Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Danny Glover, Leelee Sobieski, Steve Zahn, Togo Igawa, Richard O’Brien
Written and Directed by Brian King
I still can’t decide if Night Train reminded me more of an episode of the new “Twilight Zone” from the 2000’s, the new “Outer Limits” from the 90’s, or the new “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” from the 80’s. Definitely one of the above; I’m just not sure which. I’m leaning towards “The Outer Limits” from the 90’s just because like darn near every episode of that series, it all boils down to a not-so-happy conclusion with a somewhat ambiguous open ending. Night Train probably would have worked out better had it been streamlined to fit into a sixty-minute episodic program.
It’s Christmas Eve and a mysterious passenger carrying a small box boards a train car with fast-talking salesman Steve Zahn and med student Leelee Sobieski (dressed more like a 1960’s French art student if you ask me), the two reunited for the first time since Joy Ride. Very shortly thereafter that man quietly passes away from what appears to be natural causes. Zahn peeks inside the box, sees the man has been carrying a fortune in diamonds, and let’s it be known when conductor Danny Glover comes to collect a ticket from the now dead man that they should keep the diamonds for themselves. Once Sobieski gets a look inside, she too decides they ought to dump the man’s body from the train and make off with the box before anyone ever realizes he or it are missing. Glover wants no part of any of this at first, but with a sick wife and mounting bills, he too falls prey to the lure of the box’s contents.
Ever see Shallow Grave? If so, now imagine it on a speeding night train and toss in a touch of the supernatural.
The three scheme to ditch the body and split the fortune before the next stop, turning on one another in the process. Especially Sobieski, who very quickly goes from mousy med student to dangerous femme fatale willing to lie, seduce, and even kill in order to claim the box for herself and only herself. Sobieski acquits herself much better as a deranged killer here than she did in the dreadful 88 Minutes last year where she was quite unconvincing in the role of a scheming sociopath. Glover also shines as the conflicted moral center of the story, a righteous but desperate man trying not to give into temptation. That leaves Steve Zahn as the weak link with the least amount of character to his character. Rather a shame given Zahn can usually be counted on to bring a tremendous amount of charisma to his roles.
Initially I found the speed at which Zahn and Sobieski were eager to commit heinous acts in order to claim the box’s fortune a bit hard to believe. Zahn says to ditch the body within seconds after looking inside without a moment’s hesitation as to what he’s suggesting, and Sobieski practically displays her psychotic side in no time flat. It all begins to feel a bit more plausible when we come to learn that the box has a potentially fatal supernatural element to it that plays on people’s desires and brings out the worst in them. Since we’ll never get a fully satisfying explanation as to what the box is, think of it as sort of Pandora’s MacGuffin.
A porter, a pair of backgammon-playing Japanese businessmen, and Richard O’Brien of all people doing Dame Edna duty round out the other passengers on this sparsely ridden train that the trio have to interact with and work around to carry out their plans, some of whom have their own agendas. None of these supporting players or their motivations are suitably developed and ring hollow. O’Brien’s drag routine is downright strange, and eventually it becomes apparent that being surreal is the only reason the character is there in the first place.
Though the low budget is evident throughout, writer-director King crafts a stylishly gloomy look for both the inside and outside of the train. If not for the Christmas lights strung up and the eventual appearance of a cellular phone, the train’s interiors have such an old timey look, the era in which the film is set could easily have been revealed to be early 20th Century. Computer rendered exterior shots of the train and the nighttime landscape complete with digitized snowfall brought to mind a horror movie version of The Polar Express. Not that The Polar Express wasn’t creepy enough to begin with what with all those unsettling motion capture children’s faces ready made to haunt your dreams.
So, yeah, there you go. Night Train, a slight thriller that has difficulty sustaining itself at times, ends on something of a flat note and is nowhere near as creepy as The Polar Express.
2 1/2 out of 5
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7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB Review – Rest Easy, Indiana Jones, There’s Not Much To See Here
Starring Kellan Lutz, Bingbing Li, Kelsey Grammar
Directed by Kimble Rendall
If it only weren’t for those friggin’ spiders. Kimble Rendall’s adventurous flick, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is one of those “wanted to be, yet couldn’t quite hit the mark” action-films that will probably entertain those looking for some cave-dwelling escapades caught on celluloid, but for the more picky aficionado of said slam-bang pics, this one might be viewed as a bit stagnant. Let’s strap on our mining helmets and pick around this one, shall we?
Acting as a bit of a search-and-rescue formation, the movie tails alongside Dr. Jia Lee (Li) as she hunts down the whereabouts of her missing brother after losing contact with him while he was on expedition in Western China. Apparently he was looking for a secretive Emperor’s tomb that supposedly holds a potion that can reanimate, or re-invigorate…or rehabilitate – anyway you slice it, the juice has got some pretty potent powers. So a search team is assembled, led by Mason (Grammar – glad someone got Frasier off of the barstool), and he’s latched onto all-American fella Jack (Lutz) to assist this operation. As it turns out, the initial journey is cut off fairly quick when a violent electrical storm forces the group to head underground, and that’s when things get creepy and crawly…like 8-legged style. The film is ripe with some feverish action and a few decent performances, but it’s the overall framework that acts as the big bully, tauntingly kicking sand in the little guy’s face at the beach.
We’ve got love interests, a flurry of backstories, and oh my lord, those spiders! Yep, even the heartiest of CGI can effectively ruin a good case of the willies when it comes to arachnids and their powers of sucking humans and animals dry of their lifeforce. It’s an intently goofy movie, and even the dialogue seems a bit showy at times, leaving plausibility and intelligence at the entrance to the caves. Lutz is fun to watch as the burly rescuer, and he looks as the type who is just waiting for his cinematic moment to step into the spotlight. What pains me is that this movie really could have been something much bigger, and apparently it looks as if the majority of the film’s budget was wasted on those hokey-looking computerized spiders.
All in all, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is spotty entertainment, even if you despise those little skittering aphids racing towards you, programmed or not. Give it a peek if Raiders Of The Lost Ark isn’t readily available at your disposal…even that crappy Crystal Skull one.
A film that could have been so much more adventure-wise instead comes off looking like a lesson in how not to waste too much time on computer imagery.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 160 – A QUIET PLACE
Lately, it seems as though comedy actors are cutting their teeth as horror directors and absolutely killing it! This year’s indie horror darling comes in the form of John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place. Chris has been sick as a dog, so the haomie Christine from Horrible Imaginings Film Fest is filling in to discuss whether A Quiet Place is 2018’s horror heavyweight, or just a lot of noise.
What Bruno took was what changed me; it only amplifies your essence. It simply makes you more of what you already are. It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 160!
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THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH Review: Friedkin Goes Mondo Catholic
Directed by William Friedkin
Hitting theaters this weekend in NYC and LA is William Friedkin’s new documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth. And right away I am asked: “Is it ‘good’?” You don’t watch a documentary like this with that in mind. Faces of Death, Traces of Death, Mondo Cane. They are not here to be “good”—they are beyond words like that. Beyond good and bad.
It is more like the sideshow—Behold! See what has not been seen before! The Horror! The Forbidden! And you hand the man your ticket — you see The Arabian Giantess at the flea market in New Jersey, and maybe it is a sleight of hand and made of papier-mâché, but it was worth that dollar, and now you have a story. You have bought your way into the unknown.
The Devil and Father Amorth is light on science (and length – it runs just 68 minutes) and heavy on faith. If you have been exposed to Friedkin’s — or more specifically, William Peter Blatty’s — work, there is the struggle with belief in the Roman Catholic faith, and also in the search for evidence of the miracle. You could also prove the Force of Divine Good if you could face the opposite side of the coin—the Force of Evil, in the vernacular of Catholicism—the Devil himself. Paradoxical, yes—faith exists without proof; and so what is the drive to tell the world God exists, the Devil exists?
In the documentary we learn Rome is filled with the possessed. Hundreds of people are contacting the Church about their own possession or the possession of their loved ones. The Most Holy Father Amorth is the person the Vatican has tapped to perform exorcisms—thousands of them. And sometimes he has repeat business. Christina is one such woman, exorcised nine times and still susceptible to the Force of Evil. Those of us who are non-believers look at this woman as someone who is troubled—but “through the eyes of faith,” obviously it is a demon.
Surrounded by her family, the rite begins, and you see… an actual exorcism. There is no enhancement, no Dick Smith make-up; it is not as dramatic as we want it to be. Should we get her help that is not in the form of a witch doctor? What about doctors? And so we meet them.
Friedkin brings the footage to top hospitals in NYC. Psychologists give their point of view. Then neurosurgeons. They don’t know what’s going on—the exorcism seems to help, but they do see that it might be a cultural remnant. There is a medical diagnosis for it, as it can affect anyone of any faith. But the doc never digs too deep. I am disappointed: I needed to know more. I don’t believe it.
Are they hurting Christina? Is she just another female the Church is suppressing, as they did with witches—the control, the stigma, of the female body and identity? None of this is explored because it’s just a 1-dollar ticket under the striped tent, just left of the dancing girls and the strong man—Actual! Exorcist! Footage! Hurry up and see!
As Friedkin mentioned himself, when someone asks you to film an exorcism, you say yes. So see it for the freak show. Expect nothing else. And either you believe or you don’t, based on how you were raised — mythology, religion, or superstition.
See it for the freak show. Expect nothing else.
- Josh Gastronomicon Myers Sweet!
- Tarman_85 I just read that Bruce isn't interested in continuing on with the character. https://twitter.com/GroovyBruce/status/988510246829109249?s=17
- Steven Millan The most important question to ask Dario Argento during his HorrorCon UK appearance is what is the status of THE SANDMAN(his crowdfunded project),which once seemed ready to film until Dario had a...
- FortesqueX I bet there'll be a bunch of hillbillies.
- FlixtheCat You're very kind.
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