Released in 1980 the original Terror Train was one of the many slashers to be released in the wake of Friday the 13th and Halloween. Benefiting from the presence of that film’s star, Jamie Lee Curtis it did well at the box office and has built a following over the years. There was even an attempt to remake it in the early 2000s, but that ended up morphing into Train, a film that sucked even by torture porn standards.
Since the original was a favourite of mine, I was initially interested when I heard it had been remade and was scheduled for an October release. However, when I heard Tubi was involved, a lot of that interest faded. As much as I love their library of films, I think we can all agree their originals frequently leave a lot to be desired.
The remake opens up the same as the original, with Doc (Matias Garrido, 1UP, Happy Face) and Mo (Corteon Moore, Slasher, Two Deaths of Henry Baker) talking Alana (Robyn Alomar, Riot Girls, Utopia Falls) into a prank involving geeky pledge Kenny (Noah Parker, Six Degrés, Goddess of the Fireflies) and a cadaver. Needless to say, it goes horribly wrong.
Now it’s three years later and their respective fraternity and sorority are having their annual Halloween party. And the frat’s new president (Dakota Jamal Wellman, Infinite Light, Hotel Limbo) has booked something special, a party train, complete with a magician (Tim Rozon, End of the Line, Schitt’s Creek). And, of course, an uninvited guest has crashed the party.
Writers Ian Carpenter and Aaron Martin are both veterans of the series Slasher. They know the genre and are respectful of it and the original film. Perhaps a bit too respectful as their version of Terror Train follows it very closely. There are a few differences but they’re mostly cosmetic with the setting changed from New Year’s Eve to a more appropriate Halloween. The cast is a bit more diverse and the magician’s act is edgier.
But otherwise, Terror Train sticks close to its roots, the character’s names, the opening prank, the first kill happening before the train leaves the station, and several costumes are even the same. Although the clown from the original is now a Pennywise knockoff. What it really needed was an update along the lines of Slumber Party Massacre or Maniac. Something that had its connection to the original but was its own film and properly reflected the time it’s set in.
It could also have used a better director. Philippe Gagnon (Psycho Prom Queen, The Secret Sauce) takes Terror Train through its paces efficiently, but without the energy or tension that Roger Spottiswoode brought to the 1980 version. It feels more like one of the many Lifetime movies he’s done than a horror film. It’s never actually dull but it never shows any spark or intensity either, it’s just sorta there. It also doesn’t help that while the performances aren’t bad, the cast is competing against performances by Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, and Vanity in the original.
To be fair, Terror Train does take its own track during the final act. While the film’s big twist is fairly obvious, it’s also the one time the film shakes off its lethargy and creates some excitement. If Gagnon could have delivered more scenes like these it would have been a much better film. As it is it’s watchable, especially on a streaming service where you’re not putting out a rental fee, but hardly essential viewing.