Three years ago, on New Year's Eve, a group of medical students decided to liven up their celebrations with a prank. They invited the socially inept Kenny (Derek McKinnon) up to a liaison with Alana (Jamie Lee Curtis), but once he reached the bedroom, he had a nasty surprise awaiting. The students were hiding, including Alana, and she encouraged him to kiss her, but then Kenny realised to his horror that it wasn't her who was in the bed with him but a corpse meant for dissection from the morgue. So horrified was he that he had a mental breakdown, which brings us to tonight, and the current New Year's celebration on an antique steam train...
If that doesn't confirm your worst fears about medical students, then I don't know what will. The other Curtis slasher after the genre behemoth that was Halloween and lesser efforts Halloween II and Prom Night, it was films like these that still means she is a fan favourite to this day. Here her student is the only character amongst her peers who feels genuine remorse about what happened to Kenny, which marks her out as the one most likely to survive for a start, though you could still argue she has blood on her hands as much as the others. Scripted by T.Y. Drake it was inspired by both Halloween and Silver Streak, and could be viewed as an unholy union between the two.
Not that there are many laughs to be had here, not even the intentional ones which are either meanspirited or just plain lame. On the other hand, as a slasher movie it may not be the goriest around but in its favour has a clever twist at the end and with its Murder on the Orient Express gone wrong plotting it does utilise its novel location well. Once the students board the train, they're in the middle of nowhere until the next station which is miles away, so they're pretty much stuck on the carriages while the madman picks them off one by one.
And one character, perhaps because of his terrible sense of humour, doesn't even get to board and is killed for his disguise - everyone bar the staff are in fancy dress. This early killing might indicate the true theme of Terror Train in that there's a point where tricks and jokes stop being funny, usually when you're the butt of the humour as Kenny found out. But could be be back to wreak his revenge? And if he is, which character could he be? Amusingly, the prime suspect is a certain Mr David Copperfield, yes, the world famous magician, who gets to perform a few magic tricks to the accompaniment of disco music (it was 1980 - there had to be disco music, it was the law).
Helena works out that Kenny had an interest in magic, so could the magician (only named as "The Magician" here) be him? Well, as Copperfield doesn't look all that much like the chap we saw in the prologue, it doesn't seem likely, but nobody's seen him for three years, so you never know. Meanwhile, the other sympathetic character is the conductor (top-billed western star Ben Johnson, stuck for roles now that the western was out of fashion) who keeps stumbling across the bodies the killer leaves lying around. He has to stop any panic spreading while tracking the bad guy, but he doesn't prevent Alana latching onto what is really going on and joining the hunt. It's appropriate that the final reveal should be a trick played on the audience in an "Of course! Why didn't I spot it before?!" manner, and although it's a fairly standard entry in the genre, it does reach above average at times. Music by John-Mills Cockell.