Horror Express (1972) poster

Horror Express (1972)


aka Panic on the Trans-Siberian
(Panico en el Transiberiano)

Spain. 1972.


Director/Story – Gene Martin [Eugenio Martin], Screenplay – Arnaud D’Usseau & Julian Halervy, Producer – Bernard Gordon, Photography – Alejandro Ulloa, Music – John Cacavas, Special Effects – Pablo Perez, Makeup – Julian Ruiz, Art Direction – Ramiro Gomez Guardiana. Production Company – Grenada/Benmar Productions


Christopher Lee (Sir Alexander Saxton), Peter Cushing (Dr Wells), Julio Pena (Inspector Mirov), Albert de Mendoza (Pujardov), Telly Savalas (Captain Kazan), Silvia Tortosa (Irina Petrovski), Alice Reinhart (Miss Jones), Jorge Rigaud (Count Petrovski), Helga Line (Natasha)


1906. In China, anthropologist Sir Alexander Saxon boards the Trans-Siberian Express with the body of a two million-year-old anthropoid that he has uncovered. As the journey gets underway, the anthropoid comes to life and they discover that it is in fact an alien creature that is capable of sucking its victims’ minds dry. It is destroyed but they then find that it is capable of transferring its mind into the bodies of its victims. A hunt ensues to find which of the passengers on the train is possessed by the creature.

Horror Express was made after its producer brought up the model train left over from the big-budget production of Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and decided to write a film around it. In exactly the spirit it was conceived, Horror Express proves highly entertaining.

The lines come tongue-in-cheek – when Julio Pena asks Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, “What if one of you is the monster?” Cushing’s reply is one of aghast surprise, “Monster? We’re British, man.” Silvia Tortosa’s countess threatens Telly Savalas’s Cossack officer, “I’ll have you sent to Siberia,” to which the straight-face reply is “Madam, we are in Siberia.” Telly Savalas gives an awful campy performance as a whip-cracking Cossack officer, although one can hardly knock him for not getting into the spirit of the enterprise.

The script happily flies in defiance of its stew of absurdities – a brain is said to be wiped of its memories and is shown as smooth as a silk cushion; and there is the wonderful nonsense about the creature being able to store memories in its eye – when the eye-fluids are placed under a microscope they are just like miniature film slides. Some reviewers call one of Horror Express‘s greatest absurdities the presence of an engineer talking of space-travel in 1906 but neglect to mention that the engineer is referring to Russian writer Konstantin Tsiolkowsky, the so-called ‘father of rocketry’, who was publishing plausible scenarios for space-travel in the 1890s – which actually makes this a rather clever as opposed to silly margin note.

Dr Wells (Peter Cushing) and Sir Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) in Horror Express (1972)
(l to r) Dr Wells (Peter Cushing) and Sir Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee)
The creature attacks Silvia Tortosa in Horror Express (1972)
The creature attacks Silvia Tortosa

Horror Express has surprisingly gained much mention in science-fiction guides but in actuality the casting of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and particularly the character of the raving priest and chalk cross-marks that are unable to be made on the sides of the crate show that Horror Express‘s real intent is closer to the horror film. In particular, it seems to be trying to ride on the success of the Anglo-Horror Cycle of the era as created by Hammer Films, more so than it is any kind of a low-budget variation on The Thing from Another World (1951).

Horror Express is not exactly a subtle film, but then it doesn’t need to be and the luridly red-lit eyes of the monster and bleached eyeballs are entertaining in a cheesy sort of way. The film does a reasonable job of drumming up period atmosphere on its meagre budget.

Elsewhere, director Eugenio Martin (Anglicised as Gene Martin) made thirty films between the 1960s and late 1990s, mostly comedies and Spanish Westerns. His other genre works include Hypnosis (1962), A Candle for the Devil (1973), That House on the Outskits (1980) and Supernatural (1982).

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