Night Train to Terror (1985) was sewn together from condensed versions of cheap films. Three feature length films were reduced to under half an hour each, with a wraparound story about God & the Devil on a train framing it as an anthology film.
It all adds up to one of those films so awful it can be a lot of fun, but it takes the right mood to appreciate something on the basis of its nonsensicality.
The first tale "The Case of Harry Billings" consists of footage from an at-the-time unfinished 1982 film Scream Your Head Off which was later reworked with new footage as Marilyn Alive & Behind Bars (1992), then re-edited one last time for a definitive version of Scream Your Head Off (1997).
But the best of the bad was the footage that was used in Night Train to Terror. The later feature-film versions merely add padding & a bit of nudity in order to keep recycling it as a feature.
Additional footage of an asylum babe who thinks she's Marilyn Monroe does have its own camp value, even if no horror value, but nothing else would be missed by skipping the feature length takes on "The Case of Harry Billings."
As part of the anthology this episode is the closest of the three tales to worthwhile, coming off as a live-action take on adolescent gross-out weird E.C. comics.
The second tale "The Case of Gretta Connors" is a condensed version of a straight-to-video stinker known in its full version as Death Wish Club; aka, Carnival of Fools (1983). And the last story "The Case of Claire Hanson" is a portion of Cataclysm (1980) recycled under sundry titles.
Attempting to hold these fragments together is a loosely construed as a frame story. It takes place on a train known both as the Heavenly Express, & Satan's Canonball, since it carries unknowing souls to one or the other destination.
The frame story is obviously inspired by if not plagiarised from Robert Bloch's wonderful short story "The Hellbound Train," but the film has none of the genius & only a fraction of the wit of its uncredited inspiration.
Our hosts for the evening are God & Satan, who are in the smoking car with a view of the cosmos, talking over who gets which of the souls upon the train.
Their conversations are actually a lot of goofy fun. If the stories had been as amusing as God & Satan's verbal sparrings, then this might've been something of a camp classic.
Satan by the way is credited as having been played by Lu Sifer. God is whimsically cited in the credits as God playing Himself, but other references credit the role of God to Ferdinand "Ferdy" Mayne. So lets look at the individual parts:
The director of two of the three stories is John Carr, a veteran shlock director often associated with scriptwriter Philip Yoran, who was in fact the author of all parts of the anthology in their original incarnations.
In the first tale, "The Case of Harry Billings," Harry is played by the actually heard-of John Phillip Law (the angel in Barbarella). He awakens from an auto accident to discover he's in the insane asylum.
Why an unconscious man would be taken to the nuthouse instead of the hospital we are never informed. He's instantly given a hypno drug & set to work kidnapping pretty maidens, who the mad psychiatrist-surgeon cuts to pieces (off screen, alas) & sells the parts to scientific institutes all around the world.
Some of the prettiest ones are apparently sold to the white slave market, but the story is so muddled that that possibility is not clearly established. In any case, the girls are doomed.
The mad doctor's female cohort in medical crimes falls in love with Hypno Harry so performs a lobotomy on the evil doctor & tries to take over the company business, nuttily expecting Harry would want to be partners even if he were no longer drugged.
But when he awakens from the hypno state, he runs away, beheading a henchman before escaping, a special effect sequence so laughable it's great.
The henchman by the by is played by Richard Moll of Night Court for some reason credited as Charles Moll.
Meanwhile the lobotomized doctor mistakes his old cohort for a patient who needs an emergency operation, which consists of slitting her throat.
Now that you know the whole story, you don't have to waste your time watching it like I did! As the best turd in the pile, the film's all down hill from here.
Back on the train God decides he won Harry's soul but Satan gets the rest of that episode's cast.
Then they begin "The Case of Gretta Connors," who we're told joined the circus to support her piano playing in the big city (like that was possible), & ends up making porno, which causes a nice guy who watches dirty movies to fall in love with her.
What porn star wouldn't run off with the first masturbator who wants her? Greta sure goes for it, & runs off making her porn producer really peevish.
Therefore the priducer gets them involved in the Death Club awaiting his chance to get even. And so on in unnecessarily complex circles of uninteresting events.
The best thing in that second episode is a stop-motion animation insect so stupid looking you gotta love it.
Often the sound didn't get recorded properly so in one scene lips are moving but no one is talking, & in a couple scenes a voice-over has to explain what's going on. Of three really bad stories this one's hands-down the winner for worser.
The third & campiest of these awful episodes is credited to three directors, Tom McGowan, Greg Tallas, & Phillip Marshak.
The entire film from which the final episode is derived has been variously known as The Nightmare Never Ends, Shiver, Satan's Supper as well as its original title Cataclysm.
There are some way hoky but cool stop moton animated devils who appear very briefly at a couple of points. Those sequences reminded me of films some of my friends made when they were in junior high school thirty or forty years ago.
I won't try to describe much of the disjointed baroque storyline except to note it's truly nonsensical, & bound to be loads of fun if you're stoned.
Richard Moll, with a bigger role than in the first episode, plays a Nobel Prize winner who has gone public with the newest scientific discovery that Jesus never existed & God is dead.
His wife Greta (seemingly the only film performance of the wonderfully talentless Meredith Haze) is the blessed one who may (or may not) be destined to rip out the heart of the devil. The devil is around all righty.
The devil's an ageless Dorian Grey type beautiful young stinker (Robert Bristol, who failed to blow important enough people to get more film work).
A nazi-hunting death camp survivor has collected photos of this bad boy going back in time longer than a century.
Plot-wise it's pure nonsense, but some of it is fun. There's a parallel story about the nazi hunter (Marc Lawrence) who gets killed, but his friend, a homicide detective (Cameron Mitchell, who was down on his luck in those days & appeared in several abysmal films) persues Olivier the beautiful young devil, to a sorry outcome.
The wraparound story of God & Satan provides a punchline, once the other three stories are completed & its time to reveal the fate of the party-hound teenagers on the train.
The joke in essence is that God likes rock & roll. Then the train crashes & we get to see it from the outside zipping through outer space, the end.
The author of this hopeless hodgepodge, Philip Yordan, did lots of crappy exploitation work in his day. His name also appears on a few things truly worthwhile -- God's Little Acre (1958) & Dillinger (1945) being most brilliant. But those great things, as it turns out, were not actually his works, since he hired ghost writers throughout his career.
He even lent his name to sundry blacklisted writers during the McCarthy era, which could be construed to have been brave given the tone of the times, but was really only a way of getting good work without paying much for it & taking credit for himself.
Some have speculated he never wrote a thing in his life, but my suspicion is he did write the truly awful things toward the end of his career. Surely if he had hired a ghostwriter & this degree of drivil was what resulted, he wouldn't've used him a second time.
But all of Yordan's final film scripts have a similar degree of ineptitude & convolution. A writer that untalented could not get hired as a ghostwriter, but Yordan might easily have deluded himself it was good stuff if he wrote it himself, as there is a tendency for the least talented to find themselves the most meritorious.
These 1980s films were put together so cheaply to take advantage of the video revolution. Talentless filmmakers had in the 1950s & 1960s issued Z-grade exploitation horror, sci-fi, & crime movies to play third on the triple-bills at the low-end of the Drive-in circuit, & that's where Yordan got his start.
A lot of drive-in cheapos were reissued for VCR in the 1980s, plus "new" films like NIght Train to Terror were patched together from whatever was laying around, filling a void left by the major film studios' initial mistrust of the early days of the VCR. In some cases, the only reason some of these cheesily wonderful films survive at all is because they had that added life after the grindhouses & drive-ins declined & before Hollywood began to take video tape presentation then DVDs seriously.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl