I had a lot of fun Watching 1973′s Horror Express for the first time. Not only does it take place on a train, of which steam engine locomotives are a fascination of mine, but with such wonderful performances by Christopher Lee and especially Telly Savalas, how can you go wrong? Add in Peter Cushing and Silvia Tortosa, and you’re in for a good time.
In the opening sequence, a 2 million year old fossil believed to be the “missing link” between ape and man is found preserved in ice in Manchuria. Prof. Saxton (Lee), an anthropologist, is taking the specimen home by Trans-Siberian Railway for research. However, before the specimen can even be loaded on board, one person is already found dead on the docks. Shortly after the train leaves the station, the crate that used to contain the specimen is found with a dead baggage handler inside and the specimen missing entirely.
Dr. Wells (Cushing), a scientific colleague of Saxton, has an interest in the specimen himself and soon they find themselves working together to solve the mystery of the deaths. Unable to find the cause however, and as the death toll mounts, the train is finally stopped and Captain Kazan (Savalas) comes on board determined to find the cause of the deaths himself. It is unfortunate that Savalas doesn’t appear on screen until the last 28 minutes of film time, I feel his contribution to the film could have been much greater as his performance is simply superb and by far the most memorable of any here.
There is very little blood and gore in this film, although there is an eyeball being poked by a needle, a few short excerpt scenes from an autopsy, as well as a brain or two and whitened eyes. Still, nothing too over the top, with the story remaining the main focus throughout the film, as opposed to the effects. Given that your autopsy room is a baggage car, you already know not to expect too much anyway.
Horror Express was filmed in Madrid with a budget of $300,000 and originally contained little or no sound and voices. Dubbing was later added, with original actors Lee, Cushing, and Savalas providing their voices for the English release. The train scenes were made using leftover miniature and interior train sets from 1972′s Pancho Villa (also with Savalas as the leading role). It was also the first film Cushing made after the death of his wife, Helen, earlier that year.
This is a a must-watch film for any fan of the era and genre, and casual or modern horror fans should still give this a try and see if they like it. After all, this is a public domain film and we’ve included the full version of the Horror Express below so that you can watch it yourself for free.