Technically, Millennium Film’s 2008 Train isn’t a remake of Jamie Lee Curtis slasher, Terror Train. That was the original idea. Apparently, writer and director Gideon Raff took the concept in a new direction. This is probably a nice way of saying that the producers took note of the box office receipts for ‘torture porn’ horror. Suffice it to say, the train setting is the only thing the two movies share in common. Yet while it’s not a direct remake, Train marks an interesting contrast in horror styles with Terror Train.
Terror Train a Minor Slasher Classic
‘Scream Queen’ Jamie Lee Curtis starred in three horror movies in 1980 – The Fog, Prom Night, and Terror Train. Following on the runaway success of Halloween and then Friday the 13th, Terror Train hit the slasher movie market during its upswing. Within a few short years, the slasher subgenre would become over-saturated with trope-heavy retreads. But Terror Train had timing, a rising star, and a unique twist to what was fast becoming a formulaic horror narrative. Though it was only a modest box office success Terror Train’s setting and killer’s pattern of adopting their victims’ costumes help it stand out.
…Terror Train remains one of the better B-level slashers from the subgenre’s ‘Golden Era’.
Otherwise, writers T.Y. Drake, Daniel Grodnik, and Judith Rascoe closely follow the slasher template. Everything from the tragic past incident to easy-to-spot red herrings abound in Terror Train. Things diverge from other slashers with relatively bloodless killings. Instead, Terror Train invests its hopes in its suspenseful setting and mystery elements. To some extent, the mystery component is more ‘Scooby Doo’ than Agatha Christie. Nonetheless, director Roger Spottiswoode gets the most out of his claustrophobic setting. With a satisfying climax, Terror Train remains one of the better B-level slashers from the subgenre’s ‘Golden Era’.
Train Marks the Nadir of Torture Porn
Think of Train as Terror Train meets Hostel, minus all the good parts of those two movies. In particular, Raff’s story cribs heavily from Roth’s Hostel. Several US college wrestlers competing in Eastern Europe miss their morning train after a night of partying. When a mysterious European stranger suggests a different train, the naive Americans jump at the opportunity. Once aboard the train, the students slowly discover that its crew intend to murder them and harvest their organs. You can probably add the similarly-themed Turistas to Train’s list of influences. In fact, there’s nothing original about Train.
Free of scares and suspense, Train becomes tedious by the time it reaches its stretched out climax.
From the opening credits, Train sets out to establish its ‘Torture Porn’ credentials with a series of grotesque images. Saw was genuinely suspenseful, and Hostel had a dark, twisted humour behind its violence. Train has neither of these features. There’s lots of impressive gore effects. Eyeballs are pulled out, stomachs gutted, and jaws impaled with hooks. But Raff doesn’t seem to know what to do with these violent set-pieces, filming them in an unimaginative style. Even worse, Train long overstays its welcome. Free of scares and suspense, Train becomes tedious by the time it reaches its stretched out climax.
Stock European Villains and Forgettable Victims
Some critics have singled out Roth’s Hostel, as well as Green Inferno, as xenophobic movies. Well, those movies have nothing on Train. Its Euro-trash villains are so cartoonish that it nearly elevates the depictions beyond offensiveness. Aside from checking off stock European villain traits, Train’s antagonists are just unremarkable, producing zero menace. Equally unremarkable are the movie’s cast of young victims. Thora Birch is a talented actress, but Raff’s screenplay gives her zero with which to work. She’s the ‘Final Girl’ who knows something is wrong but to whom no one will listen. Teen Wolf’s Gideon Emery shows some personality in his limited role. But you’ll be hard-pressed to remember any other character’s name.
Two Trains, Two Horror Subgenres, One Good Movie
Though it was already somewhat derivative upon its release, Terror Train made good use of its premise and the subgenre tropes to stand out early in the slasher wave. There’s enough suspense and fun to put it alongside other B-level classics like My Bloody Valentine and The House on Sorority Row. Conversely, Train is a derivative ‘Torture Porn’ flick released as the subgenre was gasping its last breath. Movies like Captivity and I Know Who Killed Me had already failed a year earlier. And Paranormal Activity had just replaced the Saw franchise at the Halloween box office. What’s left is a dull, unimaginative, and mean-spirited movie not worth the ticket to ride.