Thursday, October 24, 2013

Halloween Horrors, 70s Style

Karen: Halloween is almost upon us, and once again, the cable TV stations are showing primarily slasher flicks and other dreck on Halloween. As usual  we're left to our own devices to entertain ourselves during this scary season. Now you can't go wrong with the classics - but if you're a monster fan, I know you've seen the Universal films a zillion times. And there's a good chance you've gone through Hammer's catalog as well. So what's left for a monster fan to watch on Halloween?

Well, you're in luck. I have a couple of suggestions for you, some solid 70s fare that is a little more obscure but still good creepy fun. First up: Horror Express, a gem from 1972. You'd think it's a Hammer film, since it stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but it's not. It's a Spanish/British production set in 1906, with almost all of the action taking place on a train, the Tran-Siberian Express (indeed, the alternate title was Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express!). Lee is an anthropologist who has brought aboard the corpse of what he believes to be the Missing Link, which he discovered frozen in China. His rival, Cushing, is also on the train, and anxious to discover what Lee has in his crate. But what neither of them knows is that the specimen is not as harmless as it seems. The creature returns to life and begins killing people on the train. It is possessed by a strange force that makes its eyes glow and it is soon discovered that it can transfer from body to body. Soon enough there's a mad Rasputin-like priest, a buxom countess,  drunken Cossack Telly Savalas, dead men coming back to life, and lots of bleeding from the eyes. The filmmakers do a good job building suspense and there's a feeling of genuine menace created by the situation of being trapped on the moving train with the creature.

For pure creepiness, this next film is one of my favorites. It's also a great entry in the ranks of zombie-dom, as it features amphibious Nazi zombies. Yes, roll that around in your head. I'm talking about Shock Waves (1977). Now as a zombie movie goes, it is light on gore. That's not what this film is about. This film is all about mood, and it has plenty of it. The way it's filmed, likely due to the low budget, there's a starkness to it that lends it that strange, quasi-documentary feel, sort of like the original Night of the Living Dead. A small group of vacationers head out on a yacht, experience odd phenomena that mess up their navigational instruments, and then have a near-miss with a huge ship at night. The next day, they discover that their boat is sinking, so they head for a nearby island. They also see the wreck of a large, old ship not far away. On the island they discover Peter Cushing -yes, he's in this one too -doing his best German accent. Not long after the castaways meet him, the amphibious Nazi zombies rise from the ocean floor and begin attacking the living. It seems they were part of 'The Death Corps', a Nazi unit composed of unkillable, undead assassins. The rest of the film plays out like one would expect, with the zombies attempting to murder everyone on the island in typical efficient German fashion. For good measure, it also has the ever-entertaining John Carradine as the captain of the yacht.

Horror Express was released on Blu-Ray last year and can be had relatively cheaply if you look around. Shock Waves is on DVD, no Blu Ray yet. Both are well worth seeing if you haven't caught them yet. They will certainly evoke that Bronze-Age flavor!


Anonymous said...

I've never heard of "Shockwaves" and zombies are RUBBISH and nothing like the proper zombies of African/Afro-Caribbean tradition. "Horror Express" is fantastic though, really scary with them all trapped on that train with a monster on the loose and both Cushing and Lee as well as the curiosity of a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas.

david_b said...

Pre-Kojak...? Check out Kelly's Heroes and the Dirty Dozen for prim Telly-vision.

Not a fan of any of this genre.., especially after the early '70s run of bad, cheap ABC movie-of-the-week telemovies like 'Satan's Girls' and muck like that.

I typically prefer Hitchcock any day.

Anonymous said...

Horror Express is indeed great, mainly because it's completely barking mad. Cushing & Lee are on top form, but Savalas literally comes in as if he's from a whole other movie and steals the entire thing from the pair of them. Great flick!
Shockwaves - neh. It was interesting at first, but after the umpteenth shot of the zombies slowly ( really slowly ) rising from the water, I couldn't wait for it to end. The only thing that kept me going was the promise of Cushing's all too brief cameo.

Other suggestions: Well, if you like Hammer, there's always Amicus, the pretender to their 70's throne.
' And Now The Screaming Starts ' is a period piece that doesn't go more than 5 minutes without something creepy / gory happening, ' The Monster Club ' & ' The House That Dripped Blood ' are fun anthologies, as are the EC adapted ' Tales From The Crypt ' & ' Vault Of Horror '
Then there's the unholy trio of folklore horrors: The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General & Blood On Satan's Claw...

Doug said...

I don't want to hijack Karen's post (which is very passionately well-written, by the way!), but I did want everyone to know that the first Winter Soldier trailer is posted. You can find it at --


Anonymous said...

I have Horror Express on DVD for a couple of years now and still haven't watched it! (The wife hates horror movies - claims they still give her nightmares - I say, that's how you know they're GOOD!) :)

Curious about Shockwaves.

The Winter Soldier trailer actually looks good. . . but never have high hopes for these flicks.

Steve Does Comics said...

I've never seen Shockwaves but I love Horror Express. Wasn't it made purely to make use of props that were left over from filming Dr Zhivago or something?

On a similar note, I'd recommend The Creeping Flesh, another Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing imitation Hammer movie about the discovery of yet another body that turns out to have equally sinister intent.

Edo Bosnar said...

I think I'm getting stumped by the '70s proviso here. The only one I can think of is the Evil Dead, but that was post-1970s. As was, for that matter, my favorite 'horror' movie, An American Werewolf in London...

Humanbelly said...

Wasn't PHANTASM an early 70's release? I remember seeing it on video in the late 80's. . . and couldn't make head nor tail or it!


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