Night Train Murders (1974)
by Troy Howarth
Directed by Aldo Lado; Screenplay by Renato Izzo and Aldo Lado; Starring Flavio Bucci, Macha Meril, Enrico Maria Salerno, Gianfranco DeGrassi, Irene Miracle, Laura D’Angelo, Marina Berti, Franco Fabrizi
Two girls (Irene Miracle and Laura D’Angelo) on a train ride back home for Christmas find themselves terrorized by a drug addled duo (Flavio Bucci and Gianfranco DeGrassi) and the perverse ‘woman of quality’ (Macha Meril) who insists on egging them on…
The unexpected controversy and box office success of Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham’s Last House on the Left (1972) resulted in a slew of similar films. Being that Italy is dominated by the ‘filone principle,’ (filone meaning stream – in other words, a successful film results in a stream of ripoffs), it’s therefore no great surprise that they, too, got in on the act. Of all the cash ins, Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders is arguably the most successful; it is also one of the most disturbing.
Whereas the Craven/Cunningham picture came off like a snuff film, with crude production values and generally amateurish performances, Lado’s picture is considerably more polished. One might assume that this would lessen its impact, but there is something to be said for the way it wallows in depravity and shock tactics. The setup, of course, was borrowed from Ingmar Bergman’s very different The Virgin Spring (1960), which adopted a much more genteel and introspective approach. Last House and its imitators threw subtlty to the wind, favoring an approach designed to shock the viewer’s sensibilities.
Subtextually, the film fits into the worldview Lado announced with his very first picture, the unusual giallo Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971), specially the theme of the younger generation being used and abused by the elder. The character played by Macha Meril is crucial to the action – it is she who uses the animal instincts of the young drug addicts to her own base advantage, compelling them to go further down the road of depravity than even they would have dared on their own. There is a certain degree of sympathy generated towards the young thugs – they even express palpable remorse when they realize they’ve gone too far. It is the Meril character who comes off as truly monstrous – a pampered ‘lady of substance’ who encourages the violence for the benefit of her own depraved sense of amusement.
The performances are effective on the whole. Laura D’Angelo and a young Irene Miracle (Inferno, Midnight Express) are effective as the young victims. The characters are presented in a realistic manner, neither wholly ‘pure’ nor salacious to the degree of being mere caricatures, and both actresses manage to engender sympathy. Neither Flavio Bucci (Suspiria) nor Gianfranco DeGrassi can compare with the terrifying presence of David Hess in the Craven/Cunningham model, but they are also rather different characters. Whereas Krug, the character portrayed by Hess, was the embodiment of white suburban middle class angst, the characters played by Bucci and DeGrassi are slightly more humanistic; true, they are capable of horrible violence, but the sense is of them being adrift in an indifferent society, and that perhaps they could have turned out to be different had they been guided in the right direction. Meril (Deep Red) is terrific as the icy femme fatale, while Enrico Maria Salerno (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) and Marina Berti (What Have They Done To Our Daughters?) are quite good as the parents driven to violence. Franco Fabrizi – whose credits included major roles for Fellini (I Vitelloni) and Visconti (Death in Venice) – puts in a cameo as a twisted peeping tom who gets roped into the action aboard the train.
Lado’s direction is smooth and efficient. He doesn’t aim for the more overt stylization evident in his earlier gialli, creating a more rough and ready ambience, but this suits the subject matter quite well. Lado also makes good use of cross cutting to create some ironic effects. The cinematography Gabor Pogany (Double Face) is slick without becoming too pretty. The use of heavy blue lighting aboard the train at night is a particularly good touch, adding to the sense of sickly claustrophobia. Ennio Morricone contributes a good, harmonica-drenched soundtrack, though the use of a song by Demis Roussos will raise a few eye brows; it’s ironic in context, though a good case can be made that it’s endearing more on a ‘so bad it’s good’ level.
Night Train Murders makes its bow on BD thanks to Blue Underground. The 1080p HD transfer looks very good on the whole. Colors are accurately rendered, detail is strong, and there are no distracting authoring issues to report. The 1.85 framing looks good throughout, and the image is enhanced for widescreen TVs. The film is presented fully uncut.
The only audio option is the English dub, which is sometimes a bit crude, but gets the job done. Music and sound effects sound good, though dialogue has a typically ‘canned’ quality for dubbed films of this vintage. The track is clean and clear, but one wishes that BU had managed to secure the Italian track, as well. Removable English, French and Spanish subs are included.
Extras are identical to those found on BU’s 2004 DVD release: an international trailer, a US trailer, radio spots, a poster and still gallery, and, best of all, a 15 minute oncamera interview featurette with cowriter/director Aldo Lado. Lado talks of the film’s genesis, claims to have never seen Last House on the Left, and discusses the casting and other production elements in detail. Lado makes some wry comments about the Roussos song, as well.
Film: ***1/2 out of *****
Blu Ray: ***1/2 out of *****