For lovers of macabre movies the names Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing evoke all sorts of images from a host of different horror films. Be it modern or classic collaborations, there catalogue of Hammer films together or even there most famous roles individually as theatrical duelling duos go Cushing and Lee are amongst the greatest.
Having made over 20 films together in the long lifetimes and careers it’s strange that they made so few where they played friends or colleagues. This is made all the more odd when you discover how close they became in real life and witness the chemistry and camaraderie that is so evident in the handful of films where they appeared as partners rather than enemies.
One such story is Horror Express the 1972 genre mashing movie directed by Eugenio Martín made quickly and cheaply in Spain the directors homeland to be sold around the world and cash in on the stars fame and the hunger for horror across so many markets.
The story behind Horror Express is fascinating and for those who want to uncover it John Connolly’s book of the same name published by Electric Dreamhouse, a cinema imprint from PS Publishing in their Midnight Movie Monographs series, is a must have going into such depth on the making of the movie, its stars and so much more.
Set in 1906 the film opens with Christopher Lee’s character Prof. Sir Alexander Saxton discovering a strange frozen primordial humanoid in a cave in China. Boxing it up to take back to England to analyse and prove it’s the missing link he ends up trying to get aboard the Trans-Siberian Express without a ticket.
Luckily Peter Cushing’s Dr. Wells arrives, an old friend and scientific community college of Saxton who knows just how things work and greases the appropriate palms gaining them and the cryptic crate a place on the train.
Before they board however a thief attempting to open the box is blinded and killed causing panic on the platform and rantings of Satanic forces being afoot from unhinged Russian monk Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza) who is also traveling on the train.
Things only get stranger as Saxton and Wells meet a variety of characters including a young scientist, a Count and Countess who are with the monk and a mysterious lady who asks to share their room to escape China. When more bodies are discovered Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña) who is also on-board asks for the English gentlemen’s help but what they uncover is far stranger and scarier than they suspected.
With elements of a reimagining of Bram Stokers Dracula and working as a partial precursor to John Carpenters The Thing Horror Express is a crazy blend of Hammer horror homage, Science Fiction, period spy story and action thriller and somehow this collection of elements works wonderfully well with the story shifting several times keeping the audience engaged and wanting to learn more.
There is some good gore and decent special effects and Eugenio Martín’s assured direction keeps the movie moving at a great pace with the claustrophobic train setting serving as a great device for constant drama and gruesome discoveries.
The cast are excellent with the late arrival of TV’s Telly Savalas as Cossacks Captain Kazan nearly but not quite stealing the show from Lee and Cushing through the shear energetic insanity of his performance.
As Saxton and Well’s Lee and Cushing craft characters akin to their real life personas with Lee an aloof multitalented stoic scientist and Cushing the kind charming intellectual doctor with a twinkle in his eye. The two performances are so good in fact you end up wishing there was a sequel or series with these two very British heroes taking on more ancient monsters and supernatural threats just for japes, the pursuit of knowledge alongside Queen and country of course.
A cult classic that deserves much wider appreciation hopefully Arrow’s release and John Connolly’s book will bring a new audience to Horror Express ready to discover a true genre gem.
Read our 100 Pages of Horror feature on Horror Express by John Connolly HERE