Wednesday, December 31, 2008

All Aboard AMOK TRAIN (1989)!

Sensible, educated people should not enjoy AMOK TRAIN--or so one would gather from reading random comments on the Internet. To that, I say: Pppppffffftttt! Granted, the plot contains absurd elements, most notably, a train possessed by Satan, and many of the effects and model work come across as unconvincing. However, the film also provides some deliciously atmospheric camera work, with marvelously bleak Eastern European locations, including one of the most eerie forest journeys since CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD. Mario Bava--whose late film SHOCK, bears an odd relationship to AMOK TRAIN in that it, like AMOK TRAIN, was marketed as a sequel to the Italian shocker, BEYOND THE DOOR--would have done wonderful things with this script. In fact, the film's ending seems inspired in part by the final frames of Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL. As it stands, AMOK TRAIN is a pleasing time waster.

The film's protagonist, Beverly, has an all-too-common problem in satanic horror: her ancestors have pre-arranged her to be deflowered by Satan (as evidenced by her odd birthmark). As an ostracized high school student, she joins a school trip to Serbia, her ancestral country, where she and the other young travelers will witness a pre-Christian version of the Passion Play. Bo Svenson plays their local guide with much sinister effect, and upon their arrival, he leads them through an ominous forest, into a primitive village, where the inhabitants board them with the intention to eventually kill them. Most of the students manage to escape on an archaic, coal-driven train, where they eventually meet their doom, as the train serves to bring Beverly to her date with the devil himself.

The film's crew make excellent use of the Soviet-era locale, utilizing a locomotive that in itself looks demonic. Much of the script remains undeveloped; indeed, Svenson's character starts to explain the origins of the pagan Passion Play, but stops short of explaining its significance and how it evolved into a representation of the Biblical story. We're left to assume that it all has something to do with fertility, virgins, and all that other good stuff. The film makes the Serbian rainroad officials seem laughably incompetent; with the possessed train on a collision course with another train and their constant failure to de-rail the demon locomotive, it never occurs to them to stop the unpossessed train until the last moment before its fatal wreck.

Such plot absurdities add more charm to an already daft good time. The film's script takes advantage of the all those churning, metal parts, providing plenty of squishy, entrail dangling deaths. The film ultimately scores on such excesses, as well as its thick atmosphere. Well worth a look, but be sure to turn off your brain!


Veronique Chevalier (formerly Cyphyre) said...

OMG! This could almost be the film to illustrate my song "Ghost Train", which is based on this Canadian haunted train legend:

Listen to a free stream of the entire, ahem, 'track' here on iLike:

Nothing like a spooky choo-choo!

The Headless Werewolf said...

Vernonique, I saw the article Rue Morgue wrote about you and will definitely check your music out! For a less trashy "ghost train," check out Bentley Little's novel, THE BURNING, which does some genuinely creative things with that idea.