It might not surprise anyone reading this website to find that alongside my intense enjoyment of watching horror films I also like to read books in the horror genre. One of my favourite authors is John Connolly and although he is most famous for his Charlie Parker series which blends crime and the supernatural he has also written a stack of other books and stories.
From the hilarious children’s horror trilogy staring Samuel Johnson and his dealings with demons to The Chronicles of the Invaders, a teen Sci-Fi series about an alien race who takes over the Earth which he wrote with his partner journalist Jennifer Ridyard, to the multitude of spooky short stories he has penned collected in the excellent Nocturnes 1 and 2, the talented and prolific John Connolly has jumped many genres however horror seems to have a particularly important place for him.
This brings us to the non-fiction film book Horror Express a very personal journey into a movie that Connolly recalled from his childhood and always held onto throughout his life without really knowing why. The book is published by Electric Dreamhouse a cinema imprint from PS Publishing who in their Midnight Movie Monographs series reach out to a number of authors, screenwriters and critics like Connolly allowing them to delve deep into whichever horror film they choose and share their love with us all.
Connolly choice is the 1972 Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee vehicle Horror Express a British and Spanish co-production set aboard the Trans-Siberian Express, a film made cheaply and quickly that many may never have heard of and those that have may think very little of.
The train which is travelling to Moscow carries a strange crate containing a primitive humanoid which could be the missing link in human evolution. When the frozen creature breaks loose and people start turning up dead Cushing and Lee set about stopping the beast that turns out to be much more than seems.
30 years after watching it Connolly revisits not only the movie but his relationship to it analysing every aspect through a very personal lens breaking the book into four sections, The Excavation, The Protagonists, The Autopsy and The Afterlife with every section as informative as it is entertaining.
In the first part he discusses his memories of that first time he saw the film and looks at nostalgia and its effects on us as well as covering why trains make such a good setting and plenty of background on what brought the film to life.
The Protagonists for many horror fans will be the most fascinating part as Connolly examines not just the life and work of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and what lead them to their roles in Horror Express but also the films other star Telly Savalas as well as the director Eugenio Martín and producer Bernard Gordon.
Up until this point Connolly admits he had still not watched Horror Express since his youth having written the first two parts of the book based on his vivid yet vital memory of that very first viewing. The Autopsy takes place after a more recent re-watch and moves the reader through the movie with time codes and pictures pulling out scenes he wishes to elaborate or examine further.
Horror Express was in fact a film I had never seen before, that is until the recent Arrow Release which allowed me to witness for myself this mixed up yet marvellous movie before reading John Connolly’s book. A crazy blend of Hammer horror homage, Science Fiction, period spy story and action thriller somehow this collection of elements works wonders and witnessing Cushing and Lee acting with rather than against each other is marvellous seeing as they are such amazing actors with genuine chemistry.
Although it’s not essential to have viewed the film before reading Connolly’s in-depth exploration people interested in one should seek out the other as the book and film go perfectly together expanding and enriching each already excellent creative endeavour.
The closing section The Afterlife is a brief overview of what happened to the primary players and the picture itself as well as a more personal look at how the film affected Connolly himself and the differences between his memory of the movie and the reality. The fear of spoiling something we saw as a child and hold so dearly by watching it as an adult is something everyone contends with but many may never have faced and this element of Connolly’s book elevates it above many other more impersonal books of cinematic criticism.
His conclusion is that it Horror Express is actually a pretty decent horror film something I whole hearted agree with. Although far from perfect it is entertaining, engaging and more original than it might have been.
More importantly it influenced Connolly crafting him into the author and man he is today and considering how many of his books I and his other avid readers have absorbed and enjoyed I guess that means we all owe Horror Express a debt of thanks.
Horror Express by John Connolly is out now and available HERE. Arrow Video’s 2K restoration Blu-ray of Horror Express is reviewed by us right HERE and available from all good retailers and their online shop HERE. Lastly if you want to read more of our 100 Pages of Horror series click HERE