In 1978, Jamie Lee Curtis became a horror mainstay after her breakthrough performance in John Carpenter‘s slasher film Halloween. Jamie Lee Curtis has become so synonymous with her portrayal of Laurie Strode that it can sometimes be forgotten her legacy goes far beyond that. In 1980 alone, she starred in both Carpenter’s The Fog and a new horror franchise in the shape of Paul Lynch‘s slasher film Prom Night. She also starred in another slasher film – an independently produced film called Terror Train.
Terror Train isn’t as revered as Halloween or even Prom Night, but it was a modest, appreciated addition to Jamie Lee Curtis’ filmography, boasting middling reviews and a subpar return at the box office. In the grander scheme, the film was mostly forgotten by the average horror casual. It wasn’t revered a classic like Halloween nor did it attain a cult like following on the order of, say, Chopping Mall. The film fell someplace, somewhere with Tourist Trap, as a film released in that same period, with familiar young talent involved, but not a lot else to say about it.
This is the reason it might be a surprise to many of you that Terror Train actually received a remake this year – released exclusively on the Tubi streaming service. I have championed the Tubi streaming service a lot in the last few years. It may not have the more intimate touch of a more horror centered service like Shudder, but, pound for pound, it is a platform rich in lesser known, low-budget horror cinema – I’d highly recommend it.
As for whether Tubi has a future as a connoisseur in the fine art of original horror, that is something I am less sold on.
Early on, 2022’s Terror Train can feel a little jarring to look at.
Although I haven’t seen the original Terror Train in ages, I have seen enough eighties horror to understand the playbook – the concept is one we’ve seen a lot. In a hazing prank gone wrong, a man is seriously traumatized and now finds himself donning a mask to seek revenge (if not him, then somebody else – like his mother or a close friend). It’s a classic middleweight slasher film premise and I’m open to it.
Terror Train’s characters often come off as sleazy in a way that is insincere, a little like they are trying too hard to capture an edgy, party vibe to them. Chances are, you know what I mean by that. It’s a difficult needle to thread. How do you succeed at displaying something that’s, ultimately, obnoxious, without it feeling obnoxious on-screen? If you were to equate it to a camp slasher film, like, say Friday the 13th or The Burning, a similar plight would be how to capture the camp vibe without it feeling like you’re watching an hour of counselors tying knots or rowing canoes? You don’t want to feel like you’re merely padding the runtime out til your masked antagonist can wreak havoc.
This film struggles with that key obstacle, tackling it not through interesting character development or witty banter, but, instead, through what feels like a double edged sword. It’s sensory overload and yet it feels like nothing happens – it calls to mind the age old refrain of having so much that you have less as a result.
Observe that I said Terror Train lacks interesting character development. Given its due, the film does have a story line at play and characters that are at least somewhat fleshed out and work off each other. Primarily, this is two characters – you see, one character is the voice of reason (that is, the one who feels most guilty about the prank gone awry), the other is the instigator (the one who takes no responsibility and shows no guilt). These characters play off each other throughout the film, butting heads and spearheading all the conflicts that arise in the film. It exists, but it isn’t interesting to watch.
You’ll notice on Nightmare Shift, I don’t scrape from the bottom of the barrel very often. When I seek out a film, it is because, ideally, I want to like that film. Any time I highlight a lesser seen film, I’d rather it be a recommendation. Thus, when I can’t finish a movie, I don’t review the movie. I finished Terror Train, but, I have to say, it was a bit of a slog to get through.
Terror Train feels both predictable and melodramatic, like watching a cheaply made-for-TV (made-for-Tubi) impersonation of better, more fun horror fare. The film houses no interesting deaths to speak of, all straightforward and basic, and the cinematography does nothing to heighten the suspense or intrigue. The score, early on, harks back to the glory days of old eighties fare, with scenes backed by a string of notes, but it is superficial and forgotten before it is even a quarter of the way through.
I always try to be considerate when I write reviews for any film. Even if a film is ‘bad’ (in my opinion), I often can find merit (even films everyone hates – if I find a sense of ambition / a desire to do something unique, I’ll write about it). However, Terror Train doesn’t feel like a love letter shy a proper editor, or an ambitious idea stretched beyond the means of its creator.
Have you ever bought a cheap t-shirt on Amazon? Let’s say you find a shirt with a cool looking image and buy it on a whim. A few days later, the shirt arrives and you take a look at it. The image looks blurry and faded, just a low-quality t-shirt. This is because what happened was, there is a factory that has all these shirts for print-on-demand. What the seller did was, he took a photo he ripped off Shutterstock and pasted a stretched out image over that black shirt. All of that aside, you’re not that mad about it. You didn’t pay a lot, you didn’t expect a lot. Take it for what you will, but that’s 2022’s Terror Train.