The success of 1972's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT has been discussed to death, but it resulted in a slew of European cash-ins, which kept going well into the later part of the decade. The most popular of these would be HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1981), but other entries in the rape-revenge genre include TERROR EXPRESS, TERROR and, to a lesser extent, HITCH HIKE (1975), with LAST HOUSE's David Hess in probably his most interesting and defined psycho role. One of the more obscure rip-offs is Aldo Lado's NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, which has fallen through the cracks over the years. It was released in the U.S. as THE NEW LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (subtle, eh?), but is presented here by Blue Underground from the original negative, with its original title and all the controversial sex and violence intact.
Laura and Margaret (played by the divine Irene Miracle of Argento's INFERNO) are two college students traveling to stay with Laura's family for their Christmas holiday. They board an overcrowded train, but switch to another one when a bomb scare causes a delay. Thinking they are safely en route to a happy holiday, little do they know they have been followed. Joining them on their new vehicle are Blackie and Curly, a pair of psychotic criminals (who were seem in the opening credits robbing and stabbing a sidewalk Santa to death), and their nameless rich lady friend, who indulges in sexual games with Blackie at every opportunity. At first the trio join them in their quaint early Christmas dinner of sandwiches, but soon things become a little too eerie when the Lady tries to draw the young girls into her perverted world. Curly slices off some of Laura's hair and sniffs it voraciously, they are forced at knifepoint to watch the Lady and Blackie have sex in their darkened compartment, are repeatedly punched and beaten and even worse... Laura is given the brunt of the torture, forced to give Curly a handjob and take off her panties to expose herself to the three, before being raped and having a knife plunged into her nether regions. To make matters more perverse, a passer-by falls into the room and actually rapes Margaret at the gang's insistent (!). Fearing she will get the same treatment, Margaret flees from the compartment and jumps to her death from a bathroom window. But the culprits will get theirs when they are taken home by Laura's parents and their heinous deeds are discovered.
Aldo Lado has yet to create a truly cohesive, successful film. WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972) is a gripping thriller for the first half of the film, with gorgeous Venetian location photography and a likable father and daughter combo in George Lazenby and Nicoletta Elmi, but bogs down during the child murder investigation. SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS (1971) used an interesting concept, which built steadily with suspense but soon petered out...before a great twist climax! NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS is no exception. It takes a full 30 minutes before anything of consequence happens in the film. We are introduced to all the characters, but learn nothing about them through their goofy dialogue scenes and the lengthy train ride. Only when the girls change trains does the real movie begin, and it has its moments. The rape and violence scenes are expectedly brutal and not pretty to watch. They're all shot in a darkened train compartment, with ominous blue lighting shining on the faces of the villains. Dramatic editing cuts back and forth between Laura's dying scene and the parents having a grand time at their Christmas party.
What keeps the movie interesting is the cast of familiar Eurocult characters, most from Dario Argento films. Irene Miracle was, of course, the ill-fated sister of Leigh McCloskey in Argento's INFERNO (1980) and appeared in the spectacular underwater tomb sequence of that film. The "Lady" is played by Macha Meril, who played the mysterious psychic in DEEP RED (1975) whose murder was one of many highlights in that film. Flavio Bucci was, of course, another murdered character, that of the blind pianist killed by his own dog in SUSPIRIA (1977). And harkening back to Argento's early days, Laura's father is played by the late Enrico Maria Salerno, the police detective in THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) and also the insane filmmaker in CANDY (1968). Finally, the brief role of a dinner guest allows the gorgeous Dalilah Di Lazzaro to grace the screen; she should be familiar to avid Eurocult moviegoers from FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1974) and Argento's PHENOMENA (1984). Overshadowed by the appearance of so many "superstars" is the performance by (the unfortunately late) Marina Berti as Salerno's wife. She is a lovely actress and infuses a pretty thankless role with charm and believability. Some may recognize her from WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974).
In the long run, NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS is one of those films with dynamite exploitation ideas and ad campaigns that delivers that little bit more to make it an underrated classic. The sleazy, slinky performance by Macha Meril is one that should have gone down in the history books. It's a technically well-made little film, with wonderful cinematography, superb editing and a depressing score by Ennio Morricone (including a real downer of a song by a Tiny Tim clone!), and once the pace begins moving, it never takes a second to breathe. The fact that the film accomplishes its goals of being a sadistic, vile rape-revenge story might be taken as a backhanded compliment; the wary should know it's a ride well worth taking.
Blue Underground's 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer from the original negative is simply gorgeous, with bold colors, solid blacks and no grain whatsoever. Some dirt appears in the frame in some shots, but this appears to be in-camera, so couldn't be fixed. The English audio is soft, but serviceable.
The extras are slim (what? no Macha Meril interview?!), but get the job done in appreciating the film for the little gem that it is. Best of all is the interview with director/co-writer Aldo Lado. He has contributed interviews for the DVD's of his other horrors, WHO SAW HER DIE? and SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS, making his genre triumvirate complete on DVD. In 15 minutes, Lado discusses the project's origins (including the influence of LAST HOUSE), the motivations of Macha Meril's character (he notes the importance of the veil on her hat), working with the different actors and dealing with the film being censored all over the world. And yes, he talks about the cheesy Demis Roussos song (the singer looks like Paul Naschy!). It's too bad the usually comprehensive Blue Underground didn't interview Macha Meril, Flavio Bucci, Irene Miracle, Laura D'Angelo or Gianfranco de Grassi. They could have provided an actor's point of view of playing such interesting characters. Miracle seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, despite working well into the late 90s and showing much promise in all of her film roles.
Also included on the disc is a rarely seen U.S. trailer (with the title LAST STOP ON THE NIGHT TRAIN), the international trailer which includes unused alternate takes of several violent sequences, U.S. radio spots under the title THE NEW HOUSE ON THE LEFT and a large stills gallery with abandoned lobby card artwork, soundtrack album covers, a full-length German pressbook (the title: GIRLS IN THE CLUTCHES OF PASSIONATE BEASTS!), video sleeves and of course plenty of international posters, ad mats, publicity stills and lobby cards (some of which were provided by DVD Drive-In's own George Reis!). (Casey Scott)
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