A strange European production that overcomes a bland first hour by delivering an over-the-top finale filled with apocalyptic implications and mass bloodshed, Horror Express costars the venerable Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in their umpteenth movie together. Set in the Far East circa 1906, the story begins when Professor Saxton (Lee) loads his latest discovery into the cargo car of the Trans-Siberian Express, intending to cart the fossil back to Europe. Saxton believes the creature he’s found might be the “missing link,” but once the train gets underway, a series of mysterious deaths suggests the monster is not only alive but also homicidal. Cushing plays Dr. Wells, another scientist on board the train and one of several inconsequential characters who get caught up in the intrigue of determining whether Saxton’s discovery is behind the trip’s rapidly rising body count. Much of the picture comprises talky scenes intercut with grisly murders, though the story gets very strange by the time a laughably miscast Telly Savalas shows up as a gun-toting Russian officer assigned to investigate the troubles reported aboard the train: It seems the shambling killer is actually an energy being from outer space who inhabits mortal shells long enough to find new hosts, a process that is accomplished by sucking people’s memories out through their eyeballs. (Yes, this is one of those gruesome flicks in which victims bleed profusely from their eye sockets.) The icky death scenes provide most of the movie’s lurid appeal, although the choice to make insane priest Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza) look like infamous mad monk Rasputin is a nice touch. Cushing and Lee deliver perfunctory work, Savalas raises the energy level considerably with his absurd cameo, and the wild excess of the climax is noteworthy. Horror Express is mediocre at best, but it can’t be said the filmmakers were stingy with carnage.
Horror Express: FUNKY