Digi-Schlock: TERROR TRAIN (Scream Factory Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)

It took a few decades and the advent of digital home video formats but slasher movies are finally getting a little respect in how they are presented to their fanbase.  Scream Factory’s recent blu-ray of Terror Train is a good indication of how far this oft-disrespected subgenre of horror has come: not only does it get a proper high-definition rendering, it even rates a blu-ray/DVD combo pack treatment plus a handful of surprisingly informative extras.  Not bad for a modest Canadian-produced indie effort.

The blu-ray is what watched for this review and the transfer on this new disc does justice to the film’s challenging style of cinematography.  The director of photography on this film was John Alcott, who worked extensively with Stanley Kubrick and pioneered the modern approach to cinematography in low-light situations.  Virtually all of Terror Train takes place at night and is shot using only motivated light sources so it’s not an easy title to do a video transfer for.  Thankfully, this one hits all the right textural notes: the black levels are rich, the color palette is realistic and the film grain is as it should be for a film shot in this style.

As for the audio, a 2.0 Stereo mix is included as well as new 5.1 Dolby remix and both  are presented in a lossless format.  The 5.1 remix was listened to for this review and while it doesn’t offer a big expansion of the film’s sound, it gets the job done.  There’s not much trickery in the sound design for this remix to play with but they achieve a few interesting effects, the most notable being how one particular scream from Jamie Lee Curtis rips through the whole soundscape during one big scare.  John Mills-Cockell’s richly-arranged musical score is treated nicely by this mix, as well.

This new disc also features 44 minutes worth of featurettes, all produced by Aine Leicht and edited by Michael Felsher for Red Shirt Pictures.  Bad news first: neither the director nor any cast members pop up in these featurettes.  However, they’ve got four important members of the production staff and crew to contribute so what you might lose in creative insight you gain in understanding of the technical challenges in this production.  Given that Terror Train is dominated by its titular setting, this is a good thing.

First up are two featurettes involving key production staff.  The first is “Destination Death,” an interview with executive producer Daniel Grodnik.  He came up with the film’s concept is thus able to chronicle in precise terms how it transformed from an over-the-phone pitch to a producer into a major studio release.  Along similar lines, production executive Don Carmody is interviewed in “Riding The Rails.”  He was the main on-set producer and thus is able to offer a true production perspective, including the challenges of managing a multi-national crew and how he set up a production that took place inside real trains.

The other two featurettes involve important members of the above-the-line crew.  The first is “All Aboard,” an interview with production designer Glenn Sydwell.  He offers a few interesting insights into how all the train interior sets were built in actual train cars and how he worked with cinematographer John Alcott to incorporate the lighting into the set’s actual light fixtures.  Also interviews is composer John Mills-Cockell in “Music For Murder.”  He discusses the challenges of scoring a horror film for the first time, including the large amount of source music and how a critique from Fox’s head of music inspired him to beef up the film’s suspense music cues.

The package is rounded out by trailers (one theatrical and one t.v. spot) plus an image gallery with a variety of stills and international promo art.  All in all, a very tidy package for a mid-level slasher flick.  While it’s a shame the director and cast didn’t get in on the extras, what is there teaches a lot about how this film was put together, not to mention how the Canadian genre film mill worked during its tax-shelter peak years.  If you’re a card-carrying slasher film fanatic, this blu/dvd set will make a solid addition to your collection.

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