I am pulled back into The Cine-Files by the mossy rosary beads of The Exorcist III, and forced to clean the dust off of Night Train to Terror.
The Cine-Files is a weekly film journal where I review and rate the movies I’m watching on a color scale, inspired by my love of Sour Patch Kids candy — green for the worst films, orange for average films, red for the great films, and blue for the absolute best of the best.
This week I returned to The Exorcist III to bask in its dark magic, and jumped on the Night Train to Terror without a return ticket. Good riddance, good taste!
The Exorcist III (1990, directed by William Peter Blatty)
My love for this movie runs deep. It lives inside me, and breathes its ideas through my ribcage as black smoke, cooking my heart with the comforts of peaceful darkness. It moves me in a way only the most profound and righteous movies do. Few movies mean as much to me as this one does.
It was released at a time in my life when I was suffering through extreme mental and emotional unrest, and the macabre theological thoughtfulness of The Exorcist III brought me great peace. It kept me warm, and showed me there were other people – brilliant, soulful people – who had the same fears I had. Fears I thought I was wrestling with alone.
Morgan Creek stampeded like village idiots with spray paint through this movie. Originally a faithful adaptation of his own novel “Legion”, William Peter Blatty didn’t even originally intended it to be called The Exorcist III, but the suits insisted there be a title connection and a last-minute tacked-on exorcism scene at the end of the movie. Another case of a filmmaker’s vision vandalized by commerce.
Morgan Creek also performed a legendary screw-job on Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. But, thanks to Scream Factory, both films have been more-or-less rescued and restored using long lost VHS elements.
The Exorcist III shows us the solemn faith of Catholicism, the logical cynicism of doubt, and the cancerous spectral evil that is constantly trying to squeeze itself in between them.
It’s a potent and very moving mix of themes, because they are all portrayed with conviction and respect. Even the supernatural element, which comes in the form of a diabolical tale of serial killer possession: the freshly executed soul of The Gemini Killer is slipped into the body of the freshly broken and dying body of Damien Karras (see The Exorcist for deets). By jumping to elderly patients suffering from dementia, The Gemini Killer can resume his rampage.
The blackened, mournful, and beautiful soul of this movie lies within the conversations Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) has with The Gemini Killer/Damien Karras (played by both Jason Miller and Brad Dourif), which are elegantly written and acted. There are some hardcore scares in this movie, but it has always been the overwhelming sadness and spiritual doubt that got to me the most. No other horror movie feels like this one does, and the ending makes me cry every time I watch it.
Night Train to Terror (1985, directed by Jay Schlossberg-Cohen)
Two weeks ago, Vinegar Syndrome had a Halfway to Black Friday sale, with most of their titles drastically reduced. A lot of collectors jumped at the chance to fill gaps in their exploitation collections, and I was one of them.
Among the titles I purchased was Night Train to Terror, a movie box I remember seeing in the horror section of the old neighborhood mom n’ pop video store, but never renting. I have no idea why. It isn’t the most spectacular cover art, so maybe that’s why. How was I supposed to know how special it was?
Since then, I’ve learned my lesson. If a company like Vinegar Syndrome remasters and re-releases a movie, then it definitely deserves to be paid close attention to.
What a tasty little trashy treat this is! It’s an anthology horror film, bookended by God and Satan discussing and swapping the stories we see onscreen. The scenes with God and Satan are priceless, with both of them guilty of bragging and having big-time egos. I even caught a “Paradise Lost” reference in the beginning, although I think it was unintentional.
Along with God and Satan on the terror train, an 80’s rock band are performing a song. On the train. Randomly. Not as background, but actually performing the song to us, for us, breakdancing all over that pesky fourth wall.
The three stories are nonsense. But there is a surprising amount of nudity, and the gore quotient is impressively mean-spirited and plentiful. And there’s stop-motion creatures, too. I found myself laughing during many of the set pieces. I love endearing cinematic junk like this. ‘Night Train to Terror’ is ART, as much as ‘Citizen Kane’ is. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for Vinegar Syndrome for digging up movies like this and giving them the royal digital treatment. I give this movie my highest recommendation! You will love every minute of it.