‘Pain can be fun, you know? Same nerves as pleasure.’
This evidently started out as a remake of Terror Train, but turned into an ‘original’ – though it’s basically Turistas on a Train (and a lot less traintastic than Transiberian – which it parallels a little). In that version of Eastern Europe seen in Hostel, a team of mixed-sex American college wrestlers – plus their coach – miss their connection, and unwisely get on a train whose staff are running some sort of sicko scam involving organ harvesting. Early ominous elements involve the kids having their passports taken away and tossed into a stove and the horny coach (Todd Jensen) being vamped by a red-dressed Ilsa type (Koyna Ruseva) who turns out to be the evil doctor in the gang (‘we help people, sick people, people who without us would die’), which also features a thuggish conductor (Valentin Ganev) and at least three gurning, tattooed goons in stripey t-shirts who leer all the time. Alex (Thora Birch) is the ‘final girl’, as signalled early on when all the other characters are put out of action – though most don’t die immediately as they get hung up on meathooks, have their spines broken with a chisel, being punched senseless and then pissed on, having eyes pulled out or penises cut off, nipple rings yanked, being gaffed through the chin with a hook and dragged along the train top, being taken off at a whistle-stop and fed to some militia thugs’ dogs (or gang-raped, it’s not clear), etc.
Why are there so many injured, disfigured or desperate looking folks on the train, and are the other passengers all in on it? Alex survives, and disguises herself with a headscarf and a downcast look, getting off at a hospital where the ripped-out organs are used in quickie transplants. Alex finds Willy (Gideon Emery), the other survivor, and helps him out of the hospital – after a brief, wordless encounter with the mother of the kid who now has her boyfriend’s blue eyes which almost counts as a fresh idea – into the woods, but as with several other attempted rescues of injured folks just gives up and leaves him to his fate. She eventually gets back on the train, with revenge in mind and takes out the gang single-handedly with sledgehammer, kerosene, axe and the wrestling moves her dead boyfriend taught her. The punchline has the girl tie the hulk to the tracks, so the next train cuts off his hands and feet, then appearing in a coda where an American flag unsubtly sets up her presumably triumphant return to the wrestling mat.
Of the several recent films to use organ-harvesting as a premise, this pays the least attention to medical plausibility: eviscerations and amputations involve eyes and penises (which can’t as yet be transplanted) and are done with rusty implements, grubby bare hands and the like – with not even a cool-box on hand to preserve the red ruins on ice (the gore effects are convincing, but nothing else is). Birch has done a run of cheap horrors lately (Dark Corners, Deadline); she’s a decent lead, and does manage to sell the tiny-twist-becomes-killing-machine bit, but seriously she ought to getting better gigs after Ghost World, American Beauty and The Hole. Written and directed by Gideon Raff, whose The Killing Floor showed some promise – which isn’t fulfilled in this cynical, derivative, unpleasant waste of time.