Plot: Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) believes he has the scientific find of a lifetime, a frozen specimen unearthed in a Chinese cave that he thinks could be the elusive missing link itself. Now he has to transport this precious cargo back home and share his incredible find, which means both he and his locked crate have to board the Trans-Siberian Express. Even before the train leaves the station, a mysterious death occurs, but Saxton pushes on and soon finds himself surrounded by colorful passengers, including a strange monk, a suspicious inspector, an eccentric rich couple, and Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing). As the train rolls on, more odd things begin to happen and soon Paxton’s cargo somehow vanishes, despite a well locked crate. When bodies start to turn up, it becomes clear there is more than a simple killer on the loose, but can they find the answers before it is too late and what kind of connection does Paxton’s strange curio have to these mysterious deaths?
Entertainment Value: Horror Express is a fun one, with a great cast and a deft blend of low rent b movie charm and Hammer style vibes. The narrative is good, if one we’ve seen numerous times and falls in line with movies like The Thing, as an unknown entity hops between hosts. Horror Express is not a super tense, paranoia laced thriller though, more of a dusty, sometimes offbeat horror movie with some odd bursts of humor, some not so intentional. I appreciate the Hammer inspired elements of the movie, but what makes film shine for me is the sense of humor, which is balanced so well and doesn’t derail the tension. So there is still palpable atmosphere when called for, but even in the most serious scenes, a one liner or dry remark can add so much, without pulling the tone too far off track. That is not a simple balance to maintain, but Horror Express nails it, even when it dips into unintentional laughs. The pace is by no means electric, but it moves forward at a passable clip and never feels overly slow, with frequent bursts of humor and tension to keep you hooked in. I always find this to be a fun watch, with the loaded cast, keen sense of humor, effective old school horror vibes, and the b movie charm that runs throughout the duration. In the pure entertainment department, Horror Express is a surefire winner.
I love the cast of Horror Express and since the material lets them loose a little more than usual, it is fun to see some of these performers run with that. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing have prominent roles and of course, just the presence of these two is likely to lure in countless genre fans. These two legends don’t coast on reputation here however, as both bring enthusiasm and humor their roles, especially when they happen to share the screen. Both men root their performances in the Hammer style, but tack on just enough camp to liven up some of the dialogue, then slide back into a more serious stance when called on. I think fans of Lee and Cushing will greatly appreciate the work of both here, as the performances are immense fun and as always, just seeing the two interact is enough to elevate the material at times. Alberto de Mendoza is also a highlight, in a less subtle, but still fun to watch role. The cast also includes Telly Savalas, Helga Line, and Julio Pena.