Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Boechner, David Copperfield
Rated R (Probably for Violence/Gore and Sexuality/Nudity)
Everyone gives slasher movie villains such a hard time. I mean, they do kill people, but so does Arnold Schwarzenegger. But instead of misguided men with testosterone issues or aliens, mad slashers ensure humanity's survival by offing the species' most stupid members. That's not villainy, it's community service!
All joking aside, "Terror Train" is a pretty shitty slasher movie. The characters are some of the dumbest people to ever wander in front of a camera (even by slasher movie standards), the script is in rough draft form, the atmosphere constantly mistakes darkness for being ominous, and the film moves along at a crawl (it's as if the filmmakers were convinced we actually cared about the characters, none of whom have anything resembling a personality).
The premise for the film (a fraternity finds out years later that pranks have a price, especially if they go wrong) is a slasher movie staple, but it's at least dressed up with intriguing (if improbable) details. Money aside, what fraternity could, or even would, book a train to host a party?
Whatever. It's just an excuse to set up the kill scenes, but sadly, they're not good. They're short, relatively bloodless, and not well staged (in most cases, we only see the before and after). As such, they lack any sort of visceral impact, which is really the only level that "Terror Train" could have hoped to succeed as.
After "Halloween," Jamie Lee Curtis became a hot commodity in the horror genre. This, "The Fog" (also directed by John Carpenter), "Prom Night." All slashers. It wasn't until "Trading Places" in 1983 that she escaped from being typecast, and went on to make movies like "A Fish Called Wanda" and "True Lies." I like Curtis very much, but I gotta say, her acting is pretty bad. At least she's in good company, with Oscar-winner Ben Johnson (who seems to have misread the role) and Hart Boechner (who went on to play the sleazy co-worker in "Die Hard") also turning in flat performances. No one else is memorable.
This was the film debut of Roger Spottiswoode, who went on to direct, among other things, "Turner & Hooch" (the dog movie with Tom Hanks), a James Bond adventure, and an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (the pun is not intended, I assure you). Then again, he also directed the much despised Stallone comedy "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!" Methinks he would do best to leave this title off of his resume too. After all, it was probably a bad sign if the writer's wife said it sounded stupid based on the pitch alone.