For an anthology comprising three unrelated low-budget horror features cut to half or a third of their running time and book-ended by God and Satan riding a train to Las Vegas with an 80s teen pop-rock band, Night Train to Terror is better than you’d expect.
The wrap-around segment opens on the train, with the teen band breaking into a music video-like production—lip-syncing into the camera and breakdancing. The song proves catchy, but that might be due to how often they repeat the chorus.
Meanwhile, in a private car, sit God and Satan. Ferdy Mayne and Tony Giorgio commit to their roles with surprising professionalism. Their performances evoke a charm reminiscent of Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, or Christopher Lee. Their discussion concerns the fate of various souls, beginning with Harry Billings.
Transition to the first segment, cropped from the then-unreleased film, Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars. It opens with Harry on his wedding night. He’s drunk and driving too fast. He barrels off the highway and wakes up in a hospital, strapped to a gurney, his new bride dead.
The doctors subject Harry to shock therapy and drugs, turning him into a mindless drone they send out in search of young women, whom Harry drugs and abducts back to the hospital where the head orderly, played by Richard Moll in some scenes, molests and dismembers them. I say some scenes because we’re presented several shots where a hairier double stands in for Moll.
The break-neck pace plays like an extended trailer. We get all the best parts, including a laugh-out-loud death scene for Moll that proves reason enough for like-minded viewers to give it a watch.
Back to God and Satan, who debate Harry’s fate. They then turn their attention to Gretta.
This second sequence, cut from Death Wish Club, opens on the titular Gretta, who works in a carnival selling popcorn. She dreams of becoming a star, and after a smarmy older man named George Youngmeyer slides a few hundred-dollar bills into her shirt, she shacks up with him. To fulfill her dreams of screen stardom, Youngmeyer places her in adult films.
Cut to Glenn, a college student who sees one of Gretta’s porn films and falls for her. He tracks her to a club run by Youngmeyer where she plays piano. The two fall in love, irking Youngmeyer, who encourages Gretta to invite Glenn into their secret club.
This club comprises several over-the-top personalities, each of whom has survived a near-death experience. In their meetings, they attempt to recapture the thrill of facing death by subjecting themselves to various Russian roulette style scenarios.
For this meeting, they release a giant flying beetle who can only bite once, but whose bite proves fatal. The film depicts said beetle with stop-motion claymation that lands somewhere between amateur and endearing. When it does bite, the effect had me roaring.
We get more over-the-top death scenes, each more preposterous. Glenn and Gretta flee the group, but Youngmeyer orders them kidnapped and returned. The kidnapping scenes reveal Glenn as a karate master, albeit one thwarted by a thrown net.
Did I mention all this happens in under twenty minutes?
Back to God and Satan, who debate Gretta’s fate, after which they turn their attention to Claire.
Here the film falters. This third segment, edited from Cataclysm, runs forty-five minutes instead of twenty. A holocaust survivor recognizes one of his Nazi tormentors on television, shocked the man hasn’t aged a day. Said survivor turns to a local cop played by Cameron Mitchell, who finds the story preposterous at first but soon becomes a believer.
Robert Bristol shines as the ageless Nazi, and the film proffers more gory claymation effects, but the longer running time can’t sustain the manic energy present in the prior segments.
This despite packing a half-dozen unrelated plot threads. We have the aforementioned Claire, a devout Catholic surgeon who’s the “chosen one” to defeat Bristol. Her improvable husband, played by Richard Moll, a militant atheist author who’s bestselling new book is titled “God is Dead,” and a rogue monk who may or may not have survived an encounter with Bristol but seems none the wiser for it.
The antagonist dynamic between Mitchell and Bristol proves the strongest. Dropping the other threads would have made a fine extended trailer for an AIP-style picture ala Count Yorga, Vampire.
Indeed, cutting this entry to twenty minutes and adding a fourth story would have gone a long way. The first two stories prove recycling lesser exploitation productions into anthology segments works. I’m surprised we haven’t seen more.