's been a long wait for this one to come to DVD, and all we get is the original theatrical trailer that gives away most of the good parts. Que sera, sera.

The disc is cut into 16 chapters, with optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Horror fans have been patient. Now that it's here on DVD this is a necessary purchase if you love the genre.


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