Horror Express

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Details At A Glance

General
Extras
Category Horror Main Menu Audio
Scene Selection Animation
Christopher Lee Filmography
Christopher Lee Biography
Notes - Credits
Howling III Trailer
Communion Trailer
Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills Trailer
Rating m.gif (1166 bytes)
Year Released 1972
Running Time 87:42 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Eugenio Martín
Studio
Distributor
Benmar Productions
Sonart Music Vision
Starring Christopher Lee
Peter Cushing
Alberto de Mendoza
Silvia Tortosa
Telly Savalas
Case Alpha
RPI $24.95 Music John Cacavas
Video
Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 224 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9No.jpg (4709 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
Miscellaneous
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    A good B-grade horror film is often good for what ails the viewer: after a stressful day, laughing at the silly effects can release the tension to a degree rarely experienced with other types of film. Horror Express is one such B-grade horror film, although it does appear to have been made with what might have passed for production values in the early 1970s. Set at the turn of the Twentieth century, the film begins with an expedition led by Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) discovering a frozen monster in the wastelands of Manchuria. Believing that this monster may well be the notoriously elusive Missing Link, he attempts to bring it back to Europe aboard the Trans-Siberian express, upon which one of his rivals by the name of Doctor Wells (Peter Cushing) is a passenger. As luck and a horror movie script would have it, a thief aboard the train attempts to open the monster's container, resulting in the monster breaking free and killing the passengers one at a time.

    From what I can gather, the evil creature in Horror Express is a malevolent force from outer space (is there any other kind?) that can use other living things as a host, learning the skills of these living things by sucking out their brain. For example, after the monster kills the thief, it finds itself with the ability to pick locks. This feature has always been a hallmark of good horror movie villains, although it was getting a little silly by the time the third Nightmare On Elm Street film arrived. The end result of this monster's feature, however, is that it has no physical presence of its own, which can be something of a hindrance when you're trying to immerse yourself in the story.

    Other important characters include a Russian monk by the name of Mirov (Julio Peña), and a Tsarist Russian military officer known as Captain Kazak (Telly Savalas). Ultimately, however, the best reason to see the film is Peter Cushing's performance, since he was quite literally the king of the B-grade horror movie. The model train effects are ordinary at best, and there's no way that this film will ever compare with John Carpenter's 1982 production of The Thing, but viewing the film without the expectation of seriousness yields pleasant results. Telly Savalas looks no different to when he performed as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service a few years earlier, and he definitely deserves a mention in the Over-Actors' Hall Of Fame.

    Overall, I enjoyed Horror Express as a B-movie that never took itself too seriously, which puts it ahead of most teen-market slashers that have hit the market in recent years. The pacing is somewhat slow, and the story development is a little haphazard at times, but the end results are worth watching. However, I believe you may wish to consider sourcing the film from somewhere other than Region 4.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The DVD's packaging claims that this transfer has been digitally remastered from an original print of the film. I have serious doubts about the validity of this claim. This transfer looks like it was sourced from a recycled laserdisc or even VHS master rather than a new telecine from anything remotely resembling early-generation source material.

    The video transfer is presented in its correct theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced.

    The sharpness of this transfer is just barely enough for the film to make sense, but quite below the standards that DVD is demonstrably capable of achieving with much older films. The shadow detail is adequate, but nothing to rave about. Low-level noise seems to be a minor issue at times in this transfer, with the black sections of the image looking slightly grey at times.

    The colour saturation is dull and washed out, partly due to the technical limitations of the cinematography, but also because of the transfer in places. At times, a specific hue will gain some saturation in comparison to the rest of the transfer, but overall, the effect is much like watching a VHS cassette that has been played a few dozen times too many. Dot crawl is frequently present in the image, occasionally combining with slight instances of colour bleed for a distracting effect.

    MPEG artefacts were not a serious problem in this transfer, but one instance of what looked like posterization occurs at 14:18, when a woman enters the luggage compartment and the skin of her face loses any semblance of tonal separation. The opening credits may have suffered from the Gibb effect into the bargain, but this section of the transfer was so lacking in resolution that the credits probably would have been unreadable anyway. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some telecine wobble and aliasing that was never too distracting. Film artefacts consisted of numerous nicks and scratches on the picture, and reel change markings at 36:48 and 56:58.

Audio

    In contrast to the other three Avenue One DVDs I have looked at recently, which all sounded as if the entire soundtrack had been mixed into the four channels provided by a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded mix, this is a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded mix that really does sound exactly the same as a 1.0 mix would. This is because this soundtrack is merely a 2.0 mono soundtrack with the surround flag set, which has the effect of placing the audio from the left and right channels in the centre channel. This is really a gross waste of channels and bits, although I can't really think of exactly how the reallocation of space to the video could really have caused much of an improvement.

    There is only one soundtrack on this DVD: the original English dialogue, encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second. A Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack could have done the job just as well, but we'll ignore this complaint for the time being. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand throughout the feature, and there are no discernible problems with audio sync.

    The score music in this film is credited to John Cacavas, and is intermittently present, usually when a revelation is made about the nature of the creature or its behaviour. It does an excellent job of maintaining the B-grade horror feel of the film, but that is really about it. Most of the time, you could really blink and miss the score music.

    In spite of my amplifier's claims that this is a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack with the centre and rears matrixed into the soundfield, there is no surround or even stereo activity in this soundtrack at all. Again, this is a gross waste of the soundtrack's format, especially given that encoding the soundtrack to use only the centre channel would have been a more effective option. The subwoofer was similarly silent throughout the film.

Extras

Menu

    The main menu is accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, while the scene selection menu is accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and as animated. The menus are not 16x9 Enhanced.

Christopher Lee Filmography/Biography

    A biography and filmography for Christopher Lee can be accessed from the main menu. They are readable, and worth reading once.

Notes - Credits

    A listing of every poor soul who worked on this turkey and the film.

Howling III Trailer

    An excellent sample of just how bad the feature is, quality-wise. This ninety-five second trailer is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Communion Trailer

    Clocking in at fifty-four seconds, the video quality of this 2.35:1 trailer is almost as appalling as the feature. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is plagued with hissing.

Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills Trailer

    This two-minute and ten-second trailer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The name of the film should give you a good idea of the sort of quality you can expect from this trailer.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The only reliable review to be found of the Region 1 disc is on DVDFile.com, which states that the picture is dull-looking with scratches and slight grain. This puts it well ahead of our local version, which is one of the grainiest, ugliest-looking transfers on the market. Additionally, the soundtracks on the Region 1 version of the disc are in Dolby Digital 1.0, rather than the channel-and-bit-wasting Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks we have been afforded. Region 1 appears to be the winner in this case due to superior video and audio quality.

Summary

    Horror Express is a B-grade turkey that has evolved into a cult classic, and it is worth watching just to see Peter Cushing at his best.

    The video quality is acceptable, just barely.

    The audio quality is a waste of good channels and bits.

    The extras are minimal.
 
 

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
February 3, 2000
Review Equipment
   
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer