Night Train Murders (1975)

The windows look out onto hell... a view that will take your breath away... permanently!
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Night Train Murders (AKA Don't Ride on Late Night Trains or L'ultimo treno della notte)

I have to say that about halfway through this film I was ready dismiss it as rather longwinded and aimless: not only does Night Train Murders (aka Don't Ride on Late Night Trains or L'ultimo treno della notte) manage to claw its way back, but I ended up being rather impressed by this low-key example of exploitation fare which plays its cards very close to its chest until late on in proceedings. I was also struck by how ahead of its time it was in several ways: like films such as Last House on the Left, it has much in common with a glut of endurance horror we typically associate with a much later period, and is no doubt just as influential a piece of work.

Two young cousins, Lisa (Laura D'Angelo) and Margaret (Irene Miracle) are about to travel down from Germany to Italy by train to stay with Lisa's parents, Giulio (Enrico Maria Salerno) and Laura (Marina Berti) for Christmas. Obviously this is a long trip, and things are made worse by the fact that two lowlifes which we have just seen mugging and otherwise terrorizing passers-by near the train station end up taking the same train, to get away from their pursuers. The two guys make general nuisances of themselves on an already packed, lunatic-laden rail service before one of the guys (referred to as "Blackie" on IMDb, although I don't recall him being named in the film) gets lucky with a rather unlikely partner - a well-to-do woman who obviously harbours some pretty dark secrets.

So far, the two lowlifes have been little more than annoying; the film is structured such that you could almost see them as red herrings, prior to some really nasty characters coming along. In any case, they're all but forgotten when some problems with the girls' train leads them to decide to take another instead. This all seems fine, until they realise that the two troublemakers seem to have hopped trains too - and not only are they now accompanied by the mysterious woman from the other train, but she seems to operate like a catalyst for their bad behaviour.

Thus follows a series of increasingly (mainly sexually) aggressive scenes as the trio of debauchees select Lisa and Margaret as their playthings. Whilst these scenarios are presented largely in quite an understated way (there is very little blood, for instance, and the darkness of the train carriage limits what can be seen) they are no less the nasty for it, and I did find myself feeling sympathy for the two girls as their ordeal develops. But, for me, where the film really comes into its own is by not concluding where you might suppose it would. This allows the tension which is lacking in the first half of the film to develop quite rapidly, beyond the end of the train journey and with characters which had been quite cleverly woven into the story from its beginning. Throughout, this is a technically-proficient film: it has an interesting score (written by Ennio Morricone, no less) and uses the kind of sophisticated shots you might not expect. The conflation of the easy-going dinner party at home in Italy and the terror of the girls in the train carriage is very effective, as is blending the sound effects from each location - the thundering of the train engines plays over the dinner-party conversation; screams and pleading can be heard as Lisa's parents dance together. Of course, none of this would matter unless you cared somewhat, and it is that pathos which allows the film to layer on unease in a film which could best be described as "a grower".

Night Train Murders is an interesting and definitively nasty piece of underground cinema. Don't forget, readers - oh, and if you want to get away with murder, make sure you have expensive clothes and a nice accent...

Shameless DVD always do a good job on their releases and this one is no exception: the disc includes a theatrical trailer for the main feature, as well as chapter selection and a series of trailers for other releases (The Frightened Woman, My Dear Killer, Ratman, Baba Yaga, The Black Cat and Off Balance: Phantom of Death).
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Categories: Italian Horror Movies
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