Posted: 08/10/2004


Night Train Murders


by Barry Meyer

A shocking horror flick with some real substance. Available here.

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Horror flicks have the weirdest origins. Most stories stem from superstitions and fears that go back centuries. Others find the 6 o’clock news a boundless creative source. But the strangest inspiration that I’ve ever heard about is a medieval folk song, Herr Tare of Venge’s Daughters, that became the inspiration for the glut of rape/revenge shockers that came out through the early 70s and 80s. Go figure, right! The folk song originally became the basis for the legendary Ingmar Bergman’s film Virgin Spring, a tale of a father’s revenge for the murder of his daughter after the two unwitting goat herders knock on his door, seeking food and shelter just after savagely raping and killing the mans daughter. Sound familiar? Bergman’s movie was in turn the basis for Wes Craven’s wildly exploitative shocker Last House on the Left (which in turn was the basis for more copycat flicks).

Last House may have been the first in the horror genre to tackle this age-old theme of revenge, but Night Train Murders (which ironically shared the same bill at drive-ins across the country) was a far better version. This variation finds two girls traveling the European countryside, heading home to spend Christmas with family. When their train is cleared off due to a bomb threat, the girls hop aboard another train and run into a couple thugs who had harassed them earlier. The guys are quite boorish, but relatively harmless, that is until they hook up with a bewitching older woman, who seems to cast an erotic spell over the two yobs. Undercover of the night on the secluded train car, the woman coaxes her sycophants into defiling the virginal travelers in horrifyingly vile ways. So heinous was their treatment of them that after one of the girls dies, the other would rather throw herself from the train than suffer at the hands of the monstrous torturers. Believing that they are free and clear of their crimes, the trio ends up unwittingly at the home of one of the murdered girls. When the parents unravel the nasty secret, they unleash bloody revenge.

Last House certainly got all the attention, partly due to the smart promo trailers that repeated the slogan “Keep repeating: It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.” But Night Train — though equally as shocking — fares much better by providing a much more complete film that explores the emotions of the tragedy, rather than exploiting them for crass titillation. There’s an air of mystery about the woman on the train that gives the sick twist some real validity. The thugs in Last House were just out for thrills, but this woman, who was capable of deliberating scholarly discussions, had some deep seeded, clearly psychological troubles that bubbled to the surface, triggered by what she saw in these two intriguingly vulgar young men. We, as the audience, don’t need to know what it was in her past that caused the snap, but we believe that it’s genuine. She’s a real person, not an archetype like the killers in Last House. Maybe I’m getting too deep here for a simple little shock horror movie, but suffice it to say, if you want some real creeps out of your horror movies, Night Train Murders is sure to please.

Barry Meyer is a writer in Jersey who avoids the subways for this very reason.

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