If I say, "Strangers on a Train," what comes to mind? "Criss-cross," right? Any movie that copies that plot device is going to be compared to Strangers on a Train and will have to live up to that reputation. Sometimes this comparison contains a spoiler: if I were to mention that a film has an ending identical to that of The Wicker Man, then that movie would be robbed of its surprise. Night Train Murders is our first foray into the notorious British Video Nasties list, and it is severely nasty. There's also no point in giving spoiler warnings for Night Train Murders, because all of its major plot points and even some of its minor details are copied from The Last House on the Left. It essentially is a remake set on a train. Most, if not all, readers of this site will be familiar with the plot of Last House and will know what to expect. A viewer of Night Train Murders should know what to expect, because it is as least as brutal as Last House and probably more so.
How bad are the villains? We first see them when they mug Santa Claus. OK, that's bad, but petty. It will get much worse. The opening scenes introduce us to baddies Blackie and Curly, young travelers Margaret and Lisa, and Lisa's parents. Lisa's father is an idealistic and dedicated surgeon, and we get some bonus gore as we see him at work. Blackie and Curly, a nameless pair who are referred to only by their hair characteristics, rob more people and evade the police by jumping onto a departing train, the one on which Margaret and Lisa travel. This train is packed to standing room only, and among its passengers is a wealthy-looking blonde, played by Macha Meril. We know she's a degenerate because she carries pornography. That might not mean much today, but from the viewpoint of 1970s Italy she would be marked as unspeakably filthy. The hoodlums meanwhile clown around obnoxiously. One jumps into the bathroom with the blonde and begins to grope her, to only token resistance.
This may be a good time to digress a little bit. When you've got a character who essentially likes being raped, there will obviously be concerns about what kind of message is sent. Director Aldo Lado has stated that the blonde was meant to represent the corruption of the wealthy, and this seems consistent with the rest of the movie. She is not intended to represent women in general, and this scene is not meant to condone sexual assault but to depict her depravity and, by extension, that of her socio-economic class. It is nevertheless a nasty and sleazy scene, although tame compared to what's yet to come.
Our two girls change to another train as soon as they can. This may just be to get a seat, or maybe it's to avoid the thugs. The move backfires as they trade a safe, brightly lit train full of people for a dark and lonely one. The hoodlums also make the jump and bring along the likewise-unnamed blonde.
The nameless three head straight for the girls and start in immediately with the knives and threats. One punches out Lisa, and the film cuts to her parents' dinner discussion about violence in society. It's a nice juxtaposition, even though it seems like a transparent move to position the film as a legitimate statement on violence so it can be justified before the censor board, which banned it anyway.
There are numerous similarities to The Last House on the Left:
- This movie's original Italian title translates to The Last Train of the Night
- Two young women travel together and are menaced by vicious hoodlums
- There are both males and females among the antagonists
- The girls are forced to perform horribly degrading acts
- It happens on a special occasion (birthday/Christmas)
- Scenes are intercut that show the parents' preparations for their daughters' arrival
- The killers wind up at the house of the girl's parents, where they are recognized by a stolen belonging
- The father is a doctor in each movie
- Both films leave the viewer with a sick, gross feeling
This is right at the time when conventions of the extreme horror and giallo genres were forming into the nascent slasher genre. The two female characters' interactions resemble those of any pair of friends in any number of slasher films circa 1980. As in slashers, the helplessness of authorities is a factor: Some fail to prevent anything, while others actively participate in the violation. This is made all the worse by the girls' amount of screen time, as their characters are better developed than are those in Last House. This film takes much longer to get to its ugliness, and we have more opportunity to connect with and relate to the fated females.
The English dubbing is some of the best I've heard, but the English dialogue is ridiculous. I would be very surprised if the original script really contained words that are the equivalents of adolescent expressions like "nookie," especially considering the upper-crust mouth from which that word is spoken. It's as though the translator learned English by spending a year in a US middle school. Such choices are startling in the wrong way and give a low-quality feel to what is otherwise a well-made film. One could even make a case that this is superior to Last House, as it features an Ennio Morricone score and the beautiful cinematography that is a hallmark of Italian film, is cast with star-quality acting talent, is as transgressive as Last House if not more so, and avoids goofy slapstick or any other kind of comic relief.
dementia13.net does not condone bans on films, but if it's going to happen, it's pretty obvious that a movie that crosses the line so many times as this one does will be the one to get banned.