Imagine if The Thing (or The Thing from Another World for you purists) took place on a trans-Siberian train, and it starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Go ahead, imagine it- we'll wait.
Wouldn't that movie be rad? It would, I know. Well, friendo, you're in luck. You don't have to imagine it anymore! You simply have to pop in a copy of Horror Express (1972) and watch your dreams unfold on your TV screen. Life is so sweet sometimes.
Captain's Log, Stardate 1906! In China, Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) is exploring a cave in search of fossils when he comes across the mother lode of fossilized old stuff: a frozen ape caveman guy.
Saxton crates it up in preparation for a train trip across Siberia, refusing to let anyone know of his great discovery. Before it's put on board, however, a sneaky thief-type picks open a padlock and tries to get his hands on the goods...he's found dead a few moments later, his eyes turned into something straight outta The Beyond.
The crate, however, is once again sealed up tight...so on board the Horror Express it goes.
Prof. Saxton maintains his silence about the contents of the crate, even when his colleague Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) shows up asking questions. Not to be thwarted, Wells bribes a baggage man to drill a hole in the crate and take a peek inside. The best part of that plan? The baggage man is the Andorran Marty Feldman himself, the innkeeper from The Witches Mountain!
It may surprise you to learn that his name is not actually The Andorran Marty Feldman. Nope, it's Victor Israel, and he had a rather prolific career (working with everyone from Sergio Leone to Bruno Mattei) before he died this past September at the age of 80. Cheers, Mr. Israel...you'll always be The Andorran Marty Feldman to me.
The baggage man quickly learns that prying open the big mystery box was a mistake. The ice man's eyes glow red which, as you can imagine, is not good for the baggage man. He bleeds, his eyes turn white, and he dies.
The ice man is now on the loose, running (or perhaps shuffling) around the train showing off his red eyes to passengers...much bleeding and eye-whitening and dying ensues. It's all a creepy delight.
Saxton finally admits what was in the crate; the authorities get involved; Wells conducts an autopsy on one of the victims and is startled when he opens up the skull and spies and brain that's gone completely smooth. This can mean only one thing: the monster drains the memories of his victims. While this gives the brain a wrinkle-free, youthful appearance, it's ultimately fatal. Dubious science, you say? Piffle. I'm sure Horror Express is 100% accurate in its scienceology.
Inspector Mirov (Julio Pena) pursues the monster and manages to shoot it in the eye; before the monster dies, however, he ensnares the Inspector in a one-red-eyed stare. This transfers the monster's spirit or soul or essence or whatever into the Inspector himself. The ice man is still on the loose, only now he's disguised as the Inspector.
Dr. Wells performs an autopsy on the monster and is startled yet again: the creature's memories are stored in its eyeball, and dubious science dubious science it's actually an alien! From outer space!
Chase chase, red eyes, crazy priest, white eyes...things get really haywire when Telly Savalas climbs on the Horror Express as Captain Kazan, a man who's going to whip and shoot his way to the bottom of things. Kazan has a delightful Telly Savalas-ian New York accent, despite the fact that he's a Cossack.
So, what will happen to this ancient alien intelligence? Will Professor Saxton satisfy his scientific curiosity at the cost of human lives? Why doesn't Oil of Olay look into these brain-smoothening techniques? Who builds train tracks that lead off a cliff?
Most of these questions will be answered by the time the Horror Express pulls into its last stop, which just so happens to be in Fuckingawesomeville. There are many versions of this film available on DVD, as I believe it's fallen into the public domain. Picture and sound quality are sure to vary, and when you get your hands on a copy it may well be a cruddy transfer. Mine was, but then the DVD only cost $0.79, so who am I to complain? The murky picture didn't diminish my enjoyment of this superior monster movie- I mean, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and an alien that makes people bleed from all of their head holes? That's a good time, if you ask me. Actually, that's a good time even if you don't ask.
Horror Express counts towards Category 9 in Operation: 101010!