EDITOR’S NOTE: You know, someone else was supposed to write this and didn’t send anything, but we all know that I was fated to write about Night Train to Terror right?
I first shared my thoughts on this film on October 19, 2018 and in Drive-In Asylum #14 which you can buy right here.
This version combines elements of past articles, as well as the full reviews of the films within the movie. My dream is that Vinegar Syndrome releases a box set of this movie — they put out the original blu ray — along with all of the complete films and interviews with the surviving cast and crew. I’d be overjoyed to contribute to this set if it ever happens. This movie continues to obsess me.
I’m planning on a tentative Night Train to Terror zine at some point. Let me know if you’d be interested in reading it or contributing.
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 Mayne, 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 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.
It was also released as Marilyn Alive Behind Bars nearly a decade later. Much like Terror, Sexo Y Brujeria, this movie was partially made years before and then finished a decade or more later. And you’ve seen it before. And the fact that this movie was actually finished makes me overjoyed beyond belief.
So even though this movie was already somewhat released twice — and shot twice, as there were nude and non-nude versions of some scenes — Carr decided to go back, grab Danger: Diabolik star John Philip Law despite the fact that he looks much older than he did in 1981 and make the movie that he always intended to film. For some reason, he also hired Francine York (Secret File: Hollywood) to play Marilyn Monroe. Or maybe she’s just a woman who has been driven mad and believes she’s Norma Jeane Mortenson.
In this longer version, Harry Billings was driving home with his new wife when he got sideswiped and she died, which leads to him sleeping barefoot on her grave. He tries to jump off a bridge on the very same road where this accident happened and gets brought to the asylum of Dr. Brewer and Otto (Richard Moll) to abduct women whose brains will be lobotomized. Some of this new movie is shot on video, some are from the original footage and it’s all strange because characters suddenly become a decade older or younger.
As messy as the chapter within Night Train to Terror is, the full-length story is even more deliriously insane, packed with continuity, time-lapse, sound quality, film to video and just plan weird errors. I also absolutely love that it exists and that it’s even stranger than I thought that it would be.
The Case of Gretta Connors: A nice young girl 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 named Glen (Rick Barnes) sees the girl — Gretta — 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.
Again, like the other stories in this film, there’s another long version of the film that has multiple titles: The Dark Side of Love, Carnival of Fools, Gretta or Death Wish Club.
The full film claims that it’s loosely based on Erskine Caldwell’s book Gretta, but this goes so many strange places that I really have no idea if that’s true.
Pre-med student Glen Marshall falls for Gretta (Meridith Haze, who is astounding in this movie and I wished she’d done more than just this role) the first time that he sees her in an adult film. However, she’s owned by George Youngmeyer, her Hollywood producer husband who bought her at the carnival.
The Bloody Pit of Horror believes that this character is pretty much writer Phillip Yordan, who may have never fallen out of love with Cat People actress Simone Simon and just treated the rest of his wives like Youngmeyer.
Now, if you’ll excuse us for a second and hold on to your valuables, the train is going to take a quick detour to explain Phillip Yordan.
Phillip Yordan is the listed writer on nearly a hundred movies, including Dillinger, Detective Story and Broken Lance, a movie he won the Best Original Story Oscar for, despite it being a remake of 1949’s House of Strangers and the fact that he allegedly didn’t write a single word of the actual script.
That’s correct. Some believe that many of the movies he wrote were actually a front for blacklisted writers, who still wanted to make films, giving Yordan all the credit and half the paycheck.
Yordan was literally a factory at one point, writing for nearly every studio even when he wasn’t supposed to because of pesky little things like contracts.
In the late 1950s, Yordan finally got caught. He mixed up two scripts, delivering a Fox script to Warner Brothers and vice versa. Seeing as how he had a deal at Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck threatened to get him blackballed at all the major studios. A few years later, his secretary would claim that she was the real writer of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond and things got so bad that Columbia demanded that he have an office on their lot where they could watch him write, guaranteeing that he was the author.
Despite these new rules and heightened surveillance, Yordan was still hustling scripts at other studios. He got caught again and forced to return his paycheck.
This time, he really was told you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.
Yordan then showed up in Spain, working for Samuel L. Bronston, using folks like Ray Bradbury, Ben Barzman, Arnaud D’Usseau, Julian Halevy and Bernard Gordon to write scripts. It’s pretty widely accepted that Gordon, not Yordan, wrote The Day of the Triffids, for example.
By the mid 60s, Yordan was back in the good graces of Hollywood, a survivor working as a script doctor on movies like Horror Express — also a horror movie set on a train — and Psychomania. At the end of his life, he worked as an adjunct screenwriting instructor at San Diego State University and was writing scripts for movies like The Unholy, Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (which is also part of Night Train to Terror), Cataclysm (ditto), Cry Wilderness and this movie.
In an article by the FIlm Noir Foundation, “The Phillip Yordan Story,” there’s a very telling sentence: Yordan’s furtive 50-year history in Hollywood is reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors denouement in The Lady from Shanghai.
Back to Death Wish Club, which was the full story, and goes even deeper.
In the movie, when Glen finally tracks down Gretta, she thinks that she’s a fish and as such won’t leave her bathtub. To solve the issue, Youngmeyer asks Glen to visit, make love to her in front of him and then he’s allowed to take her home. However, he warns her that she’s in the fourth dimension and never explains what that means.
Our protagonist gets more than he bargained for as Gretta turns out to be the kind of sexual dynamo that he’s only read about in the letters pages of men’s magazines. She’s only happy when a man is making love to her. Otherwise, she’s selling your TV set, bringing in a piano and parading in front of your mother naked. She’s a fantasy woman for Glen but removed from the fantasy male gaze of pornography she remains trapped within the role of the fantasy male gaze pornography object which is perfect in ten-minute onanistic blasts — pun intended — but potentially exhausting in real life.
Greta is also turned on by the adrenaline that comes from putting herself in near-death situations, along with a club of others who have survived death. This coterie has some real maniacs, including Federico Libuse, Contessa Pacelli and Prince Flubutu, who we are led to believe is Jimi Hendrix.
After surviving the deadly sting of a claymation Tanzanian winged beetle, Glen decides that no sex is worth all of this. He tries to get back with his normal former girl and back to his normal life but she tells him that there’s no way that he can ever be free from Gretta.
There’s a new problem, though. Gretta has overdosed and is dead. Youngmeyer proves it by taking Glen to her funeral. Lost, our kind of, sort of heroic figure makes his way back to the club where he first saw her playing piano and it turns out that Gretta is still there, but now she has become a he and is now the piano playing noir tough guy Charlie White. She hasn’t left the suicide club either, which means that Glen gets pulled into a contest where they must all survive a homemade electric chair as well as being forced at gunpoint to get in a sleeping bag and be in the path of a deadly multi-ton wrecking ball.
So can our protagonist get the man he’s in love with to become the woman he’s alternatively afraid of and sexually attracted to again? Will he have to break into her wedding The Graduate style and do some kung fu? Why is Gretta glad that Chopin is dead?
Death Wish Club is an astounding piece of moviemaking. It’s very David Lynch without trying to be, which is the best kind of film, a movie that’s near occult-level weird because the people making it were all very damaged or just had no clue how humanity behaves because they came here from a parallel planet where this is how men meet women. It is the very definition of monkeys in a room banging something out and finding nirvana.
Let’s discuss the other Yordan in this.
If you’ve seen this movie, you’ve seen the band that appears between each segment, singing the song “Everybody but You.” The main singer and breakdancer is Byron Yordan, son of Phillip. He also appeared in the Mormon film that most of this same crew made, Savage Journey, as Brigham Young’s second son.
Of the other band members and dancers, only Melanie Montilla (Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo), Richard Sanford (a guest spot on Magnum P.I.), Dina Lee Russo (who sang “Let the Good Times Roll” on the soundtrack of the wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat), Angela Nicoletti (the ex-fiancee of Guns ‘n Roses rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin; she appears in the video for “Sweet Child O’Mine” and The Real McCoy, a documentary by Andy McCoy who was the lead guitarist of Hanoi Rocks) and Rick Arbuckle (who worked on the sound of plenty of cartoons like Rugrats and Rocko’s Modern Life).
What’s really amazing is that this song was written by Joe Turano, who just four years later was one of the singers for Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
The Case of Claire Hansen: A surgeon battles 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.
This story has it all, as it has 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 the CGI of the past, an ex-priest named Papini who has a 666 tattoo and as much of a 90-minute movie as you can fit into 30.
The full version is The Nightmare Never Ends (alternatively known as Cataclysm and Satan’s Supper). It’s a much larger story than what ends up in Night Train to Terror.
That previously mentioned Nobel Prize-winning author is James Hansen (Richard Moll, who is in this movie twice, as we said before, but also seemingly had a deal to be in nearly every oddball early 80s horror movie like House, Evilspeak, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, The Sword and the Sorcerer and The Dungeonmaster) and his devoutly Catholic wife is Claire (Faith Clift, who was the wife at the time of Yordan and whose career is made up of films he had something to do with, like Horror Express, Captain Apache, Savage Journey and Cry Wilderness). As the movie begins, they’ve just arrived in Vegas to celebrate his new book and to hopefully escape her nightmares.
Oh yeah — James won Nobel Prize for writing a book that proved that God is dead. Now, he’s planning a TV special to tell the whole story to the whole world. In short, he’s preaching the bad news!.
In Vegas, who puts Claire into a trance and we learn what the real problem is.
That’s right. Every night she dreams of a handsome young officer who kills a room full of other officers and an all-female string orchestra. After the show, Claire invites the magician to dinner after he tells her that a demon is after her. He never makes it — he is killed and a 666 tattoo is left on his scalp.
Meanwhile, Mr. Weiss (Marc Lawrence, another talent who was damaged by the blacklist instead of helped like Yordan; he also directed the incredible Pigs AKA The 13th Pig, Daddy’s Deadly Darling, Horror Farm, Daddy’s Girl, The Strange Exorcism of Lynn Hart, The Strange Love Exorcist and Roadside Torture Chamber) is an older gentleman who just so happens to have survived the Holocaust and suddenly sees the man who made his life hell at Auschwitz on a TV program about the New York Ballet.
That man is now the rich Olivier (Robert Bristol) and in case you didn’t put the two stories together, he’s the man inside Claire’s dream.
Weiss is a Nazi hunter, believe it or not, and he calls in his neighbor Lieutenant Stern (Cameron Mitchell, who has been in more movies than there have been movies, but let’s call out Blood and Black Lace as one of the best of his films). They go to the ballet and follow Olivier to his extravagant mansion, all the while Stern tries to convince the old man that this cannot be the man who tormented his childhood. Weiss grabs his Luger and goes to kill Olivier, but an unseen demon kills him and leaves a 666 on his body.
Oh yeah, there’s also a former priest named Papini (Maurice Grandmaison, who plays Brigham Young in Savage Journey and is, you knew it, also in Cry Wilderness) who is now homeless. He spends most of the movie trying to protect James and Claire, even telling her how to kill Olivier.
This is a movie that doesn’t miss any exploitation genre. You get Nazis, tough cops, disco and the occult and then Claire goes to visit a black spiritualist who unexpectedly goes off on a rant, pushing the film toward blaxploitation!
He nearly derails — sorry for the pun — the entire film by just how powerful his performance is, yelling at her: “I am a black man – a (N WORD) in your country. You are a rich woman, I’m sure you have many powerful friends…but they couldn’t help you! You had to seek the help of a (N WORD)!”
Meanwhile, Papini is killed by Ishtar, Olivier’s assistant who we have never seen before. This is the scene for the infamous foreign buyers as it’s the only nudity in the film and perhaps the main generator of blasphemy. This film is actually all blasphemy. If you’re in a metal band, you owe it to yourself to track it down and get samples.
Making this film even more deranged is the fact that nearly single actor in this film either reads their lines in monotone or screams them as loudly as possible — sometimes within the same sentence. The lone exceptions are Richard Moll, who is the best actor in here, and Mitchell, who is the gruffest cop of all time. Strangely enough, Moll used to date Lawrence’s daughter Toni, but when we asked her, she wasn’t sure if she had met the actor yet. I’d say probably not as this was only his second role.
Let me see if I can summarize the ending of this — after Oliver kills everyone else, Claire hits him with her car. She throws the body in the trunk and takes him to surgery, where she and her nephew’s girlfriend give him open heart surgery, complete with blood spraying and puking. Oh yeah, there’s also stabbing and slapping and screaming. And none of it works, because the bad guy wins!
But wait — does this prove that God is alive?
Well, he’s on the train still!
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 I am sort of interested in the films of Joe D’Amato.
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.
It’s also a movie with no less than five directors:
John Carr had a career that was tied to Yordan. While he wrote the first movies that he directed, like the western The Talisman, The Star Maker, Buster Ladd and Fugitive Lovers, he also made Death Wish Club, Marilyn Alive Behind Bars/Scream Your Head Off, Too Bad About Jack and Dead Girls Don’t Tango — along with “The Case of Harry Billings” and “The Case of Gretta Connors” in this film.
Phillip Marshak, who directed the “The Case of Claire Hansen” segment, started in Hollywood as an assistant for Jerry Lewis and opened Georgie Girl, which was one of the first gay bars in Los Angeles. He also directed several adult films, such as Dracula Sucks, Night Flight, Space Virgins, Intimate Lessons, the bi-sexual western The Savages and Blue Ice, a porn film in which a detective digs up an ancient book with the power to turn any woman into a nymphomaniac that’s wanted by Nazis who survived World War II. He also, of course, directed Cataclysm, which is where “Claire” came from.
Tom McGowan, also credited as a director of the “Claire” chapter, wrote the Russ Meyer movie Cherry, Harry & Raquel! and also directed Savage Journey.
Gregg G. Tallas is also credited for directing parts of “Claire” and is the only person in this production who can claim to be a graduate of Stanislavski’s famous Art Theatre in Moscow. He also directed the Eurospy movies Espionage in Tangiers and Assignment Skybolt.
Jay Schlossberg-Cohen directed the actual “Night Train” segment as well as another movie that you can almost see as a continuation of the same cast and crew from this movie.
Cry Wilderness: A Bigfoot meets E.T. epic of pure maniacal weirdness, it was also written by Yordan and was directed by Schlossberg-Cohen. The origin of this movie is that Visto International Inc., a small theatrical motion picture production and distribution company, produced films in the early 80s magical era of cheaply made independent films.
After having some success with another Bigfoot movie in 1978 that made $4 million off a $150,000 budget (I can’t find any listing of what film that was, as Visto looks to have only made four movies), Visto hired Yordan to write a new bigfoot movie, but then asked him to cut out horror scenes and not have any violence, profanity or sex.
Yordan replied that this would make the movie be about nothing and they replied that that was exactly what they wanted.
It’s also what they got.
This is the kind of movie that demands that you be OK with the fact that Bigfoot can show up and visit young Paul Cooper and warn him that his father will die unless he leaves his fancy school behind and, well, cry wilderness.
It’s also a movie where seasoned outdoorsmen have no idea how to properly handle weapons, continually pointing them directly at people, planting the muzzle of rifles into dirt and even running with their fingers directly on the trigger.
There are also mystical Native Americans, a park ranger who never wears his uniform, raccoons who know how to knock on doors, a child who is obsessed with said raccoons to the point where he allows them to get in the kitchen sink and eat, a bad guy principal who is the worst Xerox of William Daniels ever, a school that’s cool with a student wearing a Bigfoot medallion as part of his uniform and moments where the film goes completely out of focus. Make those numerous moments.
Are you cool with seeing Bigfoot’s zipper? How much b roll footage is too much? And are you ready for earnest country rock and a movie that feels like it was made in 1978, not 1987?
How can you see these movies?
- Night Train to Terror: Tubi, Vinegar Syndrome (out of print)
- Marilyn Alive Behind Bars: It was released on DVD but is out of print and not streaming
- Scream Your Head Off: It was released on VHS but never DVD and is not streaming
- Death Wish Club: Tubi, an extra on the Vinegar Syndrome Night Train to Terror blu ray
- Catacylsm: This shows up on Mill Creek box sets and you can find it on YouTube
- Cry Wildnerness: Tubi, the Netflix MST3K riffed version or a double DVD with In Search of Bigfoot from Vinegar Syndrome
“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,
Junior’s at the arcade,
Smokin’ with his friends.
Everybody’s got something to do,
Everybody but you.”
Thanks to Mike Justice for his help on this article.