Night Train Murders Review


Two young women are travelling by train to spend Christmas at one of their parent’s house.  They never make it to their destination. They are instead terrorized, humiliated, abused, sexually molested and eventually killed by two thugs and a mysterious seemingly well to do older woman. The criminals think they have gotten away with it until they find themselves at the parent’s house and find mercy is in very short supply…

If this sounds at all similar to a little Wes Craven film from 1977 called Last House on the Left, you would be bang on the money. Night Train Murders is essentially the Italian Last House. Much like its inspiration, Night Train Murders (also known as Late Night Trains and Last Stop on the Night Train) also got caught up in the Video Nasties scare of the early 1980s. Luckily (or unluckily, from a notoriety perspective) Night Train Murders was never successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, while Last House on the Left was. Which is somewhat surprising (and just proves how ridiculous the criteria for prosecution was) as both films are just as grim, unsettling and just plain nasty as each other.  I don’t mean that as a criticism (or as a slight to the Last House purists out there!) as a film with such a subject matter should be unpleasant and difficult to watch at times, it doesn’t make it any less of a good, even dare I say entertaining, well-made film.


Directed by Aldo Lado, Night Train Murders takes a while to build up steam, and then starts rattling along at a fair old pace (no more terrible train puns, I promise!). For the first third of the film we are introduced to our various sets of characters. The two eventual victims, Lisa (Laura D’Angelo) and Margaret (Irene Miracle) are both likeable, realistic teenage girls. They smoke and talk about boys and are first flattered when Curly and Blackie (Gianfranco De Grassi and Flavio Bucci) turn their attention on them. Curly and Blackie have jumped onto the train sans tickets after assaulting and robbing a man dressed as Santa Claus. While not as instantly recognisable as psychopaths like David Hess’ crew from Last House they still carry a distinct air of menace and nihilism. This is something The Lady On The Train (Macha Meril) has plenty of time for. She is wealthy and high class and politely discusses social issues with fellow passengers. Meanwhile, Lisa’s parents (Enrico Maria Salerno and Marina Berti) look forward to seeing their daughter while preparing for Christmas festivities. A slow burn opening like this makes the middle section of the film, when one after another of terrible abuses are rapidly heaped on the poor girls, more shocking, especially with the jolly Christmas scenes at the parent’s house.


Lado uses the setting he has chosen wisely. On the first train, the claustrophobic nature is well felt by how crowed the narrow corridors are, and the constant jolting of the train unsettles the characters, and the audience, especially when the nature of The Lady, Curly and Blackie starts to become clear. When a bomb threat forces the Lisa and Margaret to switch trains, the juxtaposition between the first and second trains is startling. The second train is dark and quiet and has an aura of danger about it. The scenes where the villains torment the girls in their carriage are brutal, and while undeniably sleazy in content the execution is very well done. There isn’t a great deal of gore, but the anguish on the girl’s faces, the arousal on the tormentor’s faces, and the direction make this part of the film truly stand out. Although I couldn’t supress a wry smile when Blackie protests at raping one of the girls because she is a virgin. After everything he’s done to these girls, that’s his line in the sand? Once the girls are dead, the unhinged trio steal their tickets and disembark at the station where the parents are fruitlessly waiting to pick the girls up. The Lady injures her leg and Lisa’s father, a doctor, offers to take her to their house to patch her up. After that it turns in the waiting game as to when the parents will realise that their houseguests are the killers. It was a necklace in Last House, in this it’s a truly hideous tie (really, the tie is probably the most offensive thing about the whole film). The parent’s revenge isn’t as grisly as Last House, or as peppered with Home Alone style booby traps, but it still mostly satisfying to see them get theirs. I say mostly because one of them does survive, a rarity in the rape/revenge genre. Overall, this is a well-made and well executed little piece of Italian exploitation sleaze. It’s well directed, well-acted and throws a bit of social commentary in there for good measure. It’s not as shocking or as visually disturbing as Last House on the Left, and is also completely derivative of it. But if people can separate and judge Last House and Virgin Spring separately, it seems churlish not to attempt do the same with this film. Don’t let the shouts of ‘Rip off!’ put you off. For fans of video nasties and 70’s Italian horror, this definitely worth watching.


Released on Bluray-ray by 88 Films as part of their The Italian Collection (this film being number one in said collection) it is presented in HD with perfect picture and sound, with the option to watch the film in Italian with subtitles should you wish. There aren’t many extras (some trailers and interviews with Irene Miracle) but the reversible sleeve and collectable art card are always good editions. Much like Arrow’s continuing series of lovingly crafted DVDs and Blu-rays, 88 have plenty to offer fans of the sleazy, the sordid and the downright weird.

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Lords Of Salem Review


(Contains Some Spoilers)

A long time ago, on one of my older posts, I ranted about how I would never watch the Rob Zombie remake of Halloween, as I knew I would hate it. Which is in hindsight, a stupid thing to say. I don’t even have the excuse of it being the arrogance of youth as I was in my 30’s at the time. I was just being a twat really. I just assumed since Halloween could never be bettered, his version would be sacrilege so why bother? At that point I had never seen any Rob Zombie films. Fast forward to now and I have seen them all. More than once. My boyfriend is a massive fan and he introduced me to them. I now consider myself very much on side with regards to Rob Zombie. House of 1000 Corpses and Devils Rejects are lovingly crafted 1970’s exploitation film homages (It also turns out myself and Mr Zombie share a massive love of the Marx Brothers).

In 2012 Zombie released Lords of Salem, to, it has to be said, muted indifference. Many of his hardcore fans dismissed it as being too boring, weird and a massive side step from his previous efforts while casual and/or non fans thought it also too weird and and that Zombie wore his influences on his sleeve too much at the expense of the film. And then of course, seeing as this is the internet, there were the subsection of devotees who set up camp on various forums just to sneer “you just didn’t get it” at anyone with a passing remark that bordered on criticism or confusion. Lords of Salem is very different from House of 1000 Corpses and Devils Rejects, and unlike those two films I feel it may require more than once watch to fully grasp the story, especially if folk were expecting another sleazy, gory jaunt in the style of the Firefly family. The problem is intriguing people enough on the first watch to make them want to revisit it.


Lords of Salem follows a radio DJ called Heidi Hawthorne (Sherri Moon Zombie), a recovering addict who lives in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is of course, famous for the witchcraft trials held there during the 17th Century (although if you’re an utter philistine like me the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘Salem’ is the talking cat in Sabrina The Teenage Witch). She works on a well known radio show with her co-hosts Herman Jackson (Ken Foree, a Zombie regular at this point) and Herman ‘Whitey’ Salvador) Jeff Daniel Philips. As an aside, the scenes of them performing their rock show put my teeth on edge just a little bit, as I can’t stand forced, jolly radio banter complete with stupid sound effects, but precious little actual music. A curious wooden box containing a vinyl record is delivered to the station, addressed to Heidi. It is only marked ‘From The Lords’. She assumes it is from a local band trying to get some exposure, but when she plays it she is overwhelmed with headaches and strange visions of horrific events that took place in the town 300 years ago. The record has similar odd effects on the whole female population of Salem, although it only Heidi who is plagued by the nightmares and hallucinations of sacrificing babies and sexually deviant priests. Her landlady and her friends (Judy Gleeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace, a trifecta of genre favourites if ever there was one) are seemingly friendly and helpful but have darker motives. Her co-workers are actually friendly and helpful but are powerless to help Heidi as she descends back into substance abuse and total withdrawal from the real world. Francis Matthias (Bruce Davidson), a local author, is more proactive, determined to find out more about the mysterious ‘Lords’ and their monotonous,but hypnotic music. He is not rewarded for his efforts. The climax of the film is at a free ‘concert’ given by the ‘Lords’ in which it is proved that if one is going to get revenge, sometimes it pays to play the (very) long game.


Rob Zombie’s influences in this film are obvious. He himself described it as “If Ken Russell directed The Shining” and he puts noble effort into making his film as such. Other films such as The Devils, Rosemary’s Baby, Witchfinder General, To The Devil A Daughter, The Exorcist and Blood On Satan’s Claw and directors such as Dario Argento and Mario Bava also clearly make their presence felt. It is possible in trying to pay homage to so many classics that Zombie ended up rather over egging the pudding with Lords of Salem. The film looks gorgeous for the most part, with muted colours and a foreboding atmosphere (the scenes where Heidi walks through the streets of Salem with leaves blowing around her is straight out of The Exorcist). Heidi’s apartment building and within it the symmetry of the carpets and lights and the discombobulation this brings certainly brings to mind The Overlook Hotel.  It looks very 1970’s, and I believe it was meant to be set in that era, but budgetary constraints meant that idea had to be abandoned. One one hand, I think this is a shame (although I do always appreciate films that rely purely on practical effects), on the other the lack of having a definite time frame for the film adds to it’s more ethereal qualities. As fitting as someone who directs his own music videos, Rob Zombie knows how to frame a shot. He also knows that a film with many surreal dream sequences means he can really let rip with the weirdness, which doesn’t always work. Case in point being the depiction of Satan and Heidi’s impregnation by him. It was much more MTV than horror film and mostly just looked a bit silly. Compared to similar scenes in the aforementioned To The Devil A Daughter and Blood On Satan’s Claw and considering how harrowing and yet simplistic they are the scenes in Zombie’s film are just too bombastic and lose impact in my opinion. It does seem slightly unfair to keep comparing Lords Of Salem to other (superior) films but Zombie does invite such comparisons by being so open with his influences. Zombie clearly loves these films, as do I, and I would definitely refer to such scenes and ideas as homages, as opposed to ripping off wholesale.

The acting is uniformly solid. Sherri Moon Zombie gets a fair bit of stick about her acting ability but I thought she did well in her first ‘lead’ role. Although Heidi is the main character she is fairly passive as things just happen to her, and around her. It is the supporting characters that move the story forward. Bruce Davison is what one would call the straight man of the piece, and he turns in a subtle, likeable performance. Ken Foree, although slightly underused here, is always good value for money and Jeff Daniels Phillips is sympathetic as Heidi’s co-worker and ex, unable to stop the inevitable. Judy Gleeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace have great fun devouring the scenery and taking no prisoners. Meg Foster, as Head Witch In Charge Margaret Morgan deserves plaudits for a visceral and earthy performance. Zombie knows how to get the best out of his actors.


For me, I enjoy the film more the more times I watched it. The atmosphere and overall tone are very effective. It’s a very Autumnal feeling film. The score and soundtrack by frequent Zombie collaborator John 5 are very well utilised, while the titular tune by the ‘The Lords of Salem’ is subtle but unnerving. While not particularly scary, it has it’s disturbing moments, which for me come from the more subtle moments, such as when Margaret Morgan stands motionless in Heidi’s kitchen, as opposed to the over the top theatrics of the final 20 minutes (Points docked for the annoying “This is a scary moment in the film, jump now!” music sting though). Rob Zombie has a very good grasp of the visual aspects of film making, and knows how to build an ambience and a world inhabited by well written characters. I understand why folk hoping for another House of 1000 Corpses/Devils Rejects ball outs gorefest would be disappointed by Lords Of Salem. It isn’t a perfect film, not by any means. It builds a great atmosphere but there is little pay off for it. The ending scenes at the The Lords ‘concert’ are frankly bizarre, as are some of Heidi’s visions, as mentioned. I much preferred the build up to the climax in this case. This was Rob Zombie’s first film with full creative control and while it seems slightly churlish to begrudge him the chance to really flex his creative muscles it has come at the expense of both a fully coherent story and the (possible) enjoyment of the audience. I definitely recommend the film though, if you like atmospheric and visually appealing horror films. And if you also like films that go for utter weirdness at the end, so much the better.

And as for Rob Zombie’s version of Halloween? I didn’t hate it. Which considering how convinced I was that I was absolutely going to loathe it with the power of a thousand suns is fairly impressive. He took on a classic and tried to make it his own. If there has to be remakes of films I would rather they were done by people with their own creative impulses and ideas and people who understand and love the source material. And Zombie does. So yeah, sorry for being a twat Rob (Halloween II can pretty much get to fuck though).

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) Review


After 1972’s Last House on the Left director Wes Craven didn’t make a horror film for five years, perhaps drained by filming the unrelentingly grim Last House and the controversy that followed it. In 1977 he returned to the horror genre with The Hills Have Eyes. This, while still certainly grim in places, doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of depravity that Last House achieved, and is more re-watchable for it, in my opinion.

The Carter family, led by Big Bob (Russ Grieve) and Ethel (Virginia Vincent) are heading to California with their family and two dogs in tow. To celebrate their silver wedding, they were gifted a silver mine by an Aunt and wish to visit it en route. Big Bob is a retired policeman of a take no nonsense sort of nature. Therefore, he of course ignores the warnings of the grizzled old Gas Station owner Fred (Robert Steadman) that the area is a no go area that is used by the government for air craft tests. They might of pay heed to his warnings of course, if he has just said ‘Seriously, don’t go that way, that way be a family of deranged cannibalistic madman’ but grizzled old Gas Station owners in horror films always go for the more mysterious approach.

When their car inevitably crashes the Carters find themselves stuck in the desolate and unforgiving desert. Bob and his son in law, Doug (Martin Speer) venture out to find assistance while Ethel and the rest of the family Lynne (the always prolific Dee Wallace), Brenda (Suze Lanier) and Bobby (Robert Houston) and baby Katy stay behind.  At first the family aren’t unduly worried about their predicament, but it isn’t long before the creeping terror that has been surrounding them makes itself known, in the manner of the aforementioned deranged cannibalistic madmen, who swarm their camp at night and start picking them off. From then on it is a fight for survival between the two factions, with the Carters having to become just as vicious as the hill folk in order to escape with their lives.

Similar to the end of Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes main theme is to show what depths ordinary white-bread American nuclear families can sink to when faced with their uncivilised counterparts. They become the very thing they despise, as cold, calculating and bloodthirsty as the evil hill folk they hold in contempt. This is shown in the very abrupt ending, which many people aren’t a fan of. I like it; it ends on the survivor’s realisation at what’s he’s done, and the very beginning of that shocking truth sinking in. It’s a bleak ending, and it fits as the end of a bleak film. The desert setting is used to great effect, and you can really feel the desolation and just how far from civilisation the Carter family are. It’s highly atmospheric and this is one film that I don’t think would benefit from a sparky HD clean up. The grainy film adds to the raw exploitation type feeling of the whole piece and is essential to the experience of the film for me. Wes Craven’s direction is tight, he uses his space and his cast wisely, and despite the film not being as gory as some might expect, is brutal and intense in its violence.  The villains of the piece, led by the nefarious Jupiter (James Whitworth) are slightly cartoony in parts, as evidenced in the rather dense Pluto (genre favourite Michael Berryman), but they still manage to infuse a lot of menace into their roles, and while not as physically imposing as their mutated equivalents in the 2006 remake, they are clearly a lot more human, in most respects, which helps the theme of the film flow better.  Craven has stated that he was influenced by Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre while making this film and while The Hills Have Eyes may not be as visceral and heart pounding as that film it still among Craven’s best work and a rightful cult classic of the 1970s.

This review was first published on the Scream Horror Magazine website and since then we have sadly lost the director of this film and many other classic horror fare, Wes Craven. Much has been said about this total gutter of a loss to the horror genre, by much better word smiths than me so I shall just say that I loved his work, I am very sad that he is gone and that I hope he sleeps well. He can leave the nightmares to us.

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