God bless the coked out ’80s. In a decade where anything and everything went, Night Train to Terror had it all. The best part is, it’s not just a single movie but three films crammed into one. The film is similar to Creepshow, Tales From the Hood and Terror Tract. However, rather than a completed anthology with three short tales and a wraparound, Night Train to Terror was three unreleased movies combined into one feature. All three of those films have since been released, but back in 1985, they were harder to come by. Where do I even begin with Night Train to Terror? I may as well start with the wraparound story.
Writer Philip Yordan kicks things off with a band singing and dancing for absolutely no reason, but it’s still fun to watch. While the band – fronted by the writer’s son (Byron Yordan) – sings and dances, God (Himself AKA Ferdy Mayne) and Satan (Lu Sifer AKA Tony Giorgio) are discussing morality which has to be seen to be appreciated. Yordan ties the three films into the wraparound by having the Conductor (Gabriel Whitehouse) announcing that God or Satan will take the souls of everyone in the stories told depending on how they behave. After each story, we’re given more singing and dancing. More on that later… let’s get to the stories!
The first story in Night Train to Terror, The Case of Harry Billings, is actually the movie Scream Your Head Off. A drunken man named Harry (John Philip Law) decides that he can’t drive fifty-five with his wife in the car, so he guns it much to her chagrin. He ends up plowing off a bridge into the salty sea below and his wife dies, but he’s fished out unharmed. Later on, he feels so guilty for causing her death that he decides to take a swan dive into the afterlife by jumping off the same bridge. Once again, he’s fished out alive and sent to a sanitarium run by the nefarious Dr. Fargo (Sharon Ratcliff), Dr. Brewer (Arthur Braham) and their sadistic orderly, Otto (Richard Moll: House 1985). Apparently these doctors, wait for it… hypnotize Harry and use him as bait to lure women to be sold to rich sheikhs in the Middle East. Yes, THAT is the plot. It’s seriously silly but it’s also somewhat scary seeing women cut up and tortured. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say Harry gets his final revenge on everyone.
The problem with cramming three movies into one feature length film is, instead of writing three short stories, you have to edit out almost half each full length movie in order to fit them all in. If you’re watching just the story with no idea how the movie goes, you may not have one earthly idea what’s going on besides Otto screaming at people and trying to beat up poor, hysterical Harry in every scene. The edits become a bigger factor time in the second story.
The second story, The Case of Greta Connors, is my personal favorite. The actual title movie was The Death Wish Club and it gets absolutely ridiculous right off the bat. Pre-med student Glen Marshall (Rick Barnes again) stops by his old frat during a party where they’re showing some random porn film. He finds the lead actress, Gretta (Meridith Haze), absolutely gorgeous and decides he’s GOT to have her. He manages to find her, but she’s also caught the eye of super rich playboy George Youngmeyer (J. Martin Sellers), who has powerful influence over her. George takes it upon himself to drag Glen into a bizarre world of fetishes and a series of contests held by a secret society called the Death Wish Club which takes turns playing a different form of Russian Roulette every night just for fun. Some of the members include Contessa (Toni Covington), Federico (William Charles) and the star of the show, Price Flubutu (Mark E. Ridley), who’s dressed almost exactly like Jimi Hendrix.
Just like in the first segment in Night Train to Terror, this one is BADLY edited to the point where it misses an entire plot twist, leading to the infamous scene where Gretta suddenly looks entirely different. In the movie, she “dies” and becomes Charlie the piano player (don’t ask), but here she goes from Gretta to Charlie with no mention and fans watching at home are completely confused. Anyway, Prince Flubutu is killed by an electric chair but not before he utters the best line of the movie: “Excuuuuse me while I smoke!” The sad part was that the segment was pretty interesting, but was so horribly edited you have absolutely no idea what’s going on half the time.
After yet another music video where the singer breakdances and a Doug Savant lookalike (Rick Arbuckle) plays sax, we get to the third and final story in Night Train to Terror, The Case of Claire Hansen, which actually looked scary. The original movie was called Cataclysm and it should be noted that the previous two segments were overdubbed with extremely ridiculous claymation, but that same claymation actually makes the third part work. A down on his luck police officer named Lt. Sterne (Cameron Mitchell) finds a homicide victim that’s linked to a seemingly ageless playboy named Olivier (Robert Bristol) who turns out to be Satan’s right hand man. The cop and a gaggle of his buddies, including a priest (Juan Luis Curiel) and a man named Dieter (Marc Lawrence), figure out that Olivier must be stopped or all hell will break loose.
Unlike the first two stories, this one could have actually been scary. Olivier is downright frightening and so are his various forms, including a claymation spider that was pretty cool for its time. Out of the three movies, this film should have been the one that was released to the public. The best line of this one was Olivier shouting, “There is only one master! And his name….is Satan!”
All in all, this compilation was never going to win any awards but the question is this, is Night Train to Terror worth watching? If you want to rot your brain for 93 minutes with a cheesy music video and atrociously edited movies to fit into one script, then watch this flick! The movie is an absolute mess but that’s what gives it its charm. You’re either going to laugh and or roll your eyes the whole time, and either way, that’s a good thing. If you ever want to watch the full movies of the three segments, the best in order are Cataclysm, The Death Wish Club and then Scream Your Head Off. As for Night Train To Terror… everybody’s got something to do, everybody but YOU!