Monday, 23 August 2010

You might not have seen...

Night Train Murders (1974) AKA Last House on The Left II, New House On The Left, Late Night Trains etc etc etc
Often dismissed as a mere Last House On The Left (1972) clone, Aldo Lado's Grindhouse flick is so much more and in this humble blogger's opinion surpasses Wes Craven's Last House and the rest of the clones that followed Craven's notorious take on The Virgin Spring.
Night Train Murders opens with a Demis Roussos track (A Flowers All You Need) and a poor German street Santa Claus brutally beaten in a robbery by two of the villains of the piece, Curly (Gianfranco Di Grassi) and Blacky (Flavio Bucci) The story then introduces us to Margaret (Irene Miracle) and Lisa (Laura D'Angelo), two young girls on their way to Italy for Christmas, via the night train, where this film takes it title. The film cuts back to Curly and Blacky, desperately trying to avoid capture, they make a run for and catch the same train. When on board, the two villains cause much annoyance to the other passengers aboard. On the train, we are introduced to the coldest villain of the piece, A blonde femme fatale (Macha Meril) who remains unnamed throughout, blink and you missed her in the opening credits (she was there, buying luggage) The audience is introduced to her sat in a compartment of the train with a politician, she chats cordially, whilst oozing a raw sexual power that is highlighted when she drops her hand luggage (that she purchased in the opening credits!) and Polaroids of her having sex fall out. Blacky & Curly meanwhile have now met Lisa and Margaret and are chatting amicably with them, suddenly the train guard comes along looking for tickets (that Blacky & Curly sadly didn't have time to buy) and the girls agree to help them hide. This turns out to be the biggest mistakes they will ever make. Blacky (Who is the 'Junior/Weasel' type character of the piece) runs into the femme fatale (who is far more dangerous and cold than Sadie from Last House) and attempts to sexually assault her. What Blacky doesn't plan on, is she is as corrupt as him, and quite literally forces herself on him. Curly, who we are starting to realise isn't quite right, gets into a fight with another passenger on the train. Margaret and Lisa, decide that these new friends are perhaps not what they were looking for and decide to get away from them.
The train arrives in Austria, and is delayed due to a bomb scare, the two girls get off and attempt to call Lisa's parents (her dad is quite an intelligent surgeon as it goes, and ironically speaks of urban decay!) who are hosting a rather exciting looking dinner party. The girls cant get through to Lisa's dad and decide to board a train that will get them home quicker. This is when the film becomes very dark, the two girls find a carriage to sit in and eat by candle light as the chilling score by Ennio Morricone plays. As the night gets darker, we come to feel more uneasy by the second as the girls are surprised that Blacky, Curly and the Blonde, are on the train and now want more than horseplay. Blacky and the Blonde decide to have sex in front of the girls, and we discover that Curly is a Heroin addict, as he returns from shooting up, he catches Margaret attempting to escape and beats her down and forces Lisa into giving him a hand job. Now the film takes a ride into voyeurism when another passenger watching from outside is beckoned in by the Blonde, rapes Margaret. Curly, then attempts to rape Lisa, but she is a Virgin, and Curly cannot break her hymen, so using a flick knife he administers the cruelest of cuts. Lisa dies soon after due to her injuries. Curly begins to realise what he has done. Margaret who has been in a trance like state makes a run for it as the sun rises. She locks herself in a toilet and with the thugs in pursuit, climbs out the window and falls to her death. Lisa's body follows soon after along with their luggage.
Blacky, enraged and seemingly guilt ridden takes his anger out on the Blond, and starts beating her. They arrive at the station where Lisa's parents are waiting for her. Alarmed by the non arrival of the two girls, the parents are reassured that the train they were on was running late and they will receive a call when its due in (see the importance of the earlier failed phone call) so they leave, they then encounter Curly, Blacky and the Blonde. Lisa's dad sees the Blonde's injuries and in line with the spirit of Christmas decides to treat them at his house. Back at the house awaiting news on the train arriving, the killers act bizarrely (and in a bizarre twist, the voyeur on the train calls the police) , and when news breaks on the radio of discovery of the body of his daughter (why not inform the relatives first?) the good surgeon puts two and two together and begins to strangle the Blonde. The true villian of the piece convinces him that she did not kill his daughter and that she is being held captive and was looking to escape, as with all great femme fatales he believes her. Seeking vengeance he catches Curly catching a fix and forces the needle further into his arm before kicking the shit out of him. He then spots Blacky high tailing it out the door and grabs his shotgun and shoots him in the leg, then as the police arrive he blows Blacky's head off. Blondie seemingly gets away with it.
The art of the film lies in the production values, lack of humour (after all, its got a shocking content) and the fact that it is at times genuinely uncomfortable to watch. The Femme Fatale of the piece is literally evil personified, someone who is from a privileged background yet finds herself sexually excited by violence, and the orchestration of it. This is at times is symobolised by the removal of her veil. When it is down, she is respectable, when it comes up she belongs in the gutter with Blacky and Curly. Perhaps more surprising is the regret that Blacky and Curly feel, she show no regret. Where Night Train Murders draws its strength over Last House, is that a woman is the truest source of evil and Blacky and Curly give her the chance to flex her evil for all its worth. She manipulates with her beauty, then uses our ideals of a woman to seemingly escape punishment. Her gentile nature displayed when Lisa's father is treating her is worlds apart from the woman who demands that Lisa is punished.
Ennio Morricone's score punctuates the horrific nature of the piece with its chilling harmonica sound. Demis Rossous track is quite apt, well at least the lyrics are in places. The film was notorious enough to warrant a place on the UK's DPP Nasties list, and was released in a slightly cut form by WOV2000 as Dont Ride on Late Night Trains (the same label that released Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, NTM was also rumoured to be released by Cinehollywood, uncut and in scope also in the UK) but was never prosecuted or banned outright, it was however rejected for a cinema certificate in the UK back in the 70's, now its availible fully uncut from Shameless DVD in the UK. It also had a fair bit of trouble in its production country Italy. In the US, the film found itself on the Grindhouse and Drive In circuit under a whole series of different titles like New House On The Left, Last House On The Left II, Last Stop on The Night Train, I could seriously sit here for another 10 minutes writing the titles out. It was wholly dismissed by many as an inferior Last House On The Left clone until William Lustig's Blue Underground lovingly released a beautiful DVD, here the film has found a new audience and a wider appriciation. I stumbled across the film due to its apperance on the Nasties list, and still own the WOV2000 tape to this day. The Blue Underground DVD, was how I rediscovered it.
In closing, I prefer Late Night Trains over Last House on The Left, I felt more empathy for the characters. The Femme Fatale character of the piece gave the film a depth that was missing from Craven's Last House. In fact, Lado presents a far more polished and believable film. Last House with its bumbling cops and hammy acting from the supporting cast (David Hess is phenomenal in Craven's Last House) never quite reaches the same level as Lado's film.
For anyone who likes to take a look at how gritty and dirty a film can make you feel after viewing, you wouldnt go far wrong tracking this one down.
You Might Not Have Seen Rating 5/5
UK DVD and VHS Availible
US DVD Availible

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