Written by: Sheila Goldberg
Directed by: Jeff Kwitny
Starring: Mary Kohnert, Bo Svenson and Victoria Zinny
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The Prince of Darkness is about to choose his bride.
I suppose Amok Train is a case of producer/director Ovidio Assonitis getting a taste of his own medicine, so to speak. Fifteen years earlier, heíd produced one of the first (if not the first) Exorcist rip-offs in the form of Beyond the Door, which not only opened the door for hordes of other similar cash-ins, but also set Assonitis on a career path lined with similarly derivative films like Tentacles and Piranha II. By the late 80s, the Satanic horror train had pretty much left the station, but that didnít stop the producer from conjuring up Amok Train, which would mix the rigueur du jour of teens in peril with the Dark One. Somewhere along the way, distributors decided to re-title it Beyond the Door III against his wishes, thus creating a ďtrilogyĒ of films that have nothing to do with each other since part two was simply Mario Bavaís Shock, a movie that didnít even feature Satan.
Amok Train can definitely boast the devilís presence, however. In this case, heís targeted a group of Valley teens on a trip to Yugoslavia, where theyíre set to witness the performance of an ancient ritual under the supervision of a local professor (Bo Svenson). Unfortunately for them, one of their classmates, Beverly (Mary Kohnert), is unwittingly set to star in the ritual as Satanís bride-to-be. Luckily for the locals, this is a particularly dopey set of teens that make for easy targets.
Of course, you expect some stupidity and nonsense when it comes to movies like this (read: 80s teen and Italian horror), but Amok Train features a charmingly lunkheaded gathering of dolts, none of whom seem to notice the obvious warning signs that somethingís amiss. For one, Svensonís professor just looks like the type of guy whoíd lead a cult, with his devilish goatee; while heís initially unassuming, things just get bizarre when he begins to lead them into a deep forest, where heís shacked up with dwarves and a witch. Itís no wonder he tries to burn the place down with the kids inside, all in an attempt to simply capture Beverly so she can fulfill her destiny. Quite an elaborate, wonky plot just to get the devil some tail, right? At any rate, the build-up for this is a little slow, filled with typical teen movie silliness that finds Beverlyís classmates constantly teasing her about being a virgin (foreshadowing!) and such.
But once the creepy, wooded little cult village goes up in smoke, the movie is on its way, which is to say it goes thoroughly off the rails, both literally and figuratively. The kids eventually hop aboard a passing train, and, not to be deterred, the devil possesses the entire locomotive, and Amok Train eventually becomes the best bad horror movie set on a train that IĎve seen (just ahead of Night Train to Terror, which has the unfair advantage/disadvantage of being cobbled together from multiple moves). Proceeding more like a slasher more so than a possession film, it charges ahead relentlessly, mixing action beats and death sequences into its somewhat nonsensical plot (that isnít aided by the fact that several scenes are presented in Serbian without subtitles) that relies on the typical inanities, like stupid characters and even stupider decisions that consistently put everyone in harmís way.
As is the case with pretty much any slasher, all is forgiven if the gore holds up, and does it ever. While some of the effects riotously phony--an early immolation featuring an obvious dummy lets you know what youíre in for--the gore is ridiculous and over-the-top, operating on a sort of Final Destination setup where the deaths occur thanks to a sinister force (in this case Satan and his cult). Just about everyone (or a dummy that looks like them) gets sliced, diced, or splattered, and even the poorer effects still have their moments. There are some incredible moments--like bodies being decapitated or severed in half outright--that are insane and deliver exactly what you want from a splatter movie. In true slasher form, thereís even a superfluous subplot involving two kids who miss the train and spend half the movie wandering around in the wilderness while their classmates fight for their lives on a runaway train. When the twain finally meet, itís hilarious, outrageous, and very bloody.
The gore isnít the only thing that looks fake here, either, as the train is often realized by crude model work. Itís most evident during a lengthy sequence where Satan decides to take a detour through a forest, and anytime the train encounters any sort of peril, an obvious model serves as the stunt double. Iím almost surprised there wasnít a disclaimer at the end assuring us that no actual trains were harmed during the filming of this motion picture. The cheapness is certainly a hindrance, but itís also an expectation; though Amok Train is technically an American, Yugoslavian, and Italian production, it mostly feels like the latter, right down to the cock-eyed plotting. If you think the setup is wacky, itís resolved with one of the most absurd instances of divine intervention Iíve ever seen. I had no idea there was a patron saint of virgins destined to be deflowered at the cock of Satan.
Amok Train mostly thrives on its bad movie charm, but, like a lot of these late-era Italian horrors, it still gets a lot of basic visual stuff right. Itís well shot, and Jeff Kwitny (actually an American) often fills the widescreen frame with loopy, bizarre visuals; shot on location in Serbia, the film effortlessly capture the desolation and eeriness of Eastern Europe, a place thatís naturally creepy and always makes for a fantastic setting. Plus, Assonitis and company spared no expense when it came to fog machines, so the film is constantly shrouded in mist to heighten the spectral, ethereal quality. As far as unofficial sequels go, this oneís better than Shock and just as fun as Beyond the Door. Amok Train is also among the best in the Assonitis canon, if that can be considered a compliment. Released nearly a decade ago by Shirek Show, the DVD of the film is really the best way to go; not only does it restore the filmís gore, which was heavily censored on VHS, but it also features the original scope aspect ratio and some extras, including interviews with Assonitis and cinematographer Adolfo Bartoli, some trailers, and a promo gallery. Amok Train is also currently streaming on Netflix, and, while itís been remastered in HD, itís also been cropped to 1.78:1. Either way you go, youíll likely be delighted with just how entertaining Amok Train is; with both the 80s and the Italian horror industry in its death throes, this feels like a desperate last gasp for both, as if all their clichťs and badness were compelled to one more howl of lunacy, splatter, and laughs. Buy it!
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