AKA: Last Stop on the Night Train
AKA: The New House on The Left
AKA: Second House on The Left
AKA: Don’t Ride on Late Night Trains
AKA: Late Night Trains
AKA: Last House Part II
AKA: Xmas Massacre
Two teenage girls attending school in Germany are taking the train to Italy to spend Christmas with one of the girl’s parents. On the way there they encounter a pair of annoying thugs who grow more aggressive as the trip continues. When the train is forced to stop at a station, the girls take the opportunity to switch trains hoping that it’ll give them a quieter, more pleasant experience.
Ah, December. That special time of year when we’re inundated with holiday music for an entire month, spend too much money, and run the risk of getting your head bitten off if you don’t greet certain people exactly how they think they should be greeted. I can think of nothing better to counteract such elements in this festive month of good will towards man then to immerse myself in joyful holiday slaughter. Thus, this week we have Night Train Murders.
Now, just in case some of those (many) alternate titles didn’t already tip you off, Night Train Murders is the answer to the unasked question: “What would happen if we made an Italian imitation of Last House on The Left, added in a train, and had the whole thing take place on Christmas and Christmas Eve?” I almost wish that was a joke, but aside from a few alterations the movie really is essentially a beat-for-beat attempt to mimic Wes Craven’s debut film.
No, no! Don’t do drugs with strangers! It’s like a horror movie curse, damn it!
Plot-wise, the basics of the films are exactly the same. Two young women are out by themselves, they encounter some unsavory strangers, they end up isolated, tormented and brutalized, and ultimately they end up dead (and no, I don’t consider that a spoiler when the film’s title gives it away). Their assailants then somehow (quite conveniently) manage to make their way to one of the girl’s homes, where the remaining family eventually puts the pieces together and takes revenge. Now, taken in that respect, one could write off a lot of the similarities, but add in the heroin addiction of one of the assailants, the fact that the avenging father’s occupation is a doctor, and that the mother’s realization of who the people in her house are hinges on her recognizing a item belonging to her daughter and….yeah, they pretty much aped 85% of the plot.
I’ll describe this atrocity of a tie in detail to your mother so that she can identify your killer later. Ciao!
Of course, that isn’t to say that the film is a complete 1:1 comparison wise. Like many Italian films it takes it a little while to get going, giving you an ample amount of time to get to know the characters, which of course helps to draw out the sympathy you feel for them. It’s also not nearly as violent as Last House on the Left. Of course, that’s not meant to imply that it’s necessarily tame either. The film still likes to linger on violent moments to draw out the victims and the viewer’s discomfort, and while the worst of the offenses are merely suggested off camera, that doesn’t lessen the horror one feels at their implication. So yeah, the girls aren’t cut to ribbons, the villains actually show some shock/regret at the result of their actions, and the parents aren’t nearly as gleeful in their mission of revenge. There’s also a bit of philosophy thrown into the picture involving both class and civilization, arguing that the baser human nature towards violence and it’s animal instincts can never be fully controlled. So yes, while they may have stolen much of the plot, they also changed enough to make it more their own creation.
But only by a little.
You can literally pinpoint the exact moment when he realizes this whole thing was a bad idea.
Okay. So maybe dad did get some enjoyment out of his revenge.
The film’s major downside is that much of the acting and dialogue is just, at best, so-so. The one standout is Macha Merill who plays the unnamed socialite on the train and is the most diabolical of the bunch. She just has a calm and collected approach that makes her actions all the more sinister. Everyone else just feels woefully bland by comparison, especially the parents, who come across as about as engaging as a stale piece of bread.
Then there’s the script, and I’m not sure if the main part of the problem was in the translation itself, the dubbing, or the direction (or lack thereof), but the English version is just…not particularly good. Some of the lines come across as if the dubber wasn’t sure what they were supposed to be doing, and some of it just doesn’t match the tone of the scene. For instance, at one point one of the girls screams out in pain, but instead of sounding like a shriek of utter agony it sounds more like the dubber was too busy doing a crossword puzzle or something to be bothered to put her heart into it. And that’s a shame, because it can be little stuff like that that can distract you and really draw you out of the film.
The movie also has a couple other, smaller oddities that keep it from being better than it could be. The film seems to like to linger on unimportant moments that just seem to be added for the hell of it. For instance, towards the beginning we see the two girls go into a house and then the film cuts away to a man…. innocently taking pictures of a bunch of swans? At first I thought it was a commentary on voyeurism, but if it is it’s an ineffectual one. Then there’s the opening song, which very well may be one of the worst things I have ever heard. It’s bad enough that it’s lyrics are insensitive and inappropriate (good job, Italy), but the horrible warbling that accompanied it made me feel like my ears were going to start bleeding at any moment. If it weren’t for fear of missing some important dialogue I would have muted it in an effort to save my sanity. Thank goodness that by the time the song reared its ugly head again during the closing credits I no longer had such concerns and could turn the wretched thing off.
Maybe the director just liked birds or something, who knows?
Night Train Murders may be a blatant Italian rip-off of Last House on the Left, but it’s not a bad one. It looks pretty good, and even has its moments of striking beauty. The tension and horror is drawn out and effective, and the ending, though highly implausible, is still as cathartic as you’d expect. But unfortunately the English dub is pretty meh and the more stylized nature of the film means that those looking for the same amount of gore and T&A as seen in Last House on the Left are going to be disappointed. Still, if you’re interested in exploitation films, then Night Train Murders probably isn’t a bad option.
Night Train Murders is available to rent from from a variety of services.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray.