An arrogant, ambitious anthropologist (Christopher Lee) encounters a kindly physician (Peter Cushing) while boarding the Trans-Siberian Express in the early 20th century. His cargo consists of an ancient corpse obtained in Manchuria that contains an unimaginable power. Before long, this entity develops a body count and a set of surprisingly lofty goals...
This British/Spanish production has quite a lot to recommend it: an excellent cast, fine cinematography and a cunning story that moves at a satisfying pace, defies expectations and provides no small number of surprises. Even though Horror Express isn't schlock-free by any means, it does produce a few creepy scares and has atmosphere to spare. While this is hardly a classic, it's a cut above the average Hammer or Amicus production.
Lee and Cushing are typically excellent in their respective roles. These two screen veterans appeared in quite a few films together, usually as adversaries; Hammer enthusiasts will likely be pleased to see them playing allied characters. Much of the supporting cast consists of Spaniards and Argentines portraying Russians and Poles. While they do nothing to conceal their obvious accents or fake Slavic alternatives, their performances are proficient; Alberto de Mendoza is especially good as an unstable monk obviously inspired by Rasputin.
Weirdly, Telly Savalas appears two-thirds into the film as a brutal Cossack. He tries and fails to affect a Russian accent while speaking his first few lines, reverts to his trademark Long Island intonations and spends most of his screen time pushing people around. Though Savalas was even more egregiously miscast here than he was in Eugenio Martín's prior effort (Pancho Villa), his screen presence is so overwhelming and his performance so enjoyably over-the-top that it's hard to care. I almost expected him to start swilling vodka while sucking on a lollipop, and I wouldn't have minded if he did.
For the most part, Horror Express is beautifully shot; the ornate interiors and costumes are embellished by vibrant Technicolor stock, and the darker scenes obscure all but the most necessary (re: macabre) elements. In this way, Alejandro Ulloa's photography alternates between florid and minimalist aesthetics in order to exploit the most effective aspects of both. The frigidity of the Siberian tundra is simulated in exterior shots that are often underexposed and color filtered. The effectiveness of this technique varies from one shot to another; this film's Siberia often looks a lot like Spain!
Pros: . Cons: . The Bottom Line: -__________ Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing & Telly Savalas? Come on, who put these guys together? Granted, I picked this gem up at the flea market for a mere $3.00, but not a wise investment even at that price. I like old stupid movies. No nonsense monsters that lurk in the dark and jump out and eat up the good guys just make my day. Then there was Horror … more