It’s All Aboard for Big Scares on the “Terror Train”

Following the success of the first two Halloween movies Jamie Lee Curtis had established herself as America’s premiere scream queen. She became the go-to actress for low-budget horror films, and soon found herself starring in the 1980 low-budget affair Terror Train. Although it is the perfect example of the type of knock-offs that John Carpenter’s autumnal masterpiece unleashed, it still has plenty of appeal on its own goofy merits. The threadbare plot involves the victim of a fraternity prank, who, after four years spent locked away in a mental institution, boards a train to exact grisly revenge on his tormentors during their New Year’s Eve costume bash. (In a bit of Curtis-related synchronicity, a train-based costume party also played a pivotal role in Trading Places three years later). As you can imagine, lots of bloodshed — and even a bit of dancing! — ensues. The film’s tortured villain is nowhere as iconic as Freddy, Jason, or Michael Myers, which is a shame because he dons a number of increasingly creepy masks throughout the flick.

What is most memorable about this movie, other than its superfluous David Copperfield cameo, is how it does a credible job of creating a palpable feeling of dread despite the obvious budgetary limitations and lack of a polished script. This is likely the result of Terror Train being the first film by director Roger Spottiswoode (who would later go on to helm movies like Turner and Hooch and Tomorrow Never Dies), and his raw talent is on display here.

Terror Train may not be a staple of your Halloween viewing, but give it a chance and you’ll soon discover that it is worth checking out. Just take Amtrak next time to be safe.