‘Terror Train’ Review – Tubi Remake Rarely Detours from the Original Slasher Movie

Horror

The 1980 movie Terror Train avoided the remake treatment during the 2000s, a time when retro slashers were being modernized one after the other. While a remake was in the works at one point, that project eventually evolved into something else. However, the Jamie Lee Curtis “slashic” has finally received an official redo after forty-two years; the most high-profile release in Tubi’s Terror on Tubi event is bringing the doomed party train straight into the 2020s. Yet despite its contemporary lingo, bloodier output and a few story adjustments, Philippe Gagnon’s Terror Train essentially follows the same route as the original.

From start to finish, the remake mirrors Roger Spottiswoode’s Terror Train. The setup is exactly the same as well, though someone might be asking why today’s college students would want to party on a train in the first place. But before the story leaves the station, the main characters seal their own karmic fates when they pull a sick prank on an unpopular pledge named Kenny (Noah Parker). In this copy-and-pasted prologue, the ostensible final girl Alana (Robyn Alomar) reluctantly goes along with the cruel gag, only to then be horrified herself when she realizes the frat’s hazing includes a bona-fide cadaver. Like clockwork, Kenny is severely traumatized by the sight of a dead body, and Alana and her friends aren’t officially punished.

This Terror Train continues to 1:1 the beats and structure of the ‘80 movie. Character names, costumes, the order of deaths — it’s practically all the same. One early difference is this remake is set on Halloween night, yet the change in holiday backdrop has no major effect. As the party commences, so does the shortage of surprises. The biggest appeal here is the remake value, and those tuning in will have most likely seen the first movie. The one thing keeping these viewers invested is their hope that something remarkably different happens, sooner or later.

The original Terror Train is by no means perfect, and enjoying it also means accepting its flaws. The middle portion is struck down by serious pacing issues, there’s little mystery regarding the murderer’s identity, and, perhaps the worst offense any slasher can make, the kills are dull. The bright spots ultimately outweigh the shortcomings; the killer’s gimmick of wearing their victims’ costumes is unique, a last-minute twist tops off a strong conclusion, and of course, David Copperfield’s scene-stealing cameo as both magician and red herring, which needs no further explanation than that.

Meanwhile, the remake feeds off a few of these plus points, and it even tries to address those slight imperfections. Although both movies run around the same length, the update leans harder into the whodunit element. Gagnon’s version is plot driven in this regard, but that’s only when the script doesn’t stop to fixate on relationship drama. As for the kills, these moments are admittedly angrier and more violent, especially when remembering how brief or limp the first movie’s death scenes are. The costumed villain here can be seen plunging knives into chests, repeatedly smashing one victim’s head against a restroom mirror, and slitting throats. The best set piece in Spottiswoode’s movie — the cage match between Curtis and her attacker — also becomes the remake’s tensest moment, though the use of a cheesy “scary clown” mask takes something away from the overall effect.

In his book Horror Films of the 1980s, John Kenneth Muir said the organizing principle of the original Terror Train is magic and illusions rather than the train itself. “There is a magic show on the train at a critical juncture, and the identity of the killer rests on how much the viewer trusts what he or she sees,” Muir wrote. Whereas the remake is less immersed in its element of trickery. The Magician (Tim Rozon) has a more active part to play here, seeing as how his cynical character gets directly involved in the mystery, but the act of deception itself is second to the theme of change. This new Alana is making big life changes, Alana’s best friend is exploring her sexuality, and the fraternity is in a transition of power. As in the first movie, the one thing that refuses to change is the killer’s overwhelming desire for revenge. 

This Terror Train is essentially a remake for people who haven’t seen the 1980 movie, or they don’t even know it’s a remake to begin with. There are no major surprises to be found other than the occasional plot tweak here and there, and anything that was changed doesn’t necessarily warrant an immediate watch, either. As underwhelming as this remake ends up being, the biggest crime is its lack of imagination. The new Terror Train neither changes course after the launch, nor does it play around with the source material’s core ideas enough.

Terror Train premiered at Brooklyn Horror Film Fest 2022, and it will be available for Streaming on Tubi starting on October 21.

terror train

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