When it comes to remakes, you can’t beat a remake, of a remake, done Italian style. Because if the seventies Italian film industry can be accused of anything, being slow off the mark to exploit the latest new thing in Hollywood wouldn’t be it. So it was that director Aldo Lado provided his spin on Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972); Last House already a loose remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960). The direct connection between both Craven’s and Lado’s features was further cemented when marketers saw fit to hammer that association in with some of the alternative titles for Night Train exploiting that relationship directly- The New House on The Left, Second House on The Left, and Last House Part II. While the unofficial brotherhood continued when the two films shared space on the infamous DPP Video Nasties List- both films being banned in the UK for violence (Night Train Murders as Don’t Ride on Late Night Trains). Other alternate titles for Night Train Murders include the original (fitting) Italian title L’ultimo treno della notte (which translates as The Last Train of the Night), and Xmas Massacre.
To be fair though, it should be argued that Lado owes just as much debt to the Bergman’s Swedish original as he does to the US exploitation forerunner. Night Train being described constantly as a Last House on the Left “Rip-off”, forgetting that Craven’s film wasn’t exactly brand new in its core ideas either. Lado provides a new spin in his vision of the twice told tale, by imbibing some of his own nuances into the narrative and a certain depth that excels beyond the simple exploitation remit. As such, Night Train Murders becomes an important piece of Seventies Italian thriller history in its own right. It seems perfect that 88 Films kick off their newly founded 88 Italian line with a UK upgrade to BD of this nasty little classic.
It has to be said the English title Night Train Murders does little to accurately imply the actual content of the film. Further- unnamed- DVD releases impacted the confusion with a ridiculous tagline ‘Whore Aboard’; that has little relevance to the film in question and would’ve been better suited to another 70’s Italian sleazefest Terror Express (1979) which actually did feature a prostitute applying her trade on a train. What we have here is, in line with both Craven, and Bergman’s visions, a rape-revenge thriller; albeit with a ‘by proxy twist’. The story focuses on two girls- Margaret and Lisa- who are travelling from Germany to Italy for Christmas, to stay with Lisa’s parents. On the train they meet two thugs, Blackie and Curly, who have recently met up with a mysterious and sadistically inclined much older, affluent woman- credited only as The Lady on the Train. Our young heroines end up embroiled in a hideous situation; one that leads to rape, violent sexual assault and death. Both Craven and the original version take place in woodland. Lado’s taking place on a train provides an extra angle to an already taught narrative structure- as being confined to a small cabin on a moving train really ups the ante when it comes to tension; the tight camerawork in this instance is something of a technical marvel too when you consider the angles they had to negotiate, and dim lighting to set the mood.
The violence of both remakes is nasty; although Craven tends to linger on the details and in essence carves something of a grotesque caricature in the process. The OTT rendering in his orgy-type approach to sex and violence making Last House on the Left something that aims at shock value overall, and as a result becomes almost comic book in style. Lado appears to take a more calculated route; taking a slow burn in building matters to a head- which feels much more in line with Bergman’s original steady pacing. It takes almost 40 minutes to kick up the tempo on Night Train, with –bar a Santa mugging in the opening scenes- a large section focused on developing the main characters; especially the two girls. The tone starts as one of seasonal adventure with a light and breezy air, but Lado cleverly moves the pace into darker territory at just the right stride to allow the tension to build. Then, when matters hit that punchline, they do so in unforgettable grisly style. As a result I would argue that Lado makes more of a statement with his use of violence in the form of a show stopping set piece, that takes your breath away. In line with the original, Lado also makes his climactic scenes seem more natural and in the spur of the moment; and thus more realistic. That is not to take anything away from Last House on the Left either, but it just demonstrates how directors, culture, marketing factors and socio-political landscapes can lead to very different artistic interpretations of the same subject matter, which makes for an interesting talking point.
Carrying on this line of thinking, while Craven’s feature became in essence a riff on the Post-Manson generation’s fears- with the female character Sadie taking an obvious influence from Manson family’s Susan Atkins. Lado instead turns to ask questions about the causes of violence. His female villain goes against typical archetypes- an older woman, who on face value represents a ‘fine upstanding citizen’- this façade masking a dangerously, sadistic criminal with a penchant for taking her issues out on young girls. While Craven’s Krug- perfectly envisioned by David Hess- calls the shots there, and Bergman has a small gang of woodland yokels to do the dirty deed, Lado chooses a dominant and manipulative female to spur things along- her younger, obviously more intellectually challenged male counterparts being nothing more than brainless accomplices. The repercussion of this and the way in which the director exploits this angle, makes for the most thought-provoking conclusion and one that transgresses from usual codes in this type of cinema with some interesting results.
For all Lado’s careful fashioning, it would be nothing if it were not for the solid performances across the board in Night Train Murders to make it work. Laura D’Angelo (Lisa) and Irene Miracle (Margaret)- Miracle would appear in Argento’s Inferno just five years later- are nothing short of the sweet, innocent victims they are carved out to be in the script. You feel for them both, implicitly. The two actresses were really put through their paces in some difficult scenes- yet hold their own perfectly. Flavio Bucci as thug Blackie is an interesting character actor- he plays out one of the most fabulous, dark comedy roles in Elio Petri’s Property is No Longer a Theft (1973) although he is more widely known for his part as the blind pianist in Suspiria (1977) – yet here rises to the challenge and takes to his warped role with ease. A similar case can be made for Gianfranco De Grassi in his part of Curly who appears to be some sort of a reincarnation of Craven’s Junior character. Meanwhile Enrico Maria Salerno and Marina Berli are adequate as the parents; although they don’t get as much focus as the main characters on the train- Salerno does lead the charge to the explosive finale though, and makes up for his lack of screen time in just a few short dramatic scenes. Not forgetting a small but memorable performance from Franco Fabrizi as a perverted opportunistic passenger. All this said, however, it is Macha Meril who steals the show as The Lady on the Train. A cool and calculating cookie and utter sociopath- twisted by perversion and nymphomania- Meril’s performance summons a genuinely callous and frightening character. The fact that this is a female makes it even more of a bitter pill to swallow. The actress instils her part with a feeling of a claw behind the glove, always. The way she quietly remains in control of the situation is nothing short of marvellous, and the fact that Meril never, ever overplays her hand- instead going for a menacing undercurrent rather than hysterical and bitchy- lends her performance an air of genuine threat. Folk as yet unfamiliar with Night Train Murders may remember her short-lived role as the psychic in Dario Argento’s supreme giallo Deep Red (1975), although here she plays a major part which she really seems to sink her teeth into.
The upgrade here by 88 Films provides a flawless print. The film is presented in HD 1080p 1.85:1 and is delivered beautifully rendered into high definition, without looking over scrubbed. The detail in the print allows the craftsmen approach behind those effects to really shine. The effects on this upgraded medium look great for their age (sadly less can be said about a couple of the dummies used, but then you can’t beat a good old dummy death I say!). The audio track- especially Ennio Morricone’s score- has a nice depth and quality feel and doesn’t demonstrate any evidence of age-related flaws. The Irene Miracle interviews, as part of the extras, give a great insight into the world of a young star moving into the Italian film industry and her experiences shooting the film. This All-region package comes with the following specs.
- Available to watch in either English Language or Italian Language with English Subtitles
- Strangers On A (Late Night) Train – An interview with Irene Miracle
- Further Adventures In Italy – Irene Miracle tells a Hair-raising story Collectable Poster Artcard
- English Language Trailer
- Italian Language Trailer
- Reversible Sleeve with original UK Video Nasty Art
- Includes a Collectible 300gsm Original Poster Post Card
A brilliant start to what looks to be a very promising Italian line. Check it out now over at 88 Film Official page here.