Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blu-ray Review: NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1975)


Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: ALL (ABC)Rating: Unrated
Duration: 94 Mins
Audio: DTS-HD Mono 1.0 with
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Video: 16:9 Widescreen 1.85:1 (16x9)
Director: Aldo Lado
Cast: Flavio Bucci, Macha Meril, Marina Berti, Irene Miracle

Tagline: You Can Tell Yourself It's Only A Movie... BUT IT WON'T HELP!

Whew, now this is what I call a revolting film! If you're in short supply of sick kicks and find yourself in need of an Italian rape-revenge exploitation fix I think I have what you're looking for right here. I've known of this film for some time and usually hear of it in the same breath as Wes Craven's seminal '72 shocker THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and not without good reason either. The Blu-ray cover sports the quote "More reprehensible than LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT" and while that's a serious accusation to drop on a film it's no mere hyperbole and I am inclined to agree, it's worth mentioning that it riffs heavily on Craven's film like few before or since but the Italians have never been known for subtlety when cashing-in on American properties now have they?

Margaret (Irene Miracle, INFERNO) and her cousin Lisa (Laura D’Angelo) board a train from enroute to Munich, Germany to stay with Lisa's parents in Italy for Christmas break. On board they meet two street punks, the not-without-charm Blackie (Flavio Bucci, SUSPIRIA) and the just plain creepy Curly (Gianfranco De Grassi) who themselves board the train illicitly after beating the snot out of a man dressed as Santa. The girls unaware of this are charmed by the duo and hide the scoundrels in the restroom to avoid the train's ticket taker but are quickly turned off when Blackie follows an upper-class blonde woman into the ladies room where he attempts to rape her but  she being not-quite what she seems turns the tables on the libidinous punk, seducing him instead.

Later when the train makes a stop at a depot in Austria and searched by authorities investigating a bomb threat the girls switch trains in an attempt to distance themselves from the punks. The two settle into a compartment on an empty car and are soon unnerved by the sounds of Curly's familiar and eerie harmonica playing. Attempting to flee to a more occupied train car they are coerced to stay when Blackie, Curly and the blonde woman, now calling the shots, enter the compartment. The film thus far started off slow but by this point had already been permeated with an twisted uneasiness, here it quickly becomes much darker as the young women are humiliated, raped and worse not just at the hands of the desperate street punks but under the direction of the blonde woman who takes a perverse delight in orchestrating the fiendish acts. In yet another layer of sleaziness a middle-aged man wanders onto the train car and observes a rape in progress but does nothing to stop it, in fact taking delight in the events until he is coerced into participating in the vile crimes, and even when he slips away unnoticed he does little to report the incident to the authorities.

While the film is seriously riffing on Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFTI must say I enjoyed this quite a bit more, it transcends it's origins by quite a margin. Craven's film is a shocking in-your-face experience, artless in it's rough cinema verite style but here we have some great atmospheric shot composition and cinematography from Gabor Pogany, it's an attractive film which is not something I think anyone would level at Craven's film. There's a sense of dread about this film that really settles over you, you know from the start that these girls are doomed, true to it's American inspiration, leading up to the perpetrators chance encounter with Lisa's mother and father, a doctor natch, whom takes uncharacteristically violent revenge upon his daughters murderers with one perverse twist. Throughout the film there's numerous mentions of the Dr.'s benevolent, non-violent tendencies and the ills of society, that stuff was laid on a bit thick for my tastes. I've never enjoyed the bizarre keystone cops kookiness of Craven's film, and director Lado maintains a somber mood throughout making the film resonate more soundly in my opinion.

Flavio Bucci despite a valiant attempt can't quite muster the demented menace of David Hess's "Krug" but few can. Gianfranco De Grassi as the black tar junkie Curly is more the imminent threat, a vile and sadistic presence for sure. As the unnamed blonde woman Mecha Meril is delightfully twisted,a would-be victim turned perverse ring leader, a lot of the truly disturbing acts in the final third are at her direction, grotesque stuff. Laura D’Angelo and Irene Miracle as our doomed victims are breathtaking women but the sexualized violence perpetrated against them is too ghastly to allow us to enjoy it, they offer solid performances and our sympathies for them never waiver.

Blu-ray: Blue Underground offer a brand-new high definition transfer of the film from the original negative in it's original 16:9 enhanced aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen and it's a thing of beauty. The image is phenomenal for a forty-year old film with vibrant colors and decent black levels with a fine layer of film grain quite intact, a wonderful image from a pristine print, very impressive and nicely detailed. The English-dubbed DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 1.0 comes off clean and strong if not overly dynamic, dialogue, effects and Ennio Morricone's haunting harmonica score sounds great, there's a reason he's the master of the filmscore.

Special features are sorta slim when compared to the recent Blue Underground ZOMBIE Blu-ray but we do get 2 trailers, 2 radio spots, a poster and stills gallery with the main attraction being a 15 minute on-camera interview with director Aldo Lado who openly discusses the film's origins, the genesis of the production, casting, Ennio Morricone's score, early screenings of the film and it's censorship as a Video Nasty in the UK. It's only 15 minutes but there's some tasty tidbits for fans of the film to chew on.

Special Features:- Riding the Night Train: Interview with Director Aldo Lado (15:57 ) 16:9
- U.S. Trailer (2:33) 16:9
- International Trailer (3:49) 16:9
- Radio Spot #1 (0:28)
- Radio Spot #2 (0:28)
- Poster and Still Gallery

Verdict: A dark, disturbing and effecting film, as Italian rape-revenge films go this is a top drawer title and I would put it right up there with Ruggero Deodato's HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK and throw in that it transcends it's American inspiration in dread, style and composition. It's an uneasy watch and not one soon forgotten, a squirm inducing slice of Italian exploitation presented in eye-popping 1080p, another fine presentation from Blue Underground and a high recommend. 4 outta 5