It’s hard for a bar­gain-bin peren­ni­al to catch an even break in the home video mar­ket­place.  Even clas­sics like Night Of The Living Dead and Messiah Of Evil have had to endure end­less cheap-o grey mar­ket discs with vary­ing ver­sions of the same fuzzy video source.  Horror Express is anoth­er title that has suf­fered such treat­ment for decades: despite a good-for-the-time disc from Image Entertainment back in the 1990’s, this title has most suf­fered from shod­dy releas­es over the years.

Thus, it’s a plea­sure to note that Horror Express has final­ly got­ten a worth­while upgrade from Severin Films — and it also hap­pens to be a blu-ray/DVD com­bo pack.  Both discs fea­ture a new trans­fer tak­en from the orig­i­nal Spanish ele­ments: out­side of some debris on the open­ing cred­its (always a prob­lem with this film), the results are aston­ish­ing­ly crisp and clear.  The vel­vety col­or schemes of the train inte­ri­ors have a sur­pris­ing rich­ness to them and the end results look great.  Both English and Spanish sound­tracks are pro­vid­ed, with sub­ti­tles for the lat­ter.

At this point, it should be men­tioned that there have been com­plaints in some quar­ters about this set because the blu-ray doesn’t max­i­mize its bit rate, nor does it have a loss­less audio track.  While that is an unfor­tu­nate over­sight, it in no way reflects poor­ly on the qual­i­ty of Severin’s trans­fer.  The blu-ray is a quan­tum leap in qual­i­ty over the film’s pre­vi­ous video incar­na­tions — and the lack of a loss­less track real­ly isn’t that big an issue here as the sound is lim­it­ed to vin­tage mono mix­es.  To reject this release for not hav­ing all the high-tech bells and whistles is an exer­cise in point­less fan­boy purism.

This set also improves on past ver­sions of Horror Express by adding plen­ty of extras. In lieu of a com­men­tary track, this disc offers up a near­ly 80-min­ute inter­view ses­sion that Peter Cushing did with a live audi­ence in 1973.  Cushing was leg­endary for being one of the true class acts of the hor­ror busi­ness and he lives up to that rep­u­ta­tion here.  This expan­sive chat cov­ers the gamut of his career, from his begin­nings as a stage actor and work­ing with James Whale to his ulti­mate des­tiny as an icon of hor­ror fan­dom.  He tells plen­ty of good sto­ries, dis­cussing his then cur­rent favorites (The Poseidon Adventure), why he didn’t like Psycho and even offer­ing a fond appraisal of his favorite direc­tor, Terence Fisher.  Any fan of clas­sic hor­ror will enjoy his infor­ma­tive and always gen­tle­man­ly com­ments.

There is also a suite of fea­turettes that cov­er the film and relat­ed mat­ters that will be of inter­est to fans.  It all begins with a video intro­duc­tion from Fangoria edi­tor Chris Alexander, who applies a charm­ing­ly motor-mouthed style to this piece as he lays out why it’s such a spe­cial cult favorite.  This is fol­lowed by a 13-min­ute inter­view with direc­tor Eugenio Martin.  He cov­ers a brac­ing amount of mate­ri­al in a short time: top­ics include how the project grew out of pro­duc­er Philip Yordan’s desire to reuse the train sets from Pancho Villa, the dif­fer­ing act­ing styles of Cushing/Lee and Savalas and the dif­fer­ent effects chal­lenges.  His com­men­tary is smart but like­ably hum­ble.

The most unique inclu­sion in the fea­turet­te area is a half-hour inter­view with co-writer Bernard Gordon.  This was filmed for a dif­fer­ent, as-yet-unre­leased DVD so it doesn’t say any­thing about Horror Express but it’s pret­ty fas­ci­nat­ing stuff on its own terms.  Gordon tells the tale of how he worked in Hollywood dur­ing the 1940’s as a writer, began work­ing under assumed names after being black­list­ed and ulti­mate­ly end­ed up in Spain work­ing on Samuel Bronston’s “run­away” American/European epic pro­duc­tions.  It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to hear how Gordon dealt with the stig­ma of the black­list and he also tells great sto­ries about big stars from the Bronston pro­duc­tions like Charlton Heston, David Niven and Ava Gardner.  It’s well worth the time for any seri­ous film buff.

The final fea­turet­te is an inter­view with com­poser John Cacavas.  Surprisingly, the focus here isn’t the music as much as it is his friend­ship and col­lab­o­ra­tion with star Telly Savalas.  He talks about how they built a friend­ship and musi­cal part­ner­ship that con­tin­ued until Savalas’ death, includ­ing sto­ries of work­ing on Savalas’ musi­cal albums (the star had a sur­pris­ing­ly suc­cess­ful run as an MOR pop singer, with Cacavas doing the arrange­ments).  It’s the kind of inter­est­ing show­biz sto­ry that you don’t often hear on a gen­re release and it’s nice that the disc’s pro­duc­ers have pre­served it for pos­ter­i­ty here.

The pack­age is round­ed by a the­atri­cal trail­er for the film and a trio of trail­ers for oth­er Severin titles.  The lat­ter set includes the not-yet-released The House That Dripped Blood so hope­ful­ly that means a disc for this title is on the way.

In short, this a fine disc for a deserv­ing gen­re favorite.  Whatever quib­bles one might have about the tech­ni­cal end of things, it remains a solid pack­age that offers good val­ue for the mon­ey and a sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment on past edi­tions.  If you love Horror Express, don’t hes­i­tate to check this set out.