Ah, Jamie Lee Curtis. Our beloved heroine of the slasher horror genre. After her rise to fame in John Carpenter's 'Halloween,' she quickly followed its success with three more scary features in a similar vein, such as 'Prom Night,' and another Carpenter classic in 'The Fog.' By the time a sequel to the Michael Myers thriller was released, she had rightfully earned the affectionate title of "Scream Queen." (Grouped with Adrienne Barbeau and Linnea Quigley, we have our holy trinity of scream-horror goddesses.) To the displeasure of fanboys everywhere, the actress finally grew out of the genre when she played a prostitute with the heart of gold in 'Trading Places.' But to the delight of many, Curtis not only did an excellent job in the Aykroyd-Murphy comedy, but left those horror fans with a couple revealing and wonderfully memorable scenes.
But before she found a wider mainstream audience in 1983, Jamie Lee Curtis practically invented the "Final Girl" archetype, the young timid woman forced to confront her fears and battle the killer as the sole survivor. Unlike a few others of the genre, her character in 'Terror Train' is not all that frail or a "damsel-in-distress" in need of a male hero. Curtis' Alana is an outspoken and independent woman with a hidden, edgy toughness we only get glimpses of until her final moments of survival.
Even if 'Terror Train' isn't widely remembered outside of cult horror circles, Alana's personality traits have been influential and can been seen in characters like Sidney Prescott of the 'Scream' franchise. Curtis' performance is one way in which the film differs from others in the subgenre; another difference comes from a strict adherence to a structure that is now blatantly formulaic and seems boringly clichéd. While movies like 'Friday the 13th' capitalized on the holiday-themed title and gave mass appeal to the whole "killer in the woods or at youth camp" setting, 'Terror Train' focused on the promiscuous, rascally behavior of college kids, basically establishing the high school or college campus as another ripe setting. And like Curtis being an archetype, these pre-med students (Hart Bochner, Sandee Currie, Timothy Webber, and Anthony Sherwood) are the annoying standard of fodder that actually deserves their comeuppance.
Director Roger Spottiswoode, Canadian-born filmmaker who co-wrote '48 Hrs.' and later met with some directing success in 'Air America' and the Bond sequel 'Tomorrow Never Dies,' does a great job in building the mystery and escalating the danger until the surprise twist. With cinematographer John Alcott ('The Shining,' 'A Clockwork Orange') creating a marvelously atmospheric environment, Spottiswoode's otherwise workmanlike style is made appealing with several excellent moments of suspense towards the end, like the sequence inside the conductor's car. Adding to the fun is a very young David Copperfield as the hired magician. Ben Johnson is also the train conductor trying to solve the mystery while protecting Curtis. 'Terror Train' isn't particularly scary, but it's a fun mystery ride with creepy masks.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Terror Train' to Blu-ray as a Collector's Edition combo pack under the distributor's new Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover. The second disc is a DVD-9 with the same bonus features.
At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side with the movie's music and full-motion clips. Also, if you buy direct from the Shout! Factory website, fans can get an exclusive, limited edition poster of the newly commissioned artwork with their purchase while supplies last!
The 'Terror Train' makes a stop at the Blu-ray station with a rather strong and mostly satisfying 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1). The first few minutes are a bit of a mixed bag, but as soon as the opening credit sequence is over, things improve rather dramatically.
It's pretty clear the best available elements were used for a fresh remaster but not given the full restoration treatment. Minor scratches and white specks sprinkle the screen on occasion without being too much of a distraction. On the whole, resolution and clarity are great and generally pleasing with several moments of softness, some of it due to the very mild soft-focus photography and film stock. The picture comes with a thick grain structure that's consistent and film-like.
Colors are not dramatically bright, yet they're accurately rendered with a good deal of the emphasis on secondary pastel hues. Contrast is in good shape with brilliant whites, allowing for plenty of the visibility of background information in the distance. Black levels are also true with many good sequences of deep, penetrating shadows. The high-def transfer doesn't exactly offer the sharpest image, but it's true to the cinematography and age with lots of crisp, distinct details of the train's low-lit interiors and during close-ups.
Shout! provides fans with two listening options — both are DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, but one is 5-channel surround while the other is 2.0 stereo, which actually sounds more like mono. Between them, the 2.0 option is the clear winner, but neither seem as the original design was done proper justice.
The 5.1 soundtrack feels more like the sort of forced, faux upmix process used in many of today's receivers. Vocals are stretched across the three front channels, thinning the voices of actors, making them sound distant and creating a bit of a lip-sync issue that's quite distracting. Dynamic range feels strained and flat with no audible bass. Rear speakers come in louder than the rest, calling too much attention to themselves with easy to localize ambient effects.
Unfortunately, while the 2-channel stereo track is significantly better, it also comes with its own problems. On the positive, dialogue is nicely centered with clear conversations and good intonation. In fact, background action is more convincing and appropriate. The mid-range, however, seems rather limited with noticeably clipping in the higher frequencies, and the low-end is non-existent again. Some scenes are rather noisy, harsh or too bright, particularly when someone is screaming or several times when Jamie Lee Curtis's character is speaking. This lossless mix may be closer to the original design, but it also needs to be cleaned up some.
Brand new supplements are shared with the movie's DVD counterpart.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in another of her "Final Girl" roles, 'Terror Train' doesn't stand out in the slasher subgenre, but it's still a fun and entertaining example of the formula. The Blu-ray arrives with a strong but slightly troubled picture quality and a somewhat disappointing audio presentation. Supplements are new to this Collector's Edition release, but shared with its DVD counterpart, making this package one fans should be satisfied with.