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Tuesday, October 24, 2017


"Everybody's got somethin' ta do...Everybody but YOU!!!"

While growing up in southern Connecticut, I spent a lot of time haunting the area's grindhouses in search of cheap and sleazy celluloid thrills, and more often than not such diversion meant horror movies while seated in a theater full of rowdy drunks and junkies. Many was the night I spent being thoroughly entertained by the head-on collision of a crappy movie and the hilarious and profane antics of my fellow moviegoers. It was the ass-end of a golden period in which trashy, zero-budget exploitation flicks were dumped into run-down theaters where they played for a week before vanishing into the ether and one's fond memories. VHS was in full flower at the time and a lot of those shitty movies did make it to home video, but the at-home experience simply could not compare to being at Ground Zero for the big screen release of the latest gore/nudity/profanity-laden attraction that was sure to bring the never-boring dregs of humanity to the theater. Those reprobates managed to liven up even the the least entertaining of time-wasters, so it was an extra-special event when the forces of drunken moviegoerdom collided with a bad movie of undeniable watchability and utter shameless, slapdash cruddiness. 

Such was the case on the May night in 1985 when I hauled my ass to Wilton Cinema to see NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR. Wilton Cinema was a weird theater whose programming often defied comprehension, thanks to them running quality mainstream releases one week, and random pieces of cheap exploitation garbage the next, and sometimes they would inexplicably pair respectable pictures with R-rated ultra-violent fare as inappropriate double-features. By the mid-1980's, the theater circuit's programmers finally gave up altogether and the theater morphed into one of Fairfield County's most reliable showcases for garbage cinema and insane audiences, and on the night when I experienced NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, the evening was punctuated by a thick haze of other-than-nicotinal smoke, the chime-and-crash of dropped 40-oz. malt liquor bottles hitting the sticky floor, and the merry audience hurling endless rejoinders at the action unfolding onscreen. On this specific night the audience was in rare form, and their wit was given a target worthy of their skills once the night train began its journey.

The film immediately gets into the audience's face with a so-bad-it's-awesome musical number in which a bunch of obnoxious faux-MTV types dance around at a party held on a speeding train. Led by a blonde, would-be-cool pretty boy who sings an inane dance tune, the group subjects us to feeble choreography and even some appalling white boy breakdancing as the singer admonishes the viewer with "Everybody's got somethin' ta do...EVERYBODY BUT YOU!!!"

One cannot help but admire the sheer nerve of not only foisting this "so '80's it's ridiculous" mess of a dance number upon an unsuspecting general public, but also for the film knowing exactly what kind of movie it is and directly calling out the viewer for having nothing better to do with their time than watch this piece of shit. Well played, NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR. Well played. (respectful clapping)

This hilarious number pops up a few times during the film and I defy you not to fall in love with its sheer awfulness and sing along every time the chorus tells us that "Everybody's got somethin' ta do...EVERYBODY BUT YOU!!!" (The smashed audience at Wilton Cinema sure did, and it was like an enthusiastic revival meeting.)

At this point, the audience had no idea what to expect from the film, since there had been no trailers leading up to it in the months before its release, nor were there any commercials on television, and the poster gave away absolutely nothing, seeing as it was simply an image of a bloody butcher knife embedded on a train track. That led one to believe that it was going to be yet another in the era's long line of cookie-cutter cheapo slasher flicks, so imagine our surprise when the movie turned out to be a horror anthology culled together from three pre-existing films (one unfinished), hung upon a framing device in which God  and Satan ride in a private car on the train as, unbeknownst to the dancing revelers, it hurtles toward its pre-ordained doom at dawn. God (Ferdy Mayne, familiar from THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, WHERE EAGLES DARE, BARRY LYNDON, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, HAWK THE SLAYER, and many, many more) and Satan (Tony Giorgio, best known from MAGNUM FORCE, FOXY BROWN, and as Bruno Tattaglia in THE GODFATHER; yes, a cast member from THE GODFATHER is in this movie) review the individual cases of assorted people and decide on whether their actions will relegate those hapless mortal to Heaven or eternal damnation. Each of these case plays out in segments edited from the aforementioned pre-existing films.

Cool! We get to watch TV with God and Satan!

"The Case of Harry Billings"

Otto's grim harvest.

Newlywed Harry Billings (BARBARELLA's John Phillip Law) survives a terrible car accident that kills his wife. Rescued from the crash by some of the most unscrupulous doctors in history and is drugged and brainwashed into becoming their personal errand boy,  Harry is dispatched to drug and kidnap busty women. Once they are drugged, the guy hauls his victims back to the creepy sanitarium that serves as the doctors' base of insidious operations, and the women are stripped to a state of gratuitous nudity before being molested/raped and eventually dismembered alive by Otto (NIGHT COURT's Richard Moll), a tall and incredibly creepy orderly, so that their components can be sold to medical schools around the world. (The sequences of the victims meeting their fates are quite nasty, with the dismemberments taking place offscreen while horrific screaming is heard, and the camera pans to a room that can only be called a human slaughterhouse, filled as it is with gory dismembered body segments on display and being packaged for shipping.) Harry is also pressed into sexual service for the pleasure of Dr. Fargo (Sharon Ratcliff), who drugs and lobotomizes her partner, Dr. Brewer (Arthur M. Braham), in order to take over the operation and reap all of the profits for herself.

Dr. Brewer, betrayed by his partner in evil.

As his usefulness nears its end, Otto prepares a jar in which to store Harry's soon-to-be-removed head, but Harry breaks free of the mind-control and sets out to free the living female prisoners after cold-cocking Fargo and strapping her to an operating table. Fargo meets a just and horrifying end as the lobotomized Dr. Brewer finds her and, with the help of another lobotomized staffer, decides to "open her up" without anesthetic. Harry fights Otto to the death and (rather unbelievably) wins, after which he walks into the operating room as the strapped-down and topless Dr. Fargo has her throat slit with a scalpel wielded by a barely-functional madman.

Bye-bye, Otto.

 By far the anthology's most visceral, nasty, and gory segment, this was originally shot as SCREAM YOUR HEAD OFF in 1981, but that film was never finished. As such, the re-purposing of footage as used here works quite well.

 "The Case of Gretta Connors"

When young love takes a detour into the very, VERY bizarre...

Pretty musician Gretta Connors (Meredith Haze) supports herself by selling popcorn at a carnival, where she meets sugar daddy George Youngmeyer (J. Martin Sellers), who scoops her up as his live-in lover and kept woman. Youngmeyer promises to make her a star and Gretta falls under his spell, finding herself starring in cheap porno reels shown at frat parties. (What we see of one of those efforts features Gretta in the most low-budget "squaw costume ever, roughly consisting of a poncho and a headband with a feather in it, as she finds herself on the receiving end of the lecherous attentions of a "pioneer" in an equally pitiful getup.) College student Glenn Marshall (Rick Barnes) sees one of Gretta's tenderloin opuses and instantly becomes obsessed with her. He somehow tracks her to Youngmeyer's Manhattan nightclub where she works as the house pianist (and we un-ironically see that her musical skills are barely up to those of a lazy grade-schooler) and the two become passionate lovers, which does not sit at all well with Youngmeyer. So, rather than simply accept that he's been supplanted by a younger man or simply hire someone to kick the shit out of Glenn, Youngmeyer instead invites the pair to the "death club," a cabal run by Youngmeyer in which the death-obsessed members regularly convene and expose themselves to novel forms of being killed. Each new possible demise results in a member dying horribly, and Youngmeyer intends for his former paramour and her lover to go out in that fashion. The methods of doom include death by rare stinging insect (actually a tatty stop-motion puppet), electrocution, and being crushed by a wrecking ball, all of which are cheesily depicted for our viewing pleasure.

How to lose the electrocution game.

Confusingly, the segment comes to an abrupt end, with no shown climax, and instead we cut back to God and Satan, where the train's porter states that "Gretta went off with the nice young man and lived happily ever after," with no mention whatsoever as to the fate of Youngmeyer. ???

"The Case of Gretta Connors" was edited from segments of the completely out of its mind DEATH WISH CLUB (1983), which is one of the most bizarre and insane movies it has ever been my pleasure to sit through. I found it on VHS in the dollar bin of an odd-lot closeout store in Manhattan in the early 1990's, knowing full well that it was the source of a segment in NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, but that foreknowledge in no way prepared me for just how crazy the unadulterated DEATH WISH CLUB was. The truncated version actual renders the madness into coherent form, but one notices in one of the sequences in NIGHT RAIN TO TERROR that Gretta's long hair suddenly switches to a rather butch short style with zero explanation, then back to her long-haired look for the rest of the story, and I remember noting that and being confused when seeing it in the theater. However, it is fully explained in DEATH WISH CLUB as Gretta, for no apparent reason, suddenly snapping and deciding from out of the blue that she is a man. At that point, she and Glenn are forced to participate in the death games at gunpoint and Gretta has clearly gone off the deep end into majorly unstable territory. My VHS copy of DEATH WISH CLUB is long gone, but I wish that film would get a DVD release. It's a unique work in the annals of bad cinema and it needs to be rescued from undeserved obscurity immediately.

Cover art from the VHS release of the delirious DEATH WISH CLUB (1983). The images seen on this cover have nothing to do with anything in the film.

"The Case of Claire Hansen"

An undying evil.

A demonic entity — who's implied to be the son of the Devil — named Olivier (Robert Bristol) has been around throughout human history and seeks to wipe out mankind. First seen in the narrative as a high-ranking Nazi official during WWII, Olivier turns up again in the 1980's and his existence is now provable thanks to the advent of photography. His efforts are opposed by a grungy monk (Maurice Grandmason) and who recruit skilled surgeon and devout Catholic, Dr. Claire Hansen (Faith Clift), the latter of whom ends up tasked by the Church with killing Olivier by cutting out his living heart. A number of Satanic obstacles hinder our heroes on the way to the completion of their mission, including a charming stop-motion demon.

Bargain basement Harryhausen or "Gumby Goes to Hell?" YOU decide!

Cribbed from CATACLYSM (1980), which I saw in its entirety on VHS under the title THE NIGHTMARE NEVER STOPS, the final segment is by far the most coherent and best-realized. And while it's fun in this abbreviated iteration, I urge you to seek out the full-length CATACLYSM and check that out. It's a good minor effort and deserves better than to languish in cinematic obscurity.

Once the final segment reaches its climax, we shift back to the train as God and Satan await the moment when the vehicles crashes (for no apparent reason) and kills all on board, save for our two cosmic entities. But after the fatal disaster happens, the train is restored and all are brought back to life, apparently to live out the scenario endlessly.

The titular conveyance heads forward to meet its fate, presumably on endless loop.

Bottom line: NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is world-class idiocy and is one the prime recommendations for when throwing a movie party in which you and your friends get your drink and your snark on. Out of the uncountable legions of bad movies, this is one of the most flat-out entertaining of the lot, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Poster from the theatrical release.

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