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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Terror Train, or: Japes on a Train

*Spoilers below*

You know, I don’t think we’ve reviewed a single Jamie Lee Curtis film on the Blog Collab. Not for lack of interest; we simply prefer for our picks to fly under the radar a bit more than many of the iconic classics that feature JLC. This week’s pick may very well be a first then–a Jamie Lee Curtis feature, if not…er…quite a modern classic.

The Film:

Terror Train

The Premise:

A costume frat party on a train provides a perfect opportunity for a disguised killer to strike.

The Ramble:

It’s bonfire night for the rowdiest frat on campus, meaning the time for hijinks is nigh. Poor Kenny, the nerdy/sensitive one, is relieved he will shortly be able to ditch the unfortunate beanie all of the new pledges must wear. Kenny is eager to prove how cool he is by sleeping with gorgeous Alana, who is supposedly very into the sensitive young man.

A group of college students wear red letter jackets as they stand outside at a party in winter. Two of the group wear red and white beanies that mark them as uninitiated frat members.

Unfortunately, the frat bros know too well that Kenny is extremely creeped out by dead body parts (like a normal human, honestly). All of this elaborate setup is part of a pretty nasty prank involving Kenny cuddling up to a cadaver intended for the med students to use (which, btw, would likely get all those involved ejected from the program). Pressured into participating in the prank, Alana is clueless about the dead body involved in all of this, and expresses remorse immediately. She’s especially regretful when Kenny is ultimately hospitalized following the incident.

But that’s totally beside the point, right? Completely in the past, never to resurface again. Fast forward 3 years, and we’re ready to celebrate the new year and the impeding graduation of the frat boy/med. student crowd aboard a steam train. Obviously. Everyone is conveniently dressed in costume to amplify the homicidal chaos festive atmosphere.

Alana, a young woman played by Jamie Lee Curtis, sits next to her boyfriend on a train.

Silly Ed is dressed as Groucho Marx, though his comedic stylings are more in line with classic dad jokes. Mercifully, the truly terrible jokes don’t last long–Ed is the first to go, stabbed before the train even leaves the station. Ed falls perfectly onto the train tracks, though not before the mysterious killer claims the costume for upcoming use.

As the train takes off on its novelty journey, Alana and bff Mitchy are thrilled, vowing to be friends forever. Yikes. Meanwhile, David Copperfield is lurking around, prepared to do magic and stand around dark corners. Doc, voted most douchey in the class, is eager to remember his best prank, the one targeting Kenny. This is rather a sore spot for Alana, who (wisely) hasn’t been a fan of Doc since that night. Unfortunately, Doc is very much part of the friend group, as he is dating Mitchy and is a close friend of Mo’s.

The magician David Copperfield performs a magic trick with a rose for the benefit of Alana, who looks on in amazement.

Predictably, Doc is determined to be an asshole, making it clear to Alana that the idea for the party train was all his. Mo, who made the entire evening seem like a surprise planned for Alana, is SOL, and the two get into a fight. Unbeknownst to the group of friends, they are down another med. student–Jackson, dressed in a lizard costume.

This is more or less the way our film unfolds: drama between various couples, David Copperfield magical interludes, more and more grisly murders. Interspersed are scenes with the train conductor and crew, who end up as amateur detectives when they begin to realize something is amiss.

In one of our more dramatic sequences, Mitchy sees Doc and Mo head off to a separate train car with two foxy magician’s assistants. Upset with her boyfriend’s infidelity, Mitchy bumps into lizard man Jackson…or does she? Seeking romantic vengeance becomes a dangerous pursuit, especially when Mitchy realizes just how cold Jackson’s hands are.

A young woman with blonde hair sits on the top bunk in a sleep car, a man in a green lizard costume standing in front of her with a clawed hand on her knee.

Once the number of murders on this train ride becomes impossible to ignore, the crew has the brilliant idea of stopping the train to search for the killer. Because that’s sure to help. Alana has put two and two together, warning Doc that she suspects Kenny is the killer on the train, seeking revenge against all in their group of friends. Can they unmask the murderer before it’s too late?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s no escaping the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis looks damn good as a lady pirate, and that alone carries perhaps 75% of this film.

Beyond that, I didn’t hate this. I can certainly see why this film hasn’t become a horror classic in the way that other JLC vehicles have. There are a LOT of scenes of 20-somethings just standing around in various costumes that aren’t particularly necessary. And while I do appreciate the effort made to make the train crew more than nameless, faceless background characters, most of their scenes are a bit boring IMHO.

Given the opening scene of the film, it’s pretty obvious who the murderer will turn out to be. However, David Copperfield is creepy enough here (and probably generally, to be honest) that he makes for a pretty convincing red herring, especially when he seems to take a shine to Alana. Lines of dialogue he utters to her include “Do you believe in magic?” and, shortly after, “I’ll have to convince you.” Shudder.

I will say, even when it was obvious where the film was going, there were still a few surprises. An extremely spoiler-y one is that Kenny’s most dramatic disguise is that of lady assistant to David Copperfield. Which does leave me with more questions than answers–like for how many years was Kenny an assistant to DC? And does David Copperfield just not believe in background checks, because supposedly Kenny killed someone, perhaps while institutionalized, before becoming an assistant. However, the more important focus here is that it’s problematic to depict people who dress in drag or are gender non-conforming as criminals who are out to trick others. It feels gross, honestly–and not necessarily an attitude that’s a complete throwback. These ideas and depictions are very much alive and well today.

On a final, petty level, I was annoyed that Alana didn’t get the last swing at Kenny. I feel if you’re terrorized by a murderer who kills the vast majority of your friends, you should at least be the one to hit him with a shovel in the end. In horror movie land anyway.

Would my blog wife guess this one’s card correctly or make it disappear altogether? Find out in her review!

4 thoughts on “Terror Train, or: Japes on a Train”

  1. I can’t deny this was a ride! The beginning prank was very interesting and dramatic, I’m not sure how those frat tossers thought it was okay but then again, how self aware can I expect them to be?!

    JLC is a dream isn’t she? Such a handsome woman. And ugh, David Copperfield is like a walking wax work. He makes my skin crawl. It’s a wonder he didn’t have a healthy career in horror after this, he’s more unsettling that any knife welding psycho.

    I’m also pleased I wasn’t the only one who had that reaction to the reveal about Kenny being the assistant. I hadn’t even considered how long this undercover life may have been going on. And am I right in believing when Mo was cheating on Alana, it was with Kenny all along? I couldn’t quite work it out.

    Interesting pick my love. Thank you xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really creeped out by celebrity magicians to begin with, and David Copperfield feels like he’s in some secret contest to be the creepiest of them all.
      Lol, as soon as I started wondering how long Kenny had this planned, the more that became the only thing I could focus on. Was he seriously released from psychiatric care after killing someone?! Or did he escape but no one even noticed?!?!? And he still had time to find out about the group’s NYE plans, all while learning to apply makeup and walk in heels?!?!?
      I call BS, without even unpacking all of the film’s troubling implications about dressing in drag.
      I was very unclear about the Mo cheating situation too…but I had trouble keeping track of quite a few of the characters with the same feathered ’70s haircut, honestly.

      Like

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