News of Arrow’s Blu-ray release of Horror Express caught me off guard because I already owned a perfectly good copy of the film from Severin. Surely Arrow was offering a bunch of great new bonus materials. It turns out that isn’t exactly the case. In fact, there are only two characteristics that separate this release from the previous: a new 2K restoration and a commentary track from writer and editor, Stephen Jones, and novelist and critic, Kim Newman.
As for the 2K restoration, there seems to be a notable difference in the colors in the film print. I examined three specific scenes side-by-side to determine these differences and concluded that the Arrow version contains much more vivid color. In two out of the three scenes, this was an improvement. First, the dark shades of gray on the monster better highlight its facial characteristics, giving it more depth. Second, the green dress worn by Countess Irina Petrovska (Silvia Tortosa) in the dining car with Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) is simply stunning when compared to the same dress in the Severin print.
On the other hand, the reds and blues of the uniforms in an early scene at the train station practically glow. It actually hindered my suspension of disbelief because I thought, “Those uniforms could not possibly be that clean.” Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste. I love the movie, so I want it to look as good as possible. However, at what point does it exceed how it was originally intended to look? A lot of these movies need a little grit and grime to make them more authentic.
The commentary track is a mixed bag, also. Kim Newman wears me out with his energy and enthusiasm. To be honest, I could not watch the entire movie with his constant chatter. I don’t mean that as a personal attack on him; I just prefer reading him over listening to him. Neither was I receiving enough unique information specific to the movie itself to continue watching. I’m not as familiar with Stephen Jones, but his voice was not different enough from Newman’s to provide a distinctive variation in the presentation.
I guess there are two other minor differences, but I don’t know if I’d let them be the deciding factors in making a purchasing decision. First, the Arrow Blu-ray has a full-motion menu, while the Severin Blu-ray has a static menu more suited to the DVD (which does come with their Blu-ray, by the way.) Second, the Arrow print of the movie uses the English opening credits, while the Severin print uses the original Spanish credits. They both misspell “Cristopher Lee,” so it may not really matter.
If I’m making a list of pros and cons, it’s tough recommending which version of Horror Express I prefer; they have an even number of each. I suppose I’d lean toward the Arrow release because it has everything the Severin release has, plus the restored print and the commentary; that is, unless you’re more concerned with the technical aspects of the print and prefer one or the other. We’re missing the point, though. It doesn’t really matter which version you own as long as you own one. It’s an outstanding movie!
Arrow Bonus Materials:
Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original Uncompressed mono audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Brand new audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
Introduction to the film by film journalist and Horror Express super-fan Chris Alexander
Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express - an interview with director Eugenio Martin
Notes from the Blacklist - Horror Express producer Bernard Gordon on working in Hollywood during the McCarthy Era
Telly and Me - an interview with composer John Cacavas
Original Theatrical Trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully-illustrated collector's booklet with new writing by Adam Scovell