Released in 1980 at the height of the slasher explosion Terror Train manages to be one of the better slasher films of the decade. The film begins at a fraternity hazing where a group of frat guys are planning a prank on one of the pledges. The prank goes horribly wrong and the pledge ends up in a mental institution. Three years later a group of students are getting ready to celebrate graduation by throwing a costume party on an overnight train ride. Dressed in their costumes and indulging in alcohol the students party hard and seem to have a wonderful time. Magic shows and music fill the night as the students get drunk and let off steam, but what they don't know is a stranger is on the train with them and is hell bent on ruining the party for everyone!
Terror Train was the directorial debut for Roger Spottiswoode who allegedly does not like to talk about this film as he is embarrassed by it. Spottiswoode would later become a busy director and grace us with a James Bond movie among many other famous titles, many years after his directorial debut. What puzzles me is why he dislikes this film? His direction in the movie was spot on and the movie was extremely suspenseful throughout most of the picture.
Starring Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis and Hart Bochner (who would later play a killer himself in another slasher film) along with his acting debut: David Copperfield. The acting in the film was typical. Really nothing to write home about, but was not entirely bad either. Jamie Lee Curtis fresh off of Prom Night was stellar as usual playing in her last slasher film until she reprised her role as Laurie Strode in Halloween H20.
Terror Train followed the rules of most 80's slasher pieces with the possible revenge twist thrown into the plot. What made this film better than most slasher films was the idea of the costume party on the train. This scenario enabled the killer to become different people by wearing the costumes of his victims. This enabled the killer to move around the train and get close to different people. Terror Train was filled with suspense and little gore. The identity of the killer will keep you guessing through out the picture as you wonder if your trying to be thrown off. However the story seemed to drag on a bit in towards the middle of the film. Not much character development, but just useless chit chat among the students and the magician on board. The last fifteen minutes were extremely fast paced and frightening though which made up for the slow middle. The fact that Terror Train had so little gore was made up by the fact that the film was actually suspenseful and scary. A killer stalking people on a secluded train racing through the middle of nowhere was a smart plot point of the writers. I would have liked to seen a little more character development though. As the students begin to die, you don't really know much about them to care. The body count is not modest but there are several off screen killings though.
The DVD release features both full screen and wide screen versions of the film but there are no extras other than the theatrical trailer. A great watch for any 80's slasher fans and this film seemed to resonate with critics as well as it is usually is given good marks compared to most slasher films. Again it is strange that the director would not want to talk about this film as it clearly was one the best slasher movies to come out in the 80's.