If you own at least one of the horror DVD sets from Mill Creek, chances are quite good that you own a copy of Horror Express (1972). Chances are also quite good that you’ve likely not made it through the entire set and may have never seen the flick, dismissing it as a public domain oddity. Nonetheless, Horror Express should be seen as it is actually a fun and worthwhile movie, perfect for a late night viewing.
The movie is set in 1906 and Sir Christopher Lee is Professor Sir Alexander Saxton. He has discovered the frozen body of a humanoid creature he believes to be the missing link. He is returning to Europe on the Trans-Siberian Express when he meets Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), a rival who soon becomes an ally. Before the train even leaves Shanghai, a body is found with his eyes completely white. There is also a count and countess on the train, accompanied by a priest who believes the frozen creature to be evil.
Dr. Wells is immensely curious about the creature and bribes a train attendant to look into the crate. However, the attendant is killed, his eyes mysteriously white, the same as the man at the train station. The creature breaks out of the crate and is now loose on the train, leaving a trail of victims. Through a bit of questionable yet amazing science, Saxton and Wells look into the eyes of the victims and discover they can see an image of a prehistoric Earth… from space. It turns out this caveman may actually be an alien.
Enter Cossack officer Captain Kazan (wonderfully played by Telly Savalas, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). He boards the train believing it to be full of rebels. We soon discover that the alien has now possessed the body of the priest and the stage is set for a confrontation between Saxton and Wells and the alien, who has also raised his victims into a zombielike force.
Yes, the plot behind Horror Express is a bit silly and convoluted. What saves it from obscurity are the performances of Lee and Cushing, not to mention Savalas. The movie had a low-budget and was filmed in Spain. Lee was not a fan of the overall production, complaining of the poor studio accommodations and horrific food. In his autobiography, Tall, Dark and Gruesome, he stated “The food was deadly. Salmonella was the principal sauce.”
Getting stars the caliber of Lee and Cushing was what made many give the film notice. However, Cushing initially wanted to leave the film as he was still quite distraught over the death of his wife. It was Lee who would convince Cushing to do the film. Thankfully, both actors also provided their own voices when the movie was dubbed, avoiding mistakes other production companies made in the 1960s with some of Christopher Lee’s earlier films.
Horror Express was mostly well received but has fallen into the public domain. While it makes the film very accessible, it also gives way to very poor copies, such as the one Mill Creek has used for their various sets. Thankfully, a wonderful copy of the film was released by Severin Films on Blu-ray in 2011 and is really the best way to see it. You can also catch it on YouTube. However you catch it, be sure to also listen to Vince and the gang over at the B Movie Cast podcast as they reviewed it back on episode 186.