|...featuring Malcolm McDowell as 'STRANGER'
It stars Malcolm McDowell and a young, not-yet-famous Hugh Grant, and is beneath their dignity. It also prominently features Rachel Rice, a child actress of average quality who went on to win Big Brother in 2008. It's an attempt at gothic horror, and it sees Hugh Grant play a writer taking the Orient Express to Venice, carrying with him the manuscript of his exposé of neo-Nazism. However, the train also harbours a number of skinheads, and a nameless slow-motion man of malignity, the frowning STRANGER.
|It looks to be a doomed romance, but turns out just to be a romance.
So yes, since the villains hardly bother him on the train journey (thus making the film's first half less exciting than it might have been), Hugh Grant has ample time to fall into a fairly nineties romance with Vera (Tahnee Welch). It has all the hallmarks of a doomed romance, and a tragedy all-round, with omens erroneously portending the death of Vera's simpering daughter and a great number of allusions to 'Romeo and Juliet' (1595). The film seems, up to this point, keen to ape 'Don't Look Now' (a credible horror film from 1973, which I've always preferred to call 'Don't Look Now, Vicar!' as if it was instead a mildly saucy farce) - but doesn't deliver on the promise of its horror. It's rather disappointing, in fact, that the film doesn't end with the promised bloodbath, but with a long being-in-love montage of an amnesiac Grant smiling, and Vera smiling, and her daughter smiling, and everyone being generally glad, and a pigeon flying over Venice, and some sex-having, and then some more smiling. All this for two or three minutes over a not-wholly-tuneful love-song. It's my hope, though research has not yet backed it up, that there exists a version of this film with a more gruesome conclusion.
|Will the child fall off the balcony? I guess so.
So, why do I suppose he thought I should watch 'Train to Hell'? Well, we both help out on a young people's holiday-camp each August where, among other things, we help the young people shoot and edit videos. He knows my penchant for either saving or ruining un-extraordinary scenes with alarming editing techniques: slowing down reaction shots to 10% of their proper speed, say, or cutting in fragments of footage from the wrong scene to give the audience something unexpected. Both of these techniques, which I had never dared to expect in a professional work, are used with tremendous frequency throughout 'Train to Hell', with McDowell's ominously-looking-at-things shots, which make up the large portion of his action, routinely stretched to two or four times their original length, and intercut with shots of dogs and low-budget Nazi rallies.
|The STRANGER, again. Looking on in slow motion, again.
Ought we to boo him, do you think?
On the subject of tedium, let's return briefly to the issue of what year I'm attaching to 'Train to Hell'? A great deal of googling has revealed no real authority on the issue, but I have a theory, which I've backed up with another look at the closing credits. Here's my idea: 'Night Train to Venice' was made in 1993, as any later and Hugh Grant would have been too famous. That's presumably the 98-minute version, and was released some time between 1993 and 1996. However, since this retitled version, 'Train to Hell', is rather shorter, I reasoned it must have been a significant re-edit (to make it shorter, better or simply different), put out a few years later. There is indeed a small credit for 'Reedited Version by Toni Hirtreiter and Heinrich Richter', and a copyright date of 1998. So let's go with that, shall we? 'Night Train to Venus' from 1993ish, and this snappily-titled cut-down released 5 years later, in '98.
P.S. Perhaps the closest amateur work I've seen to the tone of 'Train to Hell' is a short horror movie of dubious merit, made by my old housemate Chris Bambling, and entitled 'Retail II' (2009ish). He gave up part-way through shooting, and eventually gave me the footage to edit, so I cut out all the punchlines to jokes, and made as much of a meal of the edit as I could. The similarity between the two works is concerning for 'Train to Hell', but I feel 'Retail II' is somehow vindicated. Watch its eight terrifying minutes here on Youtube, if you dare.
Should you have the urge to check my findings, here's the thing on DVD. Enjoy, but beware!