Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Night Train Murders

1975
Dir. Aldo Lado

AKA
L'ultimo treno della notte, The New House on The Left, Second House on The Left, Don't Ride on Late Night Trains, Last Stop on the Night Train, Late Night Trains, Last House Part II and Xmas Massacre

Two young girls are dealt a harsh blow by fate when they take a night train from Germany to Italy and cross paths with two thugs and a psychotic nymphomaniac. What follows is a gruelling night of degradation, rape and murder. In another twist of fate the murderous trio eventually encounter the parents of one of the girls. When the realisation of their daughter’s ghastly fate onboard the night train occurs, the parents’ exact bloody revenge…

A loose reworking of Wes Craven’s groundbreaking grit-fest, Last House on the Left, and therefore Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, Lado’s outing is a much more stylish, polished affair, raising it to a loftier status than its American predecessor. While Craven featured grimy realism, Lado opts for cinematic flair that still packs a weighty punch. Night Train Murders uncoils amidst an utterly claustrophobic setting with slow-burning, sustained suspense. Not content to just create a bloody, censor-baiting revenge yarn, Lado works notions of fate, social responsibility and class conflict into the mix too, ensuring the film is not just another mindless Italo rip-off. Not that there’s anything wrong with mindless Italo rip-offs, mind you.


Those familiar with the underappreciated director’s other genre work, such as the unusual and stunningly shot gialli, Who Saw Her Die? and Short Night of Glass Dolls – will know that his work is imbued with intelligence and political subtext, as well as being exquisitely photographed. The director also addressed themes of class struggle in the highly original Short Night of Glass Dolls and its depiction of an older, higher-class generation literally feeding off their subordinates.

Opening with impressive shots of bustling squares and thoroughfares in the heart of Munich, Lado’s camera swoops and prowls amongst the crowds, gradually singling out the film’s protagonists with repeated shots of them amongst the throngs of people; the girls - Irene Miracle (Inferno), and Laura D’Angelo - happily shopping, the two thugs - Flavio Bucci (Suspiria) and Gianfranco De Grassi (The Church) - getting into scuffles and the mysterious 'lady on the train' - Macha Meril (Deep Red) - mopping around wearing a veil, looking all prim and aloof. The way the shots are cut together, the randomness of people’s actions and the paths they decide to take, highlights the idea of fate and how it weaves lives together. Of the abundance of people we see, it is the two girls, the two young men and the lady with the veil whose paths will cross, ensuring devastation will be wrought.



Played with icy calm and rapturous exhalation by Macha Meril, ‘the lady on the train’ is clearly the figure of authority manipulating the whole sordid situation. Meril’s icy beauty and austereness was highlighted in Dario Argento’s Deep Red to convey her fragility and vulnerability, whereas here it renders her a cold-hearted, callous bitch! She echoes the members of the sect from Lado’s Short Night of Glass Dolls in her representation of the sadistic power of the establishment. From the opening scenes it was arguably evident that louts Blackie and Curly, were perhaps all bark and no bite. Curly must rely on drugs to ensure he can see through the miscreant deeds. While certainly not civilised or even remotely exempt of blame or responsibility, the pair of reprobates might not have taken things as far as they did were it not for the older woman. It wasn’t until their encounter with the seemingly prim and haughty ice queen that things begin to get out of hand. Instead of feigning off their sleazy come-on, she actively goads them into perverse sex with her. Spurned on by her ever outrageous and morbid demands, the young men eventually molest and humiliate the girls as the older woman extracts pleasure from the seedy proceedings.

The violence is for the most part, kept off screen. Sometimes, just off screen. The most graphic moment occurs when Lisa is cruelly forced to admit her virginity and subsequently raped with a blade. The humiliation and abuse dealt the girls is also psychological and delivers a stinging welt. One of the most unsettling moments comes when the dire situation the girls find themselves in is inter-cut with their middle-class parents welcoming friends to their comfortable house for dinner and drinks, oblivious to their daughter’s plight.


Morricone’s score exploits a similarly lonely and atmospheric harmonica riff as that deployed in Once Upon A Time In the West. Characters are identified by music motifs throughout, especially Curly, who actually plays the instrument onscreen, and his tune features as the main motif of the soundtrack. In one particularly taut moment, the presence of the trio of misfits is signalled by the baleful strains of his harmonica, rendered ominously creepy by the mounting anxiety of the girls and the strangely deserted train they’re hurtling through the night in. The lighting in these scenes becomes decidedly lurid as events progress, as though mirroring the nightmarish world the girls now find themselves in.

Night Train Murders is a carefully structured, bleak and provocative thriller that in many ways betters its source material, and once again highlights Aldo Lado’s unique vision and the fact that he’s a sorely overlooked filmmaker.

The film was banned as a video nasty in 1983 in the UK, after being rejected by the BBFC when submitted for cinema classification in 1976. Even though it was acquitted and removed from the list in 1984, it still never got a release until 2008 when it was finally passed uncut and distributed on DVD by Shameless Screen Entertainment.

Check out the trailer here.

8 comments:

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Excellent review James - this is far superior to LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

Mykal said...

I like the idea that Night Train Murders is sort of a refined Last House on the Left, which I always found simply disturbing without many other positives. Last House was assuredly gritty, but it always gave me a "so what?" feeling. I may have to try Night Train. Plus, I have a weakness for austere, haughty, ice queens. Another well written post, James.

Doctor_Cyclops said...

Excellent review. I haven't seen this one, but if Ennio Morricone scored it, then I will definitely have to dig it up.,

James said...

Cheers, guys.
@Shaun - It's been a while since I watched Last House, but I remember not being very impressed by the inappropriate humour. Night Train Murders takes itself very seriously, and Lado's assured direction really elevates it above similar movies.

@Mykal - Macha Meril really shines in this one. Nice to see her in such a prominent role, she really is memorable.

@Dr_Cyclops - This is one of Morricone's sparsest scores, but it's typically moody and really enhances the tension and bleak atmosphere throughout.

B.STANK said...

I love this movie. LAST HOUSE is one of my favorites, but Lado took Craven's raw film and added so much style to it. The use of blue in the train scenes is unbelievable and offers up some amazing images of the goons. My only disappointment was in the anti-climactic ending.

James said...

Yes, the ending was rather sudden - but what a ride to get there! I find the same to be true of so many Italian horror films.

Terence said...

This was a very disturbing film! Macha Meril was amazing, her character was so detestable yet so formidable at the same time. I've recently become quite interested in her work. She manages to convey a lot of sympathy in her small screen-time as the neurotic psychic in Deep Red while in Night of the Flowers (a very unconventional arthouse thriller), she plays a gentle, free-loving hippie. By contrast, the nastiness of her character in Night Train Murders is genuinely shocking!

James Gracey said...

I've only seen Ms Meril in this and Deep Red - but I loved both performances.