DVD Night Train Murders
Described as an unofficial sequel to Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left, and carrying the tagline “You can tell yourself it’s only a movie – but it won’t help!”, Night Train Murders sets out to shock. Whilst it does not have the same lasting impact and legacy as Last House On The Left, Night Train Murders is a well made exploitation horror which will appeal to a similar target audience.
Night Train Murders tells the story of two students, Laura and Lisa, returning home on Christmas Eve, catching the night train from Germany to Verona. Also aboard the train is a mysterious woman and two thugs dodging the German police.
As the night goes on, Laura and Lisa are left alone on the train with the three. After the thugs are seduced and manipulated by the unknown woman, they subject the two girls to torture, degradation and eventual murder.
Interspersed with this, Lisa’s parents are shown celebrating Christmas. By chance of fate, when they go to collect the two girls, they end up meeting the thugs and taking them back to their home. As the film builds to a climax, the parents grow closer to finding out what happened to their daughter and take their revenge…
Whilst the violence and humiliation which the victims are subjected to is arguably worse in Night Train Murders than in Last House On The Left, the way in which it is framed doesn’t have the same lasting impact. There is more emphasis on the physical aspects of the violence and gore, and less emphasis on the girls’ pain and suffering. The characters are also remorseful, compared with David Hess’s portrayal of a chilling psychopath in the original film.
Night Train Murders also has a much more gradual build-up to the violence than Last House On The Left. Indeed, at times, in the early stages, the film seems to be going nowhere, as the thugs move around the train making a nuisance of themselves. It is not until around forty minutes in that the real plot of the film seems to emerge.
The idea of two working class males raping, torturing and killing two middle class females reflects a deep-seated middle-class audiences’ fear of the working classes rising up.
Director Aldo Lado demonstrates a skilful use of juxtaposition throughout the film. The contrast of the crowded train which the characters initially board with the empty train, where the violence commences, makes the second train seem all the more isolated, empty and hopeless. Similarly, the juxtaposition of the girls’ suffering with their parents Christmas celebrations makes the violence seem all the more unjust. Indeed, the juxtaposition of Christmas and violence, in general, provides a stark contrast from the outset, as the film opens with a Santa Claus being mugged.
The setting of a train carriage works well in the film, creating a very claustrophobic atmosphere. When the girls’ are pursued by the villains, it seems as if there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
Perhaps the most interesting character of the film is the unknown female, who seems to manipulate the thugs into inflicting pain on the girls. While she does very little to the girls physically, she is presented as a sadist, and the audience is left feeling that she is most responsible. The fact that we still know very little about her after the film finishes then leaves the audience with many questions in typical giallo style.
When it comes to the parents’ revenge, the violence is swift and fairly clean. One would be reminded more of Charles Bronson in Death Wish than Last House On The Left. The big question in this part of the film seems to be “who will be punished and who will be excused?” instead of “how will they die?” This also seems to attach more justification to the act of violence, compared with Last House On The Left, where the revenge was gratuitous.
Some critics have interpreted the film with hidden meanings of class. The idea of two working class males raping, torturing and killing two middle class females reflects a deep-seated middle-class audiences’ fear of the working classes rising up against middle classes.
Other critics have extracted connotations of fascism in the way that the dominant female gives orders of violence to the submissive thugs to satisfy her own sadistic desires. This was a common theme in 1970s exploitation cinema; comparable, for example, with Jesus Franco’s Ilsa in several of his women-in-prison films. Nevertheless, these suggestions are implicit, and it is possible to watch the film without noticing these overtones.
Night Train Murders is a fairly well made exploitation horror, with aspects of the giallo subgenre. While the violence is brutal, it lacks the same intensity as its predecessor, Last House On The Left. Nevertheless, it is a difficult film to watch. The suspense in the film is well crafted with shades of Hitchcock, and is very well complemented by the claustrophobic setting of the deserted night train to Verona. Whilst some may see the film as a disappointment when contrasted with Last House On The Left, if the film is judged on its own merits, it is a good piece of Italian exploitation horror, which still packs a punch after almost forty years.
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