Follow TV Tropes


Film / Horror Express

Go To

Horror Express is a British-Spanish Sci-Fi Horror film from 1972, directed by Eugenio Martin and starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Telly Savalas. It is loosely based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. It's also one of the very rare films where both Lee and Cushing play characters on the same side who become friends, which they reportedly enjoyed.

The plot kicks off when a group of explorers lead by Alexander Saxton (Lee) discover the mummified body of an ancient hominid in an icy cave in Manchuria. Excited about the find and its implications for modern science, Saxton arranges for it to be shipped back to England on the Trans-Siberian Express. The specimen soon becomes the center of controversy when it goes missing from its shipping crate, with only a trail of bodies to give any clues as to who (or what) is responsible for its disappearance.

This film has examples of:

  • Ancient Astronauts: The alien creature is revealed to have been part of an expedition to Earth from another galaxy entirely, alongside several of his kind. Unfortunately for it, its companions left it behind on Earth by accident, forcing it to find a way off of the planet in the present.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Countess Irina confronts Saxton about whether the monster he found is the killer, she makes him realize how callous his behavior has been by asking "And you don't care?"
    Saxton: A baggage man, and a thief... You're right madame. I don't care... as much as I should.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The convolutions of the brains of the creature's victims are discovered during their autopsies to be completely smoothed out. This is interpreted as proof the victims' memories were somehow drained out of them. The convolutions of the cerebrum are merely its gross anatomy, whereas memories are stored at the cellular and chemical levels of structure; forgetting one's memories would no more "smooth them out" than forgetting one's identity would "smooth out" one's fingerprints.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety:
    • While both infantry soldiers and Cossacks hold their rifles in appropriate stance (barrel pointed upwards or in other safe direction) Captain Kazan plays in the most negligent manner with pistol confiscated from Inspector Mirov, finger in trigger guard, barrel towards the public.
    • Also the Captain shouts that everyone is under arrest and proceeds to hit and insult them, without searching for weapons first. He had no way to guess which of them was the mysterious murderer at that point.
  • Artistic License – Military: The two soldiers led by Inspector Mirov wear Imperial Russian infantry uniforms with dark blue (Cadet Corps) not red (regular Army) shoulder boards. Cossacks led by Captain Kazan were supposed to be from a Siberian-stationed regiment, yet their uniforms look more like the black-faced-red of the Kuban Host than dark-green-faced-yellow of the Amur, Ussuri or Transbaikal units.
  • Big Bad: The unnamed creature terrorizing the train.
    • Though the alien being is the dominant threat of the film, the Cossack officer Captain Kazan is menacing enough to push straight past mere Asshole Victim into more important "bad guy" territory, especially with his Cold-Blooded Torture of innocent passengers. He and his men do pull an Enemy Mine with the two main characters and the other passengers once they find out who the creature is, not that it helps much...
  • Cut the Juice: The alien cuts the lights to the train after being outed, enabling it to use its powers more freely.
  • Deadly Gaze: The alien can switch bodies or absorb the minds of other by staring into their eyes. It can only do this in the dark, however, and it seems to only be able to switch bodies when its current body is mortally wounded.
  • Dead Man's Chest: The alien kills the baggage man and places his corpse in the crate it had escaped from.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Apparently Captain Kazan finds it a fitting punishment to brutally whip a man for calling him a fool and that is after he threatens and pushes everyone around him.
    • Minor Injury Overreaction: Father Pujardov is struck over the arms and torso with a rather puny whip, more like a BDSM prop, yet he falls down like a man hit by a steel chain. It was supposed to represent the original Nagaika whip carried by Cossacks, but that was similar in construction to a leather blackjack, wielded like a flexible club in combat and could easily put an opponent to the ground.
  • Enemy Mine: While hostile towards the passengers at first, Captain Kazan and the other Cossacks eventually team up with Saxton and Wells in trying to stop the creature. Unfortunately, they're massacred before they can even get their hands on it.
  • Energy Being: The creature possessing the hominid is revealed to be this, jumping from creature to creature in order to stay alive while also collecting their memories.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Countess Petrovski's poodle starts whimpering and struggling in her arms when it's near the crate containing the alien.
  • Eye Remember: Dr. Wells and Prof. Saxton discover that all the things seen by the creature are retained within the eye of the ape man that it used to inhabit.
  • Eye Scream: The hominid only has one working eye.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Sported by one of Captain Kazan's cossacks.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: While initially distrusting of one another due to a history of academic rivalry, Saxton and Wells are forced to work together to prevent the creature’s killing spree from spreading and eventually begin to warm up to each other.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: While the alien claims it merely wants to leave Earth after being separated from its kind, its behavior and murders make these claims ring hollow and somewhat dubious (especially the part about having been accidentally separated from its kind), even to the protagonists.
  • Harmless Freezing: The creature has no problems moving around after being frozen for a couple million years.
  • Hot Blooded Side Burns: Inspector Mirov has thick sideburns that connect to his mustache and is a firm, determined man who tries to shoot the monster, won't be deterred from important courses of action, and sometimes shows exasperation with Wells and Saxon.
  • Human Popsicle: The creature, or rather, its hominid host, is found frozen in a cave somewhere in East Asia, which Saxton takes with him at the start of the movie. As Saxton states, the hominid has been frozen for over 2 million years by the time he discovered it.
  • Idiot Ball: The Captain just saw a half-human monster running away wounded and barely did anything to stop the crazed monk, which he had just suspected to be an accomplice during the very same scene. With one hesitation he sealed his fate and that of his men.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: The alien enters a compartment containing three sleeping children, and approaches threateningly towards them, but leaves without killing them: presumably because they possessed no knowledge it wanted to absorb. Actually justified and lampshaded when the alien states exactly this as the reason why it will not attack the monk.
  • Improvised Lockpick: The creature bends a nail and uses it to pick the padlock holding its crate shut.
  • Just Train Wrong: The train interior sets and the train model used for the exterior shots were the same sets used for the 1972 biopic of Pancho Villa. Just as expectable, they barely resemble the Imperial Russian express trains of the 1900s. This turns in a plot hole as the monster cuts the electric lighting wire to be able to kill the armed Cossacks in the dark. Imperial Russian rail cars usually had lanterns with candles or oil lamps inside so it had to smash by hand each and every lamp to achieve this.
  • Leit Motif: The film's main theme is this for the alien, and almost every time it's heard through the running time is because the alien whistles it In-Universe, having absorbed the tune from one of its early victims.
  • Loony Fan: Father Pujardov is fascinated by the alien, believing it to be Satan. He even tries to worship it, much to the creature’s annoyance.
  • Master of Unlocking: The lockpicking thief, who unfortunately becomes the first victim of the alien. Thanks to the latter's Power Copying ability, these skills are passed on to it and the alien itself takes full advantage of this once inside the train, stealthily entering traincars and killing people without alerting them.
  • Mister Muffykins: The Countess owns a lapdog named Alinka that doubles as an Evil-Detecting Dog.
  • Monochromatic Eyes: Victims of the alien develop completely white eyes, which turn red when it reanimates them to fight the heroes.
  • Never Split the Party: Prof. Saxton tells everyone to stay in pairs for protection against whoever the alien has possessed.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: The alien resurrects its victims into its undead minions towards the end of the film, in order to protect itself from Saxton and Wells.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Father Pujardov resembles Rasputin the Mad Monk both in appearance and in role.
  • Not Worth Killing: The alien finds the crazy Pujardov specifically not worth consuming.
    Father Pujardov: Are you going to kill me?
  • Oh, Crap!: The alien does one when it realizes the train is about to go off a cliff after being diverted.
  • Orient Express: Well, Trans-Siberian Express, but most of the associated tropes still apply.
  • Parasitic Immortality: The unnamed alien terrorizing the titular Orient Express train is revealed to be a formless Energy Being who can leap from lifeform to lifeform, and by the time of the film has already lived for millions of years at the very least. Should its current host be killed and the alien be unable to find a new body to inhabit, it will die, which is ultimately how the protagonists kill it during the ending, by derailing the train off of a cliff, with the alien still inside.
  • Pistol-Whipping:
    • One of the guards on the train tries to strike Prof. Saxton over the head with the butt of his rifle before being stopped by Mirov.
    • Performed at least twice, against Dr. Wells's back and Prof. Saxton's stomach courtesy of some rather cruel Cossacks to whom they dared to backtalk.
  • Power Copying: The alien gains whatever abilities the people whose brains it sucks had, such as picking locks from the thief it drains on the train platform. Its ultimate goal is drain the knowledge it needs to build a rocketship and go back to space.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The creature may see every human mind as a potential meal, but it doesn't bother itself with the ones that it considers inadequate and won't help it gain any knowledge, like little childrens and Pujardov's until it has no better choice.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Countess Petrovski threatens to have Captain Kazan sent to Siberia, his reply is a bemused "I am in Siberia."
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The alien has red glowing eyes whenever it feeds on someone.
  • Red Right Hand: Aside from the glowing red eyes, any creature the alien possesses also has a deformed left hand.
  • Redshirt Army: The Cossacks at first seem to pose a threat to the creature, being heavily armed and well-trained. Once the creature reveals himself, however, they go down like flies.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Father Pujardov early in the film is actually right in wanting the specimen destroyed (as the creature does prove to be dangerous), but unfortunately is cast aside thanks to claiming that it's demonic and a product of Satan.
  • The Rival: Wells and Saxton are this to each other for most of the film, barely able to tolerate one another, and each of them trying to gain the upper hand academically.
  • The Sociopath: The creature is willing to body snatch and murder anybody he has to to get off of Earth.
  • Starfish Aliens: The alien is an entity of thought that could be described as a very mean Energy Being. It can take over people's minds—several at a time, be they dead or alive. Those it possesses have their minds cleaned out by removing the wrinkles in the brain so they can't think. The only telltale clue is that those possessed by it have glowing red eyes in dim light.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Captain Kazan brutally lashes a man with a cat-o'-nine-tails for calling him a fool.
  • Tears of Blood: The alien absorbs the minds of others by staring into their eyes, which then start shedding blood.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The alien is finally killed when the train is sent over a cliff and then explodes.
  • Thriller on the Express: People are trapped with an alien on a train that's travelling through Russia.
  • Villainous Valor: While the Cossacks are butchered one by one, the Captain does his best to resist the creature's mental powers, while struggling inch by inch to wrestle it or bring a sword to it.
  • Weakened by the Light: The alien's powers to suck out brains are thwarted by strong light.
  • We Can Rule Together: The alien, in an attempt to plead for its life or buy time for itself, offers Saxton millions of years worth of knowledge, from curing incurable diseases, Earth's prehistory, and even knowledge of outer space. While initially tempted by the offer, Saxton ultimately rejects it, knowing its too dangerous to be left alive at that point.
    • Another Idiot Ball to advance the plot: Professor Saxton hesitates twice to shoot, leaving the monster time to revive its zombie victims. First time he might have been tempted, twice the same scene is just pushing his luck.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • Father Pujardov thinks he's in a religious horror film, and is dealing with a demonic creature. In reality, he's in a Sci-Fi Horror, with the creature he's been fearing actually being an alien.
    • Captain Kazan, and by extent many of the other Russian authorities involved in the murder case, believe that they're dealing with an enemy spy after the Count onboard, and not an alien creature seeking to absorb knowledge from its victims and escape Earth.
  • You Are in Command Now: Saxton and Wells end up leading the passengers against the alien after Mirov and Kazan are possessed and killed by the creature late in the film.