NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1975) (Blu-ray)
Director: Aldo Lado
Blue Underground

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 on blu-ray by Blue Underground from the original negative, with its original title and all the controversial sex and violence intact.

Lisa (the late Laura D'Angelo) and Margaret (played by the divine Irene Miracle of Argento's INFERNO) are two college students traveling to stay with Lisa'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 seen 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 Lisa'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... Lisa 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 (Franco Fabrizi) 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 Lisa'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 Lisa'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 young nurse allows the gorgeous Dalilah Di Lazzaro to grace the screen; she should be familiar to avid Eurocult moviegoers from FRANKENSTEIN '80 (1973), 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.

Though Blue Underground's 2004 looked well enough, their new blu-ray edition of NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS in an improved stunner. The film is now presented in a brand-new High Definition transfer from the original uncensored negative, with 1080p HD resolution. Retaining the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the new transfer is simply gorgeous, with eye-popping colors, solid blacks and no grain whatsoever. If you notice some minor dirt in the upper and lower frame on occasion, it's just a slight blemish having to do with the in-camera hard matting and can't be helped. There is one audio track, DTS-HD Mono English, which sounds much stronger than the previous DVD's track; solid with no noticable imperfections. Optional subtitle tracks are included in English SDH, French and Spanish.

Carried over from the 2004 DVD release is the is the interview with director/co-writer Aldo Lado, who has contributed interviews for the DVD's of his other horrors, WHO SAW HER DIE? and SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS. 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 or Gianfranco de Grassi. They could have provided an actor's point of view of playing such interesting characters. Miracle was recently interviewed on camera for Blue Underground's blu-ray release of INFERNO.

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, two 30-second U.S. radio spots under the title THE NEW HOUSE ON THE LEFT and a large stills gallery with international posters, publicity stills, lobby card artwork, pressbook ad mats and various video sleeves. (Casey Scott)