Aldo Lado, 1975
Starring: Flavio Bucci, Macha Meril, Marina Berti, Irene Miracle
“Take it easy, don’t be afraid. We simply want to see what’s between your legs.”
Two girls — Lisa and Margaret — are taking a train from Germany to Italy to spend Christmas with Lisa’s parents. During the train ride, they meet two unsavory young men — Curly and Blackie — who seem harmless at first. Blackie tries to rape a beautiful blonde woman in the train’s bathroom, but she turns the tables on him and enjoys the encounter. After Lisa and Margaret witness the two met get into a violent fight, they try to move further down the train and wind up switching trains. Unfortunately Blackie, Curly, and the blonde find the girls and things escalate to torture, sadism, and rape, all because the blonde woman wants to have a little fun. Lisa and Margaret both wind up bloodied, beaten, and dead by the end of the train ride.
Blackie and Curly begin to turn on the blonde, finally realizing that they will soon be in serious trouble. Blackie kicks her and cuts her knee. This requires stitches and — as luck would have it — Lisa’s parents are waiting at the train station and as her father is the only doctor around, he takes them home to stitch up her leg. Her parents eventually put two and two together, partially thanks to a radio broadcast, and realize their daughter’s murderers are right in front of them, primed for revenge.
I said in the central article for my series on ‘70s horror that I wouldn’t be reviewing any Italian horror, because giallo is such a massive subgenre that it deserves its own section. Night Train Murders is one of the exceptions to this rule, because it is essentially a spin on Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left and is not a giallo. I didn’t not include the former film on this list, because I think Night Train Murders is the superior film. More attractive and professional, it improves upon Last House in nearly every way. Let’s not forgot that Last House itself was a remake/re-imagining of Bergman’s devastating The Virgin Spring, still the original and superior version of this tale of rape and revenge.
The film improves upon Last House on the Left in three ways. The first is that the ringleader of all the sex, violence, and sadism is an attractive, well-off bourgeois woman (Macha Meril). Though Aldo Ladd makes it seem like she’s going to be the first victim, he turns this convention on its head: she is not only a willing participant, but pushes the men towards murder and sadism. The second improvement is that the film doesn’t operate on the level of raw, gut-wrenching violence. Most of the atrocities take place just off screen and the film relies on an atmosphere of claustrophobia, repulsion, and anxiety. Finally, the girls are random victims of violence, rather than in Last House on the Left, when the female characters stumble into their plight because they are trying to score some drugs.
Banned in the U.K. as a video nasty, much of the violence takes place off screen, though the film does contain rape, torture, murder, and one memorable moment where a virgin is violated with a knife. The scene where her friend is so upset that she begins uncontrollably vomiting is equally as powerful, however. The violence in Last House on the Left is often so brutish that it becomes cartoonish, where the subtleties in Night Train Murders work in the film’s favor.
Ennio Morricone’s minimal, haunting score is driven by a particularly creepy piece of harmonica music that marks the arrival of the two men — and of violence. Director Aldo Ladd made a name for himself with underrated giallo films Short Night of the Glass Dolls and Who Saw Her Die? Though he isn’t generally regarded as one of the forerunners of giallo films or Italian horror, he has plenty to offer for the more curious Eurohorror fan. This has some nice production values, effective cinematography, and very moody lighting that adds to the increasing feel of dread and claustrophobia.
The film also has a series of solid performances and there are a lot of familiar faces from Italian horror: Irene Miracle (Inferno), Macha Meril (Deep Red), Flavio Bucci (Suspiria), the wonderful Enrico Maria Salerno (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), Dalilah Di Lazzaro (Phenomena, Flesh for Frankenstein), and Marina Berti (What Have They Done to Your Daughters), etc. French writer and actress Macha Meril, so memorable as the psychic in Deep Red, steals the film here and gives one of the best performances of her underrated career.
Also known as The New House on The Left, Second House on The Left, Don't Ride on Late Night Trains, Last Stop on the Night Train, and Xmas Massacre, among others, Night Train Murders comes recommended to anyone with a tolerance (or love) for rape-revenge films. If you haven’t seen any, this would actual be an ideal introduction. It is available on Blu-ray from Blue Underground with a great transfer and some nice special features.