Strangers on a train are almost always great ingredients for mysteries, thrillers and horror films (from Murder on the Orient Express to Terror Train to Trans-Siberian) there’s something about this context which naturally elicits chills. Something about literally being a prisoner while watching the world go by framed in windows. That’s why I think this particular version of The Virgin Spring (and, more to the point, The Last House on the Left) is so effective. It’s really a product of its era (1975) and is beautifully preserved as such. The restoration to Blu-ray makes this flick that much better for fans of old-style Italian exploitation.
While director Aldo Lado is better-known for his quirky and intrinsic contributions to the giallo genre (Short Night of the Glass Dolls, The House with Laughing Windows, Who Saw Her Die?), Night Train Murders (one of its many titles; but this is the name on the cover of the new Blue Underground release, due out on Tuesday, January 28, 2012) is a drama loaded with exploitation elements.
Build up is deliberate, and we get to know our players thoroughly but not exhaustively. Score by the brilliant Ennio Morricone and cinematography by Gabor Pogany come together to entwine beauty with Lado’s propensity for brutality. But Lado’s no brute: the deft director knows how to evoke evil to its most excruciating through not excess, but editing.
While Lado insists (in the DVD extras) that he never saw The Last House on the Left, I am sure someone did because despite the change in location, many of the beats (and beatings) are reminiscent. Marie Bertie and Irene Miracle play the teenage girls who find themselves in the wrong place at wrong time when a trio of molesters -- Flavio Bucci as the instigator and Gianfranco De Grassi as his abettor, and Macha Meril as a sadistic rich bitch looking for kicks – boards their train, invades their car, and violates their bodies. Like the hard-laid tracks upon which the vehicle hurtles, the movie also travels to its inevitable destination: the bad guys unwittingly at the home of one of the girl’s parents, the discovery of their crime, and vigilante revenge.
I haven’t seen The Virgin Spring (though I want to). I never really liked Wes Craven’s seminal film, and I felt the 2009 Last House remake was well-acted but superfluous. This story in general really doesn’t do much for me but of all the incarnations, I choose Night Train Murders. It’s a good one for Lado fans, or simply for folks who like Italian horror from the mid-70s. The Blu-ray is a step up from its days as a banned video-nasty on VHS, so I recommend it.