Since watching Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) more than 30 years ago, I have abided by my promise to never see this film again, it being truly one of the most repugnant that I’ve ever sat through. And yet, I didn’t as much mind Aldo Lado’s homage/remake/pastiche of three years later, Night Train Murders. As in the original, the film deals with the brutal rape and murder (inadvertent, in the Italian picture) of a pair of college girls by a trio of brutish thugs (in the latter film, one of the trio is an upper-class woman with sexually depraved tendencies) and the retribution taken on them by the father of one of the girls.
Lado’s film starts out with a lighthearted, almost comical tone, which shades gradually into one of unease and finally sickening horror. His picture is a lot more polished and technically proficient than Craven’s, featuring some beautiful exterior shots (Munich at Christmastime looks particularly stunning), handsome production values, and attractive actors (Macha Meril, who many will remember from Dario Argento’s Deep Red, and who here plays the depraved Lady on the Train, is particularly easy to look at). That surface gloss makes the film go down easier than Craven’s, but that scummy original is probably still the more powerful of the two. The most notorious scene in Lado’s film, the deflowering of one of the schoolgirls not at knifepoint, but VIA knifepoint, is mercifully staged in a darkened cabin but retains its power to shock today, 35 years after the film was banned in the U.K.; the excellent reference book DVD Delirium 3 calls this scene, which is reminiscent of the genital violence in the 1972 giallo What Have You Done To Solange?, “among the most disturbing depictions of sexualised violence ever committed to film.”
Far from being just an exploitation film, however, Lado seems to be trying to deliver some serious messages here in Night Train Murders, both about violence in society and how the upper classes (personified by the Lady on the Train) manipulate the lower classes to do their dirty work. In a grippingly well-made exercise in suspense, maestro Ennio Morricone’s score once again adds immeasurably, especially his theme for harmonica (which many will find reminiscent of the one he did for Sergio Leone’s 1968 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West). The picture’s opening theme song, however, “A Flower’s All You Need,” would have been infinitely better without the absolutely dreadful singing provided by then-popular Greek warbler Demis Roussos. Referring to The Last House on the Left in one of the numerous extras on Blue Underground’s great-looking DVD, Lado says that Night Train Murders was “not intentional to reproduce that story.” Whether we can believe him or not, haters of the Craven film just might find Lado’s a bit easier to bear. And forget about Black Christmas; THIS might very well be the darkest Christmas movie ever made!