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College students, Laura and Margaret, are travelling by train to stay with Laura's parents for Christmas. On the way, they bump into two reprobates, who are trying to travel without buying a ticket. They show an interest in the girls, but thankfully, a mysterious blonde woman comes to their attention instead, and one of them ends up having sex with her in the toilet. The girls change train and settle down for what they think is going to be a quiet journey. But the reprobates and their blonde friend have also changed train. Sharing the same carriage, it soon becomes clear that the girls are in danger of rape and maybe even murder. Will anyone try to help them? And will the criminals and their accomplice ever be brought to justice?
I added this to my Tesco.com rental list after reading a review. By the time it plopped through my door a few weeks later, I had forgotten all about it. A little Internet research prior to watching left me wondering exactly what I had left myself in for. Banned as a video nasty when it was made back in the seventies, the subject matter of the film includes rape and murder - not a topic I would usually choose to watch - I enjoy the occasional horror, but not when it involves sex. However, now it has been released in the UK by Shameless, I like to think I will give most things a go and so sat down to watch, with some trepidation.
Much to my relief, I found the film much less graphic than I expected; so much so that I wondered if I was watching a doctored film. Apparently this is the uncut version though. There is some nudity, but really very little. The film is basically cut into two thirds, the first and last of which are fairly tame. It is the middle third where things really begin to get nasty. However, there is surprisingly little gore - it is more what we don't see and the idea of what is happening that is creepy. Even the sex scenes are obviously simulated and done fully clothed. One of my reasons for concern about this film was that I had thought that the girls were going to be seen to enjoy what happens to them - I was pleased to see that this was very far from the truth.
Without wanting to give away too much of the plot, I will say that the two reprobates and their female friend do get their come-uppance at the end. I am not a supporter of members of the public taking the law into their own hands; however, in this case, I was delighted with how the film ends. What happens to the girls is horrific and I was relieved to see that some form of justice was attained.
The standard of acting throughout the film is very varied. I thought the two girls, played by Irene Miracle and Laura D'Angelo, were really good. Their terror at what is happening to them is palpable. During the first third of the film we see how young and innocent they are, as well as finding out about their families and how much they are loved. I am not used to such character development in horror films - usually the victims are made out to be as bad as the protagonists - but not so here. I thought they did a really good job.
I was much less impressed by the two reprobates, played by Flavio Bucci and Gianfranco de Grassi, and their female accomplice, played by Macha Meril. The first two just didn't give a very natural performance, they both seemed to be trying too hard to be evil, and it came over as being rather laughable. I had a similar problem with Macha Meril - her acting was wooden and not very credible. However, her cold, callous attitude to the girls made me absolutely seethe, so she must have been doing something right.
The film was well directed by Aldo Lado. The scenes on the train, because they were taking place in a confined space, were very claustrophobic, which gave a terrific feeling of unease. Initially, the carriage is lit by candlelight, but once this is blown out, the close-ups of the girl's faces in particular are in shades of blue, which again added to the sense of eeriness. I wouldn't say it was beautiful, because the subject matter precludes this, but it is definitely eye-catching.
Apart from the horrible story line and some poor acting, another disadvantage is that the synching between what the actors were saying and what I was hearing was out by a bit - probably less than a second, but it was enough to be annoying. At first, I thought the film was dubbed, but it was in English - it was just that the timing was slightly out. This, along with the wooden acting, was quite off-putting at times. Not enough to make me want to switch off though.
Finally, in the first shots of the film and then as the end credits roll, there is the terrible music - A Flower's All You Need, sung by Demis Roussos. I didn't like him when he was popular, with his kaftans and high whiny voice, and I most certainly don't like him now. I'm not sure why the song was chosen - perhaps as a comparison between the innocent life of the girls and the horror that awaits them - but I found it creepy and annoying. That is a fairly minor complaint though - and only takes up a small part of the film.
On the whole, I enjoyed this film - if that is the right word for a horror. It certainly brought out deep feelings in me - mainly anger at the woman on the train. I have always enjoyed thrillers and crime fiction, and in a way, that is exactly what this film is - except that it is not the police who are hunting down the criminals. It is certainly nothing like as graphic as I expected - certainly when compared to some of the more violent films that are out there today. However, it still isn't a film that I would recommend to anyone - I think you need a strong stomach, because although the gore is minimal, the suggestion of what happens is disturbing. So, I do recommend it - but only to fans of horror.
The DVD is available from play.com for £7.99.
Running time: 94 minutes
Shameless films 9th release is one of the original "Video Nasties" banned back in 1984, when the department of public prosecutions with help from scum newspapers The Daily Mail & Daily Express decided to act as the voice of the people (controversially the same scum newspapers have been at it again this last weekend).
Having received some well deserved acclaim for Who Saw Her Die? Italian director Aldo Lado embarked on his next movie. Night Train Murders (AKA Second House On The Left, La Bête tue de sang-froid, Le Dernier train de la nuit, Don't Ride on Late Night Trains etc. etc.) turned out to be a much bigger movie for Lado; unfortunately the marvellous work he had done in the past, was about to be buried under something far more controversial.
Roberto Infascelli had been to America and had seen a movie by Wes Craven (Scream, Nightmare On Elm Street) called Last House On The Left, a brutal tale about revenge. Like many writers/producers working in Italy at that time he stole the idea taking it to Italy to be reproduced as an entirely new work. Infascelli approached the now highly bankable Director Aldo Lado, who had not seen or heard of Last House On The Left; to make the picture. Lado dutifully accepted this invitation and created the movie more or less from scratch; without any prior knowledge of Last House On The Left,and without even seeing it Lado managed to create a movie that could easily be classified as a re-make or a sequel.
Two schoolgirls head home from Austria to Italy by train to spend the Christmas vacation with their family, a lengthy but normally very safe journey. While on the train they catch the eye of a couple of thugs who have robbed and beaten their way to be on the train. Initially the two girls and the thugs manage to strike up a friendship, but then a lady passenger also catches the eye of the thugs and engages in an impromptu sex session with one of the men in the toilet. While the man not involved in the sex session causes a fight with the train conductor the two girls make their escape from the thugs.
Having had chance to compose their thoughts the two girls begin to enjoy their relatively quiet journey, sharing a picnic version of a Christmas dinner by candlelight. But their joy is soon interrupted when the two thugs make an alarming return, this time with the other woman in toe. While initially nothing more than an uncomfortable menace, the conversations turn to sex and the invading threesome decide it's time to see how much experience our young travellers have had. The resulting effect cause one girl to commit suicide while the other dies.
At this point you're probably thinking "I don't want to know anything more about this movie!" But that would be a bit of a mistake, where as Last House On The left went out of its way to shock and appal, almost encouraging sexual violence; Night Train Murders goes out of its way to create a message that violence is wrong. As the movie starts in the Austrian markets, you are shown an image of a beautiful life; Demi Roussos sings a charming ballad to accompany this scene. My initial thought was "I wish I was there"; and even though a bit of thugery with our two treacherous leads occurs; it's still a positive image. Having committed the offences on the train in which the lady passenger (never addressed by any name), the two thugs, and a peeping tom, are given a period of time to reflect on their actions, and for two of these characters the guilt hangs heavy on their mind. While the two girls are being raped and tortured you are shown the girls family, engaging in a happy caring and carefree existence, and actively awaiting the return of the girls. However when no return comes about, we live the horror of what happened to the girls through their eyes; and bombarded with the question "What would you do?" All the time the psychology of the story is well addressed making a profound moral statement.
Aldo Lado is a man who focuses on the slightest details, bringing them all together to create the right feel for a movie. He colour blocks to create claustrophobia throughout the movie, as day turns to night all the fashions, lights, and other colours all turn to blue. In the wake of the incident and the light of a new day the colour blocking movies to a greyish brown.
Lado strongly addresses emotions, and creates a movie that does tend to sicken, without being overly graphic. Nudity is tastefully handled in the sense that in knowing characters are nude he lets you see nothing; whereas a lot of other movies thrust sexual organs in your face. The violence is also tastefully handled; you never really see any act of violence; however your imagination lets you think you have seen something far worse than you have. And that takes a really masterful storyteller to perform such a trick on the viewing audience.
Oscar winning Ennio Morricone's musical score is very subtle, choosing to use just one musical instrument; the harmonica throughout the majority of the movie. Here he overlaps various scores in order to give a haunting sound. This general theme seems to dominate the movies entirety except during the Roussos ballad that closes the movies start and end. This ballad cannot be understated, because it takes you into the movie with hope, and helps you to exit the movie with a feeling of hope.
The performances in the movie are nicely handled Flavio Bucci plays "Blackie", the one you consider to be the lead thug; having spent years on the Italian stage he was given a proper movie outing, Bucci had a tendency to over act like many stage actors do when making the transformation between mediums. Next up is Macha Meril a popular Italian actress who has worked on successful movies such as Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, one of the most successful Italian movies of this genre) and Bolero. The main star of the movie was Enrico Maria Salerno the then Italian equivalent of Rock Hudson but without the scandal, Salerno had starred in well over 100 movies at the time of making this one, and a popular face in Italian limelight; here he played the father of one of the girls Lisa. Finally Irene Miracle star of Midnight Express turned out a cavalier role as Margaret the stronger minded of the two girl victims.
A real interest in the movie to me is the lack of introduction to the characters, With the exception of Giulio, Lisa and after her death Margaret nobody is addressed by a name during the whole movie; I find this fascinating. Some of the main characters never go beyond the name to describe their character in the cast listings for example: Lady on The train, or perverted train passenger (played by Franco Fibrosis a massive Italian star who was best friends with Bernardo Bertolluci). All the time however you are fully aware of whom everyone is and the relationships they have with each other.
Night Train Murders is a more positive movie than Last House On The Left; and its sad that it never received more acclaim than the aforementioned movie. Tragically from one point of view it did receive more acclaim. The movie released in the UK as Late Night Trains (Or Don't Ride On Late Night trains) was banned in 1984, and until this year remained banned. The movie had to be heavily edited although there was little to be seen to gain a release in other countries and continues to remain banned in Australia, Poland, and most of the far eastern countries; the edits confuse me because as I stated earlier there is little to see, it's all suggestion for the most part.
The big achievement with this Shameless DVD release is not only is the movie now getting seen in the UK for the first time in 24 years (that's a ban longer than The Exorcist, and the self imposed ban Kubrick put on A Clockwork Orange) its actually being released fully uncut. It's actually fair to say that there are few films in the UK banned for such a long time, although about 15 of the original "Video Nasties" are still banned, and a few are available in a heavily edited form.
About The DVD
I had previously thought that many of Shameless' DVD releases were borrowed from the same source as US company Blue Underground; however that is certainly not the case here. There are strengths and weaknesses with this release. The print of the movie is at times far clearer than the Blue Underground release, especially at the start. The weakeness is that at a couple of points the movie originally recorded in Italian then dubbed into English has small portions still in its native tongue, firstly when the two thugs attack a Santa and secondly when they enter the carriage that the two girls are in.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer as was seen in the UK to promote the movie, creating an almost melodramatic view. It's worth adding that this is not the same trailer used by Shameless to promote the DVD as a forthcoming release, so collectors of the Shameless DVD's who enjoy the trailers as much as the movies are treated to two separate trailers. The trailer featured here is actually over 4 minutes long.
The DVD has trailers for other Shameless releases: The incoming Frightened Woman, My Dear Killer, Ratman, and Baba Yaga are joined by two existing Shameless releases Phantom Of Death and The Black Cat.
The DVD case is in the now familiar bold yellow, sitting firmly in a yellow amaray case. The cover is given that typical shameless approach with the tagline "Whore Aboard" I only hope this refers to the lady and not the two innocent victims. For those old enough to remember the video company VTC, Shameless covers literally stink (metaphor) of this old label. But wait what's this? Take the cover out and on the reverse is the original Italian cover art used to promote the movie, along with a change of movie title to Late Night Trains as it was originally known in the UK. Both sides feature the same spine (with change of title) which as collectors will now be able to tell is beginning to spell theword Shameless.
As usual in the cast and crew list Shameless take the opportunity to alert fans to other works these people have ben involved in, something I think could prove incredibly handy. Also there is the exact runtime listed to the second as well as the knowledge that the movie is UNCUT. For ratio freaks the cover happily boasts the DVD is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen.
Night Train Murders is available from HMV priced £12.99 though if you prefer online buying you can pick this up from play.com for a reasonable £9.99.
I end a Shameless DVD as I always do, this company are putting a lot of time and effort into their release and even offer a dedicated forum on their website that will answer questions you might have. If you have an interest in these sort of obscure movies then put your hand in your pocket and buy one of them. These rare titles are seldom seen on UK shores and the companies that release them seldom survive, I personally support them by purchasing each title, while I don't ask that I do say support them by investing in titles that interest you. While Shameless are here today, by next year they could be history without support.
Spencer Hawken 02/08