They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is the case, then some of the most notorious examples of Italian exploitation cinema of the 1970s and early 1980s must have given Wes Craven the ultimate ego massage, for said country’s eager-to-cash-in producers helped churn out what seemed like countless knock-offs of his legendary rape-and-revenge shocker, Last House on the Left (which, itself, was an unaccredited “homage” to Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring). Most made little effort to hide their inspiration, with films like The Last House on a Dead End Street, The Last House on the Beach, and The House on the Edge of the Park (which even starred Last House's David Hess), but none of these films were as thematically similar to Craven’s original as 1974’s Aldo Lado offering, L'ultimo treno della notte (aka; Last Stop on the Night Train), which was briefly released in the U.S. as Last House - Part II. The film was roundly dismissed as a shameless rip-off of Craven’s film, and fell through the cracks until 2004, when Blue Underground released a restored version under the alternate title, Night Train Murders (as it was known in Belgium and the Philippines). Since that time, the film has amassed something of a cult following, as well as acknowledgement for the skills of its director, and, thanks, again, to Blue Underground now makes its debut on Blu-ray.
Young cousins Lisa and Margaret (Laura D'Angelo and Irene Miracle) are visiting Lisa's parents for the Christmas holiday in Italy. The pair decides to take the train rather than fly, and embark on a long, crowded voyage home. Meanwhile, a pair of leather clad drifters - Blackie (Flavio Bucci) and Curly (Gianfranco De Grassi) - harass their fellow passengers- including an upper-class woman (Meril) who is somehow attracted to the savage behavior of the men-making Lisa and Margaret uncomfortable. When their train is delayed, the girls opt for another sparsely populated late night train home, where they have the entire rear car to themselves...until the drifters and their newfound lady friend crash the party.
The woman manipulates the two young men, forcing them to rape and torture Lisa and Margaret, until things "go too far", leading to the death of one of the girls, and the suicide of the other. The drifters and the woman, who is now injured, arrive at the station where Lisa's parents, Giulio (Enrico Maria Salerno) and Laura (Marina Berti), await their daughter's arrival. Giulio offers to treat the woman's injury, and invites the three back to his home to rest up until the next train arrives. However, with his daughter and niece missing, Julio and Laura begin to suspect that their three guests may know more than they're letting on, and when the horrible realization hits home, Giulio is sent into a vengeance-fueled rage!
From the film's opening song (a trippy, hippy ballad that closesly mirrors the one performed by Hess during Last House’s opening credits)to the revenge-fueled climax, Lado's film is, in structure, exactly what producer Roberto Infascelli wanted it to be; the Italian "Last House on the Left". It is here, however, where all similarities begin and end. While Craven’s work has always been praised for its ultra-gritty realism, Aldo's film is much more stylized and nuanced piece of cinema, with gorgeous cinematography and nifty camera work that makes Craven’s film look like a student film by comparison.
To openly admit I prefer Night Train Murders – an obvious knock-off of a seminal horror classic – over the real deal is heresy in some circles, but I’ll take my chances. While I do respect Last House on the Left, and readily acknowledge its importance to the genre, that doesn’t mean I have to actually like it. I’ve always found viewing the film a soul-draining, thoroughly depressing experience, and, while many will point out that this is precisely what Craven was aiming for when he made the film, to me, that’s not entertainment – that’s sadomasochism. I’ll take Night Train Murders glossy sheen and goofy Italian sleaze any day of the week. Yes, they’re both stories about terrible things happening to good people, but, at least with Aldo’s film, it’s obvious that what we are watching is, in fact, “only a movie” (only a movie, only a movie…)
The Blu-ray release from Blue Underground features a very nice 1.85:1 1080p transfer that manages to goad a heck of a lot of fine detail out of a nearly forty year old film. It’s also a very vibrant transfer, with a sharp, clear image that only occasionally exposes its age with a smattering of dust and debris. As with many films of the era, daylight scenes tend to have a slightly overexposed look to them which sap the colors a touch, but that’s a source issue and has nothing to do with the mastering of this disc. The accompanying DTS HD Mono soundtrack perfectly suits the material, and, once again, I’m happy Blue Underground hasn’t tried to shoehorn in an unnecessary multi-channel mix. This mono track is admittedly noisy at times, with occasional tinny distortion that’s mostly evident when Ennio Morricone’s score is allowed to go wild, but it’s perfectly serviceable.
Bonus features include a fifteen minute interview with Lado (1080p), as well as a pair of trailers (U.S. and International), radio spots, and a poster and stills gallery.