TV Terror Guide: Express to Terror (1979)
If you search for Express to Terror (1979) on the internet, you’re likely to find Horror Express (1972) first. Take my advice: watch the far superior Horror Express instead. Not only is the title misleading, but further investigation shows that it’s the pilot for the infamous television series debacle, Supertrain. I almost eliminated it from review here, but I noticed something relevant:L it was a Dan Curtis Production and was directed by the man himself. I had blocked this fact from my memory.
In The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis, author Jeff Thompson reports that Curtis originally didn’t want anything to do with it:
Frankly, I thought Supertrain was the worst idea I’d ever heard. I thought they were out of their minds. But a good friend at NBC said, “Everybody wants you to do this thing called Supertrain.” And they convinced me to do it – against my better judgement.
Thompson further reminds us that Curtis directed only the pilot and executive produced only the first five of the show’s ten episodes, before leaving the show. After a highly rated debut, Supertrain plummeted in the ratings and NBC pulled it from their schedule after these five episodes. (It returned later, “slightly revamped” for the final five episodes, before rolling down the train tracks of obscurity.)
While there were supposedly creative differences between NBC, who wanted escapist entertainment like The Love Boat, and Curtis, who wanted “more mystery and intrigue with a touch of violence,” it’s actually the latter with which I grew impatient in Express to Terror. I more easily accepted the humorous aspects of the story. But that’s not saying much; I didn’t enjoy any of it.
In fact, I literally checked out after an hour. My notes read, “I’ve lost interest. I don’t understand the character relationships. I couldn’t care less.” Where do I begin? First, there’s an all-star cast, but the focus is on a cluster of characters revolving around Mike Post (Steve Lawrence) who’s in gambling debt and thinks someone’s trying to kill him. That leaves the participation of big names like George Hamilton and Stella Stevens in question. Perhaps they played bigger roles in an original script, but the result barely explains their presence.
There’s no buildup for the inaugural launch of the Supertrain, just a brief pre-opening credits scene where Winfield Root (Keenan Wynn), head of Trans Allied Corporation (I think) mentions to his board that the atomic powered train capable of crossing this country in 36 hours is a gamble. Next thing you know, it’s “22 Months Later” and the monstrosity is pulling out of Grand Central Station.
Aboard, it’s poorly controlled chaos as the crew works out the kinks and the passengers interact in disconnected segments. I can’t say much more about it. Remember, I diverted my eyes from the television to my phone. This is significant because I usually stick around until the end of something I'm not enjoying in case it gets better in the final act. I did glance Steve Lawrence hanging on the side of the train as it sped along, then having a shootout with someone on top of the train. I’ll let you decide if that was an improvement from the first hour or not.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Express to Terror as well as all the great movies from this series.