Sunday, November 09, 2008

Vamp or Not? Horror Express

dvdThis was a 1973 movie directed by Eugino Martín and was mentioned by regular visitor OllieMugwump as a candidate for a ‘Vamp or Not?’ investigation. I am always more than happy to receive ideas for flicks for me to look at – especially when it stars the horror greats who are Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

This movie proved to have an odd mix of the supernatural and the sci-fi, which makes the base story interesting in its own right and our bad guy, as it were, is “a 'mind-sucking' intergalactic being.” – which is great fun also, but we get ahead of ourselves…

creature on iceThe beginning of the film has a voice over by Sir Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) who is giving a report of the failed expedition to the Szechwan province in 1906. In a cave he discovers an apeman, mummified and preserved in ice by the looks of him. Of course this becomes a prime sample to cart off to Blighty and make a big song and dance about in the scientific journals.

Wells and SaxtonAt Shanghai, however, Saxton has a bit of difficulty in that the corrupt clerk has not booked him a seat on the Trans-Siberian railway. Enter Dr Wells (Peter Cushing) and his assistant Miss Jones (Alice Reinheart). He is not above greasing the wheels with some money – ‘Bribery and Corruption’ fumes Saxton. It is clear there is little love lost between the two men. Saxton is going to strong arm his way to his ticket when an officer and his troop arrive and offer assistance.

the dead thiefIn the meantime a thief (Hiroshi Kitatawa) has tried to break into the crate. His body is found, quiet dead, his eyes turned white. A nearby mad monk, Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza), blames the devil and then displays that whilst he can draw a cross on the floor with chalk, the crate will not allow a cross to be drawn on it. Is this a supernatural element? Saxton is dismissive, believing it is all 'hypnosis and yoga'.

the dead baggage manWells is curious as to what is in the crate – believing he has heard noise from within – and asks the baggage man to drill and sneak a peek. In the meantime Wells and Saxton have discovered that they must share a bunk and Wells has been approached by Natasha (Helga Liné), who claims to be getting away from Shanghai and has no ticket but is actually a spy (honestly the array of characters is dazzling). The baggage man does sneak a peek and then a hand creeps out and starts picking the lock. When the baggage man returns we see red eyes and his turn white as he bleeds from all facial orifices.

the creatureThe on-board cop, Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña), has the crate broken into and they discover that the mummified apeman has vanished and the baggage man is in the crate. We have heard the creature hum the tune the baggage man was humming and picking locks was the thief’s specialty. So this is our mind-sucking creature…

autopsyOur characters begin to discover this slowly. Wells does an autopsy on the baggage man and discovers that his brain has become completely smooth. Later Natasha breaks into a safe to steal a package left by the Count (George Rigaud) and Countess (Silvia Tortosa) Petrovska – a new steel tougher than any previously invented. She is brain sucked for her trouble.

Wells comes across the attack and looks to be next on the list but Mirov comes along and shoots the creature. Not before they have made eye contact however. Mirov awakens and we know that something is hinky when he hides his hand. The reason for this is hidden for some time but it becomes apparent that he now has an apeman hand. We’ll get back to this.

mad monkWells and Saxton are investigating the eye of the, now dead, apeman and discover that the inner fluid contains images of all it has seen… including dinosaurs and the Earth from space. This was just a little bit too silly, generally, and begged further questions such as – did the essence, as it were, pass the visual memories to the apeman as it wouldn’t have observed the Earth from space? However, audience questions aside, the all new Mirov has to break cover to finish these men off who know the truth and to get details of how to make the new steel from the Count. Pujardov, convinced that the creature is Satan, breaks faith and wants to worship him.

glowing eyesSo we have a thing that can suck memory and transfer from one host to another - though why Mirov would develope a hairy ape hand was unknown and without any real internal logic. The magic eye-trick only works in the dark, when his eyes glow wonderfully. It is an energy creature stranded on Earth and looking to escape. It has animated the body of the apeman and those others on the train that it takes over. It can also animate its victims to be an army of white eyed zombies.

the death of a spyIs it vampire though? I can understand why Ollie would suggest watching this. We have had possession by alien energy as a source of vampirism before and it does suck the mind out. It attacks at night (or in the dark at least) and we might be able to conclude a type of psychic vampirism. However, there is no indication that this creature attacks for sustenance; it attacks for knowledge and for defensive reasons (we see it stand above two sleeping children at one point and then leave them be). I would say not vamp.

Telly Savalas as a CossackI will say, however, that it is good fun – if a little preposterous in places – and there are some great lines. Mirov suggests to Wells and Saxton that one of them could be the monster. “Monster?” Exclaims Wells, “We're British, you know!” I should also mention the appearance of Telly Savalas as a Cossack. Savalas is fantastic and, for a moment, we get Savalas, Cushing and Lee all together in a scene.

The imdb page is here.


Derek "Ruthven" Tatum said...

It reminded me of an episode of "Kolchak."

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Any particular one, or was it just a general feeling?

Derek "Ruthven" Tatum said...

Just a general feeling.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Fairplsy, I can understand that