Night Train to Terror

My favourite music moments in horror films

I love the use of pop music in horror movies. The juxtaposition of something nice with something horrible always works for me. . Think “Hip to be Square” in American Psycho – a delightful piece of music playing over an axe murder. But pop music can be used to bring us to the right period or even build the character’s personality more than a score can. It’s a useful tool not often used in horror movies.

And I’ve realised, that many of my favourite scenes in horror movies revolve around music in some way. So why the hell not throw a little list together about it? I’ve chosen these particular scenes for many reasons: they make me laugh, they flesh out the plot, or its just excellent to watch horrible things happen to good music.

Now I’m not counting original scores here because that would be a list all on its own (the gialli soundtracks alone earn a list). And I’m also not including theme songs (that means no Dokken) because that would also be an excellent list.

The band on the Night Train to Terror (1985) perform “Everybody But You” by Joe Turano

“What kind of train is this?”

Night Train to Terror is SUCH a mess. A lovable mess, but a mess all the same.

The 80’s cult film was essentially an anthology movie pieced together of three different films (to be honest, those bits aren’t really important). Tying them all together was the titular train ride. On board is Satan and God, but also a random rock band making a music video.

The movie isn’t great. It’s certainly very weird. But more importantly, it gave us this:

The awkward dancing. The air guitar. The strange bit where they’re all swaying. That being said, this song is such an earworm. This is not only my favourite music moment in a horror movie, but probably my favourite movie moment ever. If you’re having a bad day, chances are this can work its magic on you.

“Sittin’ Here At Midnight” – Reggie Bannister Bill Thornbury’s (as Reggie and Jody) jam session in Phantasm (1979) 

Phantasm is a dark movie, as in it nearly all takes place at night or inside Morningside mausoleum. It’s haunting and filled with nightmares, but it’s also funny and has a great cast of characters. This particular scene is less than a of couple minutes, but it perfectly encapsulates the wonder of small-budget film making: many moments just feel really…real.

The score for Phantasm is pure excellence, but I will always love the guitar jam session between Reggie and Jody. It builds the authentic friendship between the two characters, which helps the ending become all that more compelling.

Actor Bill Thornbury, who wrote the song, still performs it live. You can watch a full live version here.

Angela’s dance to “Stigmata Martyr” by Bauhaus in Night of the Demons (1988)

There’s something wrong with Angela.

Night of the Demons is one of the quintessential 80s horror movies. And it would be nothing, absolutely nothing without the character of Angela. When a group of high schoolers go to an abandoned mortuary where they take turns being possessed and getting killed on Halloween night.

There are many iconic moments. The lipstick, the razor blades. But Angel’s strobe-lit dance is one of the best.

Actress Amelia Kinkade is a trained dancer, and she uses that training to great effect. In some ways, its similar to the Return of the Living Dead scene with Linnea Quigley’s character Trash dancing on the tomb. Its sensual, yet threatening. But the scenes use their actors in different ways: Linnea’s to build up a party mood (to quickly be crashed) and Amelia’s to build a sense of foreboding.

You’re dancing in The House of the Devil (2009) – “One Thing Leads to Another” by The Fixx

Many contemporary horror films try to replicate the feeling of an 80s or 70s horror movie. Most of those fail. But The House of the Devil does it really, really right.

One of the best ways to set a period for a film is music. When student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) gets a babysitting job “watching” an older woman, she soon finds herself bored. And what better way to spend the time than dance around to The Fixx on your Walkman?

It’s a fun scene, and Donahue really captures the jubilant dance moves of the 80s well (Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy would be proud). But while it is meant to show her casual boredom and youth, the scene still manages to be slightly menacing. It also works by making the viewer feel relaxed, only to shatter the illusion of safety.

Pretty much all of Slumber Party Masscre II

I love the Paisley Underground sounds used in the soundtrack for Slumber Party Massacre II. There’s a lot of great music moments to choose from in this one, but the girls singing “Tokyo Convertible” is easily my favourite bit.

It may be a weird pick considering the main baddie is a manifestation of a greaser rock star. He has a bunch of great songs. I even love the selection of Wednesday Week as the sound chosen for the friends’ fictional band. But there’s something very jubilant about this scene. It’s a fun bit of friendship-building.

Oh and the song is seriously excellent.

Its Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – “Hold Tight” car scene in Death Proof (Grindhouse, 2007)

My best friends loves this soundtrack. Its a test of your nerves driving to this soundtrack with the movie’s imagery in mind.

Like many of Tarantino’s movies, the whole Death Proof soundtrack is excellent. They’re key to bringing the scenes to life. But in this case, the song is a mocking warning to the women whose lives are about to be cut short.

It’s gruesome, and the song is great.

“People are Strange” in The Lost Boys (1987) – Echo & the Bunnymen

The right song is essential when introducing a new location. We need to know how a place feels, and we can pick up cues not only with visuals, but with sound. If you’re introduced with the slogan “Murder Capital Of the World” and a haunting Doors cover, chances are – you’re not a very nice place, but you’re probably cool.

The early scene in The Lost Boys shows Michael, Sam, and Lucy entering their new city of Santa Carla for the first time. And compared to the safe little town they came from, the people here really are strange. It’s certainly a literal take, but by using a cover by the Bunnymen, the take is slightly elevated.

I also want to put in a good word for the saxophonist scene with Tim Cappello. It’s so good, it’s a close second. Ultimately, though, I went more with scene-setting than pure enjoyment.

Bonus choice: “Sensuous Tiger” from The Capture of Big Foot (1979). NEVER FORGET!

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Wicked Wednesday: Night Train to Terror (1985)

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Every once in a while, you get a Spider Baby and the other times you get a Night Train to Terror, a film so astoundingly weird and terrible that it has actually made me gleeful and giddy.

God and Satan are on a train. The two are together to decide the fates of three different people.

Hands-down, Night Train to Terror has one of the more outrageous opening scenes my eyes have ever beheld. It’s a music scene that rivals even “Sensuous Tiger.” A band is filming a music video on a train to Las Vegas, and just in case you forget that this was released in 1985,  the filmmakers made sure to throw in ever ridiculous cliche in the books.

And boy, is it magnificent.

And yes, I now know ALL the words.

But if you found that at all interesting, don’t worry, because you’ll not get any explanation on that one for a while. Instead, the scene changes to focus on two men sitting at a table in one of the train cars: God and Satan. They’re together in a rather dimly-lit car next to a window that would make you think we’re in space because of all the stars shooting past.

The two are together to decide the fate of three different people. They’re not on the train, also you’re never given an explanation as to how they died, either (but I assume they’re dead now otherwise this film makes even less sense than it already does).

The first is a man called Harry Billings (John Phillip Law). He’s a womaniser who killed his wife on their wedding night when he drives their car off a bridge. Because of this, he lands himself in a sanatorium and has to suffer through electrotherapy. He’s essentially hypnotised into finding women, drugging them and bringing them back to the asylum where their organs are harvested. Granted, the movie doesn’t show much of these. Rather it’s just a series of scenes with John Phillip Law walking up to women then a jump cut to the poor victim lying naked on an operating table.

Eventually Billings becomes aware of what he’s doing and tries to stop himself from committing these crimes. He straps the head doctor down to one of the operating tables and leaves her while he tries to free the women waiting to have their organs harvested. He doesn’t get very far when he has to fight off one of the main security… uh organ-removing dudes, who he slashes through the stomach. When he returns to the doctor strapped to the table, he finds her gouged out by one of the other doctors she had lobotomised.

On the bright side, this was definitely the most cohesive stories of the three. On the not-so-bright side, I didn’t understand a damn thing.

Back to Satan and God, they decide that poor Harry has redeemed himself, but is still a womanising freak so they agree to 100 years in purgatory (because no one really wants to spend eternity with a groping perv). Thankfully there’s another turn for the band, which by the way does not have a name as far as I can tell. I’m thinking they should be called something like Starz or Steel Dreamz. I’ll work on it.

But much respect for Satan here, who is obviously the top bitch. “You call that music what they’re playing?”

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The second section is actually a poorly edited-down version of the film Death Wish Club, which makes a lot of sense. While watching this segment, I thought that there were a few more plot holes than could be easily explained away. Turns out we’ll just skip full lengths of plot (not that I’m defending Death With Club by any means). It’s obviously disjointed, but definitely had plenty of potential for plot, which is easily explained by the fact that is a real movie.

Death Wish Club was also directed by John Carr and written by the Oscar-winning writer Philip Yordan. The original plot is fairly complex comparatively – there’s a fake suicide and all. The main actress is in drag at one point, but in this short it’s not addressed and I’m so confused about this I’ve actually written myself into more confusion…

SO.

Greta is a young pianist girl working at a carnival who gets picked up by a “director” named George Youngmeyer. She becomes a porn actress who gets the attention of the young student Glen. Since Glen is a bit weird (I think), he searches everywhere and eventually finds Greta. In a really quick change of scenes, the two become lovers. I think they met, but I dunno. The film lets you fill in your own story. That’s great, right? Exercises the imagination.

Greta and an unwilling Glen join George’s strange club where every member experiences near-death by putting themselves in horrifying situations like being in the same room as a bug with a killer sting and playing a sort of electric chair Russian roulette. When the young couple eventually try and leave, they are trapped (Glen in a giant net no less) and brought to a final game with a swinging construction ball. And then they live.

So… hooray? But despite Satan’s pleading to have Greta join his team, this one goes to God because Greta the porn artist has redeemed herself. …I think. They never really tell you. Nor am I convinced she ever really did anything straight-to-Hell worthy.

But wrap that baby up quickly and head on over to part three, a soul that Satan is convinced he’ll win. Which is pretty dumb considering this is hands-down the most obvious easy win for God. Oh and the Steel Ballz is going to die during the trip.

“The Case of Claire Hansen” is another disjointed story. This one is involving a never-aging cheerleader for Satan – also possible vampire, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner and claymation monstrosities.

Claire Hansen is a devout Catholic doctor whose husband has published a book called “God is Dead” – a prequel to the Pure Flix God’s NOT Dead.  Around them, strange things begin to happen. People keep dying and appear with a tattoo of “666” on their bodies.

This is the doing of Man Whose Name I Didn’t Catch, a vampire-like demon dude who has been raising hell for decades. He was a Nazi in WWII and is a jerk in a tacky jacket the 1980s. A PI is after him when one of his clients, an elderly Jewish man, is killed and appears with the strange tattoo.

I’ll save you a bit of pain and just tell you that a bunch of people attempt to kill Man Whose Name I Didn’t Catch, and each dies in a tragic, awful, super-fantastic claymation murder. Granted, taking in the careers of those involved, I do think it’s quite cute using some very old techniques. Though I don’t think anyone would have been fooled by this even in the 30s. And it’s really no Harryhausen.

Poor Claire is on a mission from God. A priest in a church gives her a box made from the cross. She needs to take out the heart of the demon and put it the box. Well, she really does try her best, but in a super weird switch-a-roo, she ends up killing a nurse instead of the demon. And, well, the end?

God takes this one, easily. I mean Claire really did try her best.

Final score:

God:2 Satan:0

But the insanity doesn’t want to end just yet. The band has to die! And how else than by filming a toy train crash with some stock footage of an explosion? RIP Silver Starz 1985-1985. May you dance with God in Heaven.

I rather enjoyed the movie’s spiral into insanity. The first time Purple Breeze performs “Dance With Me,” it’s completely unacknowledged until after the first segment. Like random pop songs just happen? THIS ISN’T A REBANE, PEOPLE. The effects are utterly ridiculous, while some are quite good. The stories hold potential, yet seemingly strive to throw, kick and spit on that potential as much as possible.

And while I never care to watch the credits on films, it was just too much to see this at the end:

nighttraincredits

Night Train to Terror is its own form of awful. While I really don’t care for anthology films, this one really struck a special chord with me because it really does miss the mark every single time. It’s really easy to see why this film has a cult following. I for one am a new and ready member of this cult. Plus “Dance With Me” reminds me of the band from Pod People, and could it get any better than that?

“It stinks.”

I watched this week’s movie via the new horror streaming service Shudder. It’s now available in the UK, and I think it really fills the gap in the market. Because let’s be honest, horror movie choices for most services are beyond horrendous. Sign up for Shudder here for under £5 a month. There’s lots of Troma classics and Bill Rebane (!) plus lots of cult favourites among some rather promising new releases.

Oh and Night Train to Terror because everybody’s got something to…

EVERYBODY BUT YOU!

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