Another Take on Night Train to Terror (1985)

“Daddy’s in the dining room,

Sortin’ through the news.

Mama’s at the shopping mall,

Buyin’ new shoes.

Everybody’s got something to do,

Everybody but you.

 

Come on and dance with me, dance with me

Everybody’s got something to do,

Everybody but you.

 

Sister’s on the telephone,

Gossipin’ again.

Junior’s at the arcade,

Smokin’ with his friends.

Everybody’s got something to do,

Everybody but you.”

For better or worse, there’s never been another movie quite like Night Train to Terror. And how could there be? This isn’t just one movie — it’s three movies in one. None of these movies felt releasable on their own, so much like Spookies or Fright House, those three movies were all shoveled into one furnace, much like how coal powers the engine.

Unlike those films, which just jams the stories together, the stories here are linked by a framing sequence of a band that’s traveling through the night on, well, a night train to terror. All the while, God (Ferdy Mane, last seen as Count von Krolock from The Fearless Vampire Killers, who felt this movie was so poor that he penned a letter to its director) and Satan (Tony Giorgio, who wasn’t just Bruno Tattaglia  in The Godfather but the Playboy Club’s in-house gambling expert. He’s also the sheriff in another film that may possibly melt your mind, the Bigfoot-centric Cry Wilderness) are just a few cars down, debating whether or not the band will live to see their next destination. Meanwhile, the night porter makes faces at the camera years before single camera shows like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm made such mugging de rigueur. 

Get to know the band. After all, you’re going to see them between each and every story as they repeat the chorus of the song over and over — and over — again. They only take breaks to ask if they can get some hamburgers and beer, only to learn that there’s no food on this train. And that some call it the Heavenly Express and some call it Satan’s Cannonball, but they do guarantee to deliver every passenger to its right “dest…tin…ation!” Obviously, neither of the things people call the train are as good as Night Train to Terror, but that’s a moot point.

To determine the fate of these breakdancing fools — seriously, being in a band with fifty people has to be the worst ever because you split the door money every which way — the Divine Creator and the First of the Fallen decide to watch three different stories, at least one of which was a totally unfinished movie. 

The confusion stars with the very first story. In some releases, they are in a totally different order. But for those playing at home, we’re going to use the amazing Vinegar Syndrome blu ray release of this film to go from.

In The Case of Harry Billings, John Phillip Law (an angel in Barbarella and forever in my heart Diabolik) has been manipulated into working for the spare body parts black market. You know how it goes, right? This story is packed with nonsensical jump cuts, unnecessary surgery, gratuitous nudity and Richard Moll, who wasn’t even there for most of the scenes, with a double playing most of his action scenes. You can tell because the second version of him has incredibly hairy arms. While this movie wasn’t finished before it was pulled into this film, it was later completed and released on VHS as Scream Your Head Off.

After another band performance — they only have one song yet a near infinite number of band members and dancers — The Case of Gretta Connors is all about a nice young girl who used to work at the carnival. A man visits her booth and pays her to go out with him and before you know it, she’s a porn star. Again, that’s how life goes. 

One day, a college guy sees her on a stag loop and falls in love, eventually finding her and starting a relationship, which leads her old Hollywood producer sugar daddy husband to bring him into a suicide club. This club has a baroness and a guy who looks and acts like Jimi Hendrix, all playing games like letting a giant claymation beetle fly around and sting one of them to death or lie in sleeping bags until a giant ball crushes one of them. Back to Jimi — he’s electrocuted as he yells song lyrics. 

Like the other films, you can see the entire long version of this under many titles, such as The Dark Side of Love, Carnival of Fools, Gretta or Death Wish Club.

Speaking of song lyrics, the band is back and all they decided when they wrote this song, they’d just repeat the chorus. And then do it again. And then yell stuff like, “One more time!” That said, the song “Everybody But You” was really written by Joe Turano, who also has two other songs in this one that I’ll be damned if I can remember, probably because they weren’t repeatedly to pad the movies running time. Four years after he contributed — I should probably use another word like foisted — to this movie, he was a singing voice in The Little Mermaid. Yep. The Disney film.

Let’s get back on the train, because God and Satan have one final bet. The Case of Claire Hansen is about a surgeon who ends up battling a demon who was once a Nazi who is also in conflict with a Holocaust survivor who is best friends with Cameron Mitchell. Additionally, the surgeon is married to Richard Moll — back again with a constantly changing hairstyle and color — who inexplicably was awarded the Nobel Prize for writing a book that proves that God is dead. There’s also a swinging disco, a magical black man who calls out our heroine for America’s history of racism, more claymation scenes in the place of practical special effects because claymation was 1980’s CGI, an ex-priest named Papini who has a 666 tattoo and forced surgery. Somehow, they shrunk a 90-minute movie down into 30 minutes. That said, I’ve seen the full version of this as The Nightmare Never Ends (alternatively known as Cataclysm and Satan’s Supper, a name that sounds like a garage band fronted by a rebellious pimple-faced teen who has just read Anton LaVey for the first time). 

Are you ready to hear the song one more time? Wouldn’t you just love to see the band die in a giant train disaster? Good news — you have your wish granted. Except God has taken their souls up to heaven as we see an animated train choo-chooing up the clouds, where the nameless band will forever sing their song, driving cherubim and seraphim crazy for eternity.

To say Night Train to Terror is a strange movie is to say that Drive-In Asylum sometimes features ads from old horror movies. This is a brutal cocktail of unfinished films and a wraparound sequence that was written by writer Philip Yordan, who won an Oscar for writing the movie Broken Lance. Sound good? Well, the truth is, he was merely a front for blacklisted writers, like that movie’s true scribe, Joseph L. Mankiewicz. 

How can you not love a movie where Satan is credited as being portrayed by Lu Sifer and God by Himself? That said, if you decide to buy a ticket on this train, prepare to never escape the song that plays throughout. I sometimes go for a few days free of its power and then I start laughing about one of the lines in it, start to sing it and it goes on for hours. Hours, I tell you!

“Gonna be a bad boy,

Stayin’ after school.

Principal is workin’ hard,

Makin’ new rules.

 

Come on and dance with me, dance with me

(repeat 350 times)”

You can watch this on Tubi.

This article originally ran in Drive-In Asylum #14, which you can buy right here.

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