Horror Express (1972)

This is not a Hammer film, but it sure feels like it, despite being a low-budget Spanish production directed by Eugenio Martín, mostly known for westerns and torrid romance dramas.  It's a by-the-numbers horror film, but the main hook is that it has Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing together, both in substantial protagonist roles, with Telly Savalas popping in toward the end to liven up what is already a good monster film on a train. 

Professor Alexander Saxton (Lee) discovers a mummified primitive human in Manchuria and prepares it to be shipped home.  The first leg of the trip is from Shanghai to Moscow.  While waiting Saxton runs into Doctor Wells (Cushing), a colleague and sometime rival who is traveling with his assistant Natasha (Helga Liné).  When a thief dies trying to steal what is in the crate police become suspicious, and even more so when a baggage handler (Victor Israel) dies on board the train after Wells asks him to have a look.

Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña) takes charge and confines Saxton to his room while Wells and Natasha try to piece together what is going on.  It turns out the creature has escaped from confinement and carries with it a microscopic alien that can use host bodies to do its bidding as well as suck the knowledge from others in a way that proves fatal.  After taking over Mirov it tries to do what it can to make it to Moscow, with hopes of assembling a ship to return home.  Saxton and Wells, concerned that it may have more sinister motives, search for a way to destroy it.  Meanwhile, Captain Kazan (Savalas) hears about the murders on the train and brings a regiment of Cossacks to take care of the problem himself.

Although made in Spain the film was produced by Bernard Gordon, and at first he had a hard time convincing Peter Cushing to join the cast as it was shortly after Cushing's wife had passed away.  Cushing got through it with the help of Christopher Lee, and it is a shame the two were usually paired as rivals in most of their films.  Cushing also gets some great lines in as well.  Both Cushing and Lee, as well as Telly Savalas, were able to dub their own dialog for the English version. 

Savalas was a lucky get, and it is obvious in some shots toward the end that they had to use a substitute after his actual acting role ended.  Although he shows up at the beginning of the last third of the film his appearance is quite memorable, and he supposedly ad-libbed most of it.  While Julio Peña does a memorable job as Mirov, both before and after possession, many times his scenes are stolen by Albert de Mendoza as Father Pujardov, a mad Russian Orthodox monk in the employ of Count Maryan Petrovski (Jorge Rigaud) and his daughter Countess Irina (Silvia Tortosa).  

Horror Express bears more than a little resemblance to John W. Campbell's Who Goes There?, which provided the basis for The Thing from Another World! and John Carpenter's 1982 remake.  This is closer in tone to the latter, as a major plot point is in discovering who the creature has jumped into, something that can only be seen in certain circumstances.  It does add a bit more tension to what would normally feel like a rote plot if the cast wasn't as good as it is.  

Horror Express (1972)
Time: 88 minutes
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Julio Peña, Alberto de Mendoza, Silvia Tortosa, Telly Savalas
Director: Eugenio Martín



  1. I've seen this one on the Rifftrax app a few times. It's a little strange in that it's one of the few solo riffs with only one British guy doing it. I guess since it was Spanish they misspell Christopher Lee's name as "Cristopher" at the start. The comparison to The Thing does seem pretty apt, though obviously not nearly as good as Carpenter's version.

    1. I much enjoy the Victorian "fringe science" that the protagonists just naturally buy into, and it's a pretty first-rate Hammer knockoff overall. The thing that's most fascinated me about it, though, is that Robert Katz and George Cosmatos seem pretty obviously to me to have ripped off the ending for their screenplay for The Cassandra Crossing in 1976.


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