Saturday, December 31, 2011

Night Train Murders (1975)

Criminals, the rich and a set of fresh victims meet on a train

Over the years some Italian films have capitalized on the success of American pictures with lesser results. "Night Train Murders" isn't shy about making an unofficial sequel to "The Last House on the Left" except on a train and in another continent. Likewise a group of delinquents and their female companion attack and humiliate two unsuspecting young girls out to see the world on their own until they go too far and the parent(s) find it in them to seek out revenge that's just as cruel as what they suffered. Though it's a different film in its own right that plays more on social class idiosyncrasies in Europe and follows a better pacing and development over "Last House" due to being a little more restrained and refined with style from a seasoned director. While not as over-the-top as others in the rape/revenge subgenre, it still carries punch due to some worked up scenes and the lasting messages it carries as well.

Two young college girls seek independence during their Christmas vacation when they take a train by themselves to visit family. Meanwhile two street thugs go on a petty crime spree in the city and end up on that same train to escape a police officer. A rich, business looking woman bids her husband goodbye and ends up joining the two criminals due to the three being attracted to power and control. From only doing minor crimes beforehand, the two male criminals step up to the big leagues when the fancy looking woman uses her wily ways to egg on the two men to senselessly torment and violate the girls who were just at the wrong place and at the wrong time.

"Night Train Murders" spends some time showing how the circumstances led up to what they did with shots of the surroundings, some introductions and light drama. It's an exploitation piece but as a result of the gradual flow it can make one feel dirty and sick for watching the unfeeling events unfold one moment at a time right before your widening eyes. It doesn't help that there are intercut shots of the parents none the wiser as they go about their little fights of money and politics in their wealthy household that bought them everything but protection for their daughter. The only time the film shows sympathy is when the captures themselves think they went too far, which is going to probably get on some people's nerves to show they're human beings too and not monsters usually portrayed in films in a black and white context to make it easier to swallow. The dialogue comes with the usual English dubs by professional voice actors that speak overtly smooth and proper. The performances aren't award winning but they show some range between the characters with distinct qualities and faults too. Macha Meril stands out among the cast as the rich and sadistic woman who not only carries the look but also makes the little transitions needed to believably pull off both sides of her dual personality. Ennio Morricone's score is melancholic and full of doom and gloom the way piano strokes will methodically time their hits like a slow funeral march, or how a harmonica will sound high notes that resemble pleading wails. The opening credits have a male soprano soothingly singing as if unavoidable tragedy is about to come and he's padding the fall.

The movie leaves some room for the viewer to decide their stance rather than giving a clear cut solution to all of the problems presented. Like "Last House" this has a theme about violence and vengeance by showing how easily it can be done but that the after effects are the worst portion of the whole process, for antagonist and protagonist alike. There's the question of if a normal, modern family person, even with respectable qualities and a profession that cures the sick, is able to commit retaliation on someone beyond reform. It shows just how differently we perceive the well-off compared to the common person. The villainous woman is more concerned with her appearance than other's feelings or what they're going through. The same can be said about any money grubbing corporate types who trample the weak any which way they can. They often get a free ride just for how they look rather than how they actually act just because they pay the bills on time. There's a message about letting your children out into the world without properly preparing them for the dangers, as they might have been too sheltered before that. There's even a witness who has a chance to do something but instead gives in to the opportunity because he can get away with it. These themes still seem common today as they were in the mid '70s and probably will still be in another 30 plus years to come.

Rating: 8/10

Director: Aldo Lado (Who Saw Her Die?)
Stars: Marina Berti, Laura D'Angelo, Flavio Bucci, Macha Meril
Link: IMDB

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