Horror Express – Spain | UK, 1972

‘A non-stop ride to Hell!!’

Horror Express – aka Pánico en el Transiberiano (“Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express”) – is a 1972 British-Spanish science fiction horror feature film directed by Eugenio Martin (A Candle for the Devil; Supernatural), produced by Bernard Gordon and written by Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet (Psychomania).

The Scotia International production stars Christopher LeePeter Cushing, Telly Savalas (Lisa and the Devil), Alberto de Mendoza and Silvia Tortosa (The Loreley’s Grasp).

In order to cash-in on the early ’80s horror movie boom, the film was re-released in the US by New Century Pictures as The Possessor.

On February 12, 2019, Horror Express is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video. The special features are:

  • Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
  • Introduction to the film by film journalist and Horror Express super-fan Chris Alexander
  • Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express – an interview with director Eugenio Martin
  • Notes from the Blacklist – Horror Express producer Bernard Gordon on working in Hollywood during the McCarthy Era
  • Telly and Me – an interview with composer John Cacavas
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing by Adam Scovell

Commenting on the new release and the previous Severin Films Blu-ray, John Llewellyn Probert of House of Mortal Cinema noted:

“Where the Arrow disc wins is in the new extras, and best of these is an outstanding commentary track from Kim Newman and Stephen Jones which is engaging, enthusiastic, and packed with interesting pieces of information and genre commentary. It’s truly excellent stuff and worth getting the new disc for.”

Plot:

In 1906, Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee), an English anthropologist, is returning to Europe by the Trans-Siberian Express from Manchuria to Moscow. With him is a crate containing the frozen remains of a primitive humanoid creature that he discovered in a cave in Manchuria. He hopes it is a missing link in human evolution. Doctor Wells (Peter Cushing), Saxton’s rival and Royal Society colleague, is also onboard but travelling separately.

A long-haired and bearded monk (Alberto de Mendoza), the spiritual advisor to a Polish Count and Countess who are also waiting to board the train, proclaims the contents of the crate to be evil. Saxton furiously dismisses this as superstition.

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Saxton’s eagerness to keep his scientific find secret arouses the suspicion of Doctor Wells, who bribes a porter (Victor Israel) to investigate the crate. The porter is killed by the ape-like creature within, which then escapes the crate by picking the lock…

Reviews:

” … gets away with its unlikely story with the fast speed of the action and nicely humorous passages such as Lee and Cushing, accused of being callous monsters, protesting “But we are English!”.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror 

“Curious horror piece with a few interesting touches along the way.” Howard Maxford, The A – Z of Horror Films, Batsford, 1996

“The creature has the ability to erase men’s minds by turning them into blank eyed zombies. It’s great fun, with Lee and Cushing playing the material for all its worth.” Jamie Russell, Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema, 2014, (2ndEdition)

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“You’ve got a brain-jumping alien parasite, some truly revolting sfx and Cushing and Lee. Think it can’t get any better? Prepare for a badly overacting Telly Savalas and an absolutely barking mad last half hour, which involves lots more death and some serious zombie action.” British Horror Films

“It’s a tense and fast-paced B-movie that refuses to let up. It doesn’t ask to be taken seriously and doesn’t need to be. The monster appears almost immediately rather than after the traditional 60-minute wait. The druggish on-again off-again soundtrack heightens the fear, and note how the themes in the soundtrack return when whistled or performed by some of the characters. Basically it’s one wonderfully weird scene after the next.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers, Lulu, 2012

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“The art direction (Ramiro Gomez Guardiana) and cinematography (Alejandro Ulloa) are exemplary, and the films moves at a tremendous lick […] There are autopsies galore, plenty of gory deaths, a very generous ration of droll humour, a late appearance from Telly Savalas, lots of reactivated zombie Cossacks and a thrilling climax which is a ‘cliffhanger’ in the most literal sense.” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema, Reynolds & Hearn, 2004

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” …Spanish director Eugenio Martin keeps it going at a rapid pace, so the holes in the plot and some dodgy dubbing are not too noticeable. The odd scary moment, and a lot of fun…” Andy Boot, Fragments of Fear: An Essential History of British Horror Films, Creation Books, 1996

” …the film is full of surprises and benefits from a strong cast and a lean screenplay. Part of the fun comes from each new discovery about the creature and watching Cushing and Lee try to keep up. The special effects are surprisingly good, with the monster appearing rather intimidating and lifelike.” Horror DNA

Horror Express is like The Thing (1951) meets Murder on the Orient Express meets The Hidden (1987). And, surprisingly, it’s a pretty good yarn too. […] Impressively, Horror Express is rather ambitious in its thinking, even beyond the details of the creature. The movie keeps throwing in inspired twists, most of them unexpected.” John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films of the 1970s, McFarland, 2002

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” …classy fun with a slight satiric edge.” Mike Mayo,  The Horror Show, Visible Ink Press, 2013

“One of the best, most creative and best written movies of the entire EuroHorror boom of the 1960s and 1970s, Horror Express succeeds in practically every level despite its low budget. Justifiably loved and revered by fans and critics alike, if you’ve never seen it stop reading this now and go and obtain a copy.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema

Horror Express is directed in an appro­pri­ately full-throttle style by Eugenio Martin, who main­tains a white-knuckle pace that deploys both adven­ture movie tac­tics and hor­ror atmos­phere with con­fi­dence.  Some scenes mix both, the best being a scene where the crea­ture takes on a bunch of sol­diers in a dark­ened train car.” Schlockmania!

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” …a grisly and macabre slice of sci-fi horror with a pretty steep body count for the day with no less than 15 by my count. At only and hour and a half the film’s well-plotted structure keeps the momentum moving forward with thrilling twists and turns, there’s no point at which the story becomes stagnant, it’s a finely paced film.” McBastard’s Mausoleum

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“Severin’s packed this with a wealth of bonus features, too […] a conversation with composer Cacavas, a new interview with Martin (who discusses the conception and production of the film and even tosses in some nice anecdotes involving Cushing and Lee), a 30 minute interview with producer Bernard Gordon on his days as a blacklisted Hollywood writer, and the film’s theatrical trailer.” Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror!

“The performances alone make the film worth the price of a ticket but one should not overlook the atmospheric photography of Alejandro Ulloa or José Maria Ramos’ opulent production design, which expertly disguises the poverty of the sets. In fact, the budget could only stretch to two train carriages mounted on springs, with Ramos rapidly redressing whichever of the sets was not in use.” John Hamilton, X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film: 1971 – 1983, Hemlock Books, 2014

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Horror Express is thoroughly entertaining, with its invention on a low budget, its eccentricity (Telly Savalas as a cossack?), its witty lines (“At your age, I’m not surprised!”), fine period detail and plentiful thrill sequences. There’s even a zombie-filled finale for good measure. Distinctive music by John Cacavas.” Grame Clark, The Spinning Image

“Director ‘Gene Martin’ keeps the action moving along at a frantic pace and the music by John Cacavas (who later scored The Satanic Rites of Dracula for Hammer) is very catchy indeed, the highlight behind a melody that even the creature himself is heard whistling! The original title Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express, was a bit of a mouthful but I personally think it was a better moniker for this eerie, claustrophobic and at times downright scary little picture…” Tim Greaves, Ten Years of Terror, FAB Press, 2001

“A fun, hybrid horror/science fiction flick…directed with flair by Eugenio Martin and with a script by Arnaud D’Usseau and Julian Halevy that is so outrageous, you can’t help but be entertained. With those two classy stars on board, along with Telly Savalas camping it up… who cares?” The Terror Trap

“An inferior reworking of The Thing from Another World, which still manages to keep interest alive despite some poor special effects, a flat jokiness and stereotype characters.” Chris Petit, The Time Out Film Guide

“Lee and Cushing contribute typically enthusiastic performances here, and their roles are spiced with plenty of wit and humor — usually at their expense — while Savalas is delightfully hammy as the arrogant Cossack. Also worth noting is the haunting musical score by Cacavas, which in the finest Ennio Morricone tradition) contains a memorable whistled theme.” TV Guide

“The claustrophobic feeling of being trapped aboard a moving train with a deadly monster is used effectively. The miniature train effects are generally quite good…” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956 – 1976, McFarland, 2000

Choice dialogue: 

“There’s a stink of Hell on this train.”

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Cast and characters:

  • Christopher Lee … Professor Sir Alexander Saxton
  • Peter Cushing … Dr. Wells
  • Alberto de Mendoza … Father Pujardov
  • Telly Savalas … Captain Kazan
  • Julio Peña … Inspector Mirov
  • Silvia Tortosa … Countess Irina Petrovski
  • Ángel del Pozo … Yevtushenko
  • Helga Liné … Natasha
  • Alice Reinheart … Miss Jones
  • José Jaspe … Conductor Konev
  • George Rigaud … Count Marion Petrovski
  • Víctor Israel … Maletero – the Baggage Man
  • Faith Clift … American Passenger (credited as Faith Swift)
  • Juan Olaguivel … the Creature (credited as Juan Olaguibel)
  • Barta Barri … First Telegraphist

Image credits: Temple of Schlock

Poster image at the top is artwork for a proposed British poster by Tom Chantrell

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