Night Train Murders
Blue Underground // Unrated // $19.95 // October 26, 2004
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 6, 2004
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For those of you unfamiliar with Night Train Murders, the DVD's packaging ought to clue you into its inspiration -- the front cover takes care to mention The Last House on the Left and rewords its infamous tagline, and a series of alternate titles not-particularly-subtly based on Wes Craven's directorial debut are rattled off on the flipside. The core structure is certainly similar -- two carefree girls, one of them apparently more of a wild child than the other, are tormented on a trip by a brutal thug, his depraved girlfriend, and a drug-addled flunky. The setting's changed from the remote countryside to a train, as Margaret and her cousin Lisa make the trek to visit relatives in Italy. Rape, torture, and death soon follow. The murderers experience some small level of astonishment at what they've done but quickly shrug it off. A series of events bring them to the home of Lisa's parents, unaware of the connection between their victims and their hosts until one of them stumbles upon a small stack of photographs. Lisa's father Julio eventually discovers their secret and exacts his revenge one by one.

For a film that prides itself on shamelessly cribbing from The Last House on the Left, it certainly takes its time to get to that point. Night Train Murders doesn't really establish the kind of movie it is until nearly halfway in. There's no sense of dread or suspense in the first forty minutes, and someone who missed the title card could sit through the first half hour and change and have no idea they were even watching a horror movie. Night Train Murders endlessly meanders throughout sequences that are completely inconsequential, and it breezes too quickly through what should be the defining moments of the film. Last House... skips to the sexual depravity in half the time, and the agony the girls suffer is prolonged and more severe. Although Last House...becomes almost cartoonish in its final moments, the sequences pitting the parents against their daughter's killers added a level of tension and were fairly clever in their execution. Julio's revenge is greatly condensed, straightforward, and unmemorable. As much time as Night Train Murders lavishes on its characters in its first half, I'd be hard pressed to come up with more than a few words to describe any of them, and Lisa and Margaret are virtually indistinguishable from one another. Viewers well-versed in the work of Dario Argento should recognize a number of the film's cast, whose collective filmography includes movies like Suspiria, Deep Red, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and Inferno. Their dubbed vocal performances seem entirely detached from the action on-screen, and I think I likely may have come out of Night Train Murders with at least an incrementally more positive opinion if its dialogue had been recorded on-set. The movie's script is riddled with sterling exchanges like "Hey, tell me what are the kids like in England." "Same as in Germany; they all like the things all us kids like! Ha ha ha ha ha!" Shortly before the depravity sets foot, the girls excitedly clap after mastering the feat of lighting candles, and Lisa's father must truly love his wife to find the will to compliment that garishly decorated Christmas tree. It takes a remarkable amount of time for those in the compartment to notice the voyeur they've been staring directly at for several minutes. And then there's the horrendous number by Demis Roussos that bookends the film, and the less said about that, the better. Night Train Murders is even more heavy-handed with its message than Last House...; instead of requiring viewers to connect a couple of dots, director Aldo Lato has entire scenes where characters wax philosophic about society breeding violence, and it would take a concerted effort to miss the jabs at the dark underbelly of the upper class.

I'm admittedly no great fan of The Last House on the Left, a movie whose reputation as being almost unwatchably gruesome hasn't aged well in the decades since its release. Night Train Murders has a couple of moments that made me squirm, but there are so few of them in this unevenly paced film that it's difficult to recommend.

Video: One aspect of The Last House on the Left that Night Train Murders didn't mimic was its photography. Last House... was shot on grainy 16mm stock by a threadbare crew of novices, giving it a sort of gritty, almost documentary-style appearance that further unsettled viewers. Night Train Murders was assembled by a more experienced group and made the upgrade to 35mm film, making for a much slicker looking production. It could be argued that its more conventionally cinematic appearance works against the movie, but that's a rant for another time. Blue Underground's certainly done an incredible job with this disc, which shouldn't be all that surprising to anyone familiar with the company's consistently exceptional work. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is unwaveringly sharp and detailed, with no variation in quality even in the key sequences filmed under low lighting. There's no sign of wear or abuse throughout the film's entire runtime, and no authoring concerns cropped up either.

Audio: The monaural soundtrack, encoded at the standard bitrate of 192Kbps, is unexceptional but not marred by any notable flaws. The range is limited, not featuring any crystalline highs or thunderous lows. Dialogue comes through reasonably well, although like many Italian films from the same time period, the dialogue was recorded in post-production. The line readings don't sync up to lip movements particularly well, and the vocal performances themselves are fairly poor. It's a serviceable soundtrack but nothing beyond that. The English audio is it as far as audio options go -- there are no alternate soundtracks, subtitles, or closed captions.

Supplements: The featured extra is a fifteen minute interview with co-writer/director Aldo Lado entitled "Riding the Night Train". In it, Lado covers a variety of topics, including the 'mask of respectability' visible throughout much of his work, his thematic goals for the film, how the cast was assembled, working with Ennio Morricone in establishing the harmonica-heavy score, struggling with the censors, and the origins of one of the movie's eventual titles. The interview is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and Lado's Italian comments are subtitled in English. Various promotional material is also included -- a U.S. theatrical trailer, an international trailer, and a pair of hysterically over-the-top radio spots under the title The New House on the Left that have seemingly nothing to do with the movie whatsoever. A comprehensive still gallery offers a look at various posters, lobby cards, publicity stills, pages from a pressbook, ad mats, soundtracks, and home video releases. There are sixty images or so total.

Night Train Murders is packaged in Blue Underground's trademark transparent keepcase, featuring a set of animated 16x9-enhanced menus and twenty-four chapter stops.

Conclusion: Night Train Murders has a few redeemingly uncomfortable moments that make the numerous comparisons to The Last House on the Left seem deserved. Still, it suffers from so many flaws -- poor pacing, an anemic screenplay, weak overdubbed dialogue, and a tendency to flinch during the sparse brutality -- that I can't recommend the movie on its own merits with any great enthusiasm. Blue Underground has done a great job with the DVD release, even if it's not one of their meatier special editions. If this is a movie you've been searching for or have been waiting to receive proper treatment on DVD, then I'd have no qualms recommending this disc. For anyone else who's curious, I'd lean more towards a rental, if it's an option. I don't see much in the way of replay value here. Rent It.


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