‘You’re such a silly girl, you’re asking to be beaten up.
We just want to have some fun.’
The pitch, I imagine, went something like this – ‘It’s like Last House on the Left…but on a train!’ And back in 1970s Italy, sometimes that was all it took. So here we have Aldo Lado’s Late Night Trains, a virtual remake of a film that was itself a remake of a film that was inspired by a medieval ballad. I hope you’re keeping up.
Two young girls are heading home to Italy for Christmas. When their train is stopped, they board a nearly deserted train, along with a couple of thugs and a respectable older woman harbouring dark desires. There, the two girls are subjected to a series of assaults, until one is murdered and the other leaps from the train to her death. With crushing inevitability, the three end up staying at the house of the dead girls’ parents, who mete out an underwhelming revenge.
The problem with this film is that except for the two leads, everyone is an asshole. And I mean everyone. Everyone. From the drunken Santa in the opening credits, to the pair of rapists, to the passenger who enters the compartment, rapes one of the girls and then leaves. It’s relentlessly downbeat, but unlike the rage that seemed to galvanise Last House, this seems more like a misanthropic, pessimistic shrug of the shoulders. It’s almost enough to make you yearn for Ada and her fucking chicken van from Last House’s ‘comic relief’ scenes. And whereas Last House seemed genuinely appalled by the degradation of the girls, this film positively revels in it.
Despite very little nudity, there’s a perverse focus on leering close ups of crying teens begging their tormentors to stop. It culminates in one of the most extreme images you’re gonna encounter on your Nasty journey – the rape of Irene Miracle with a switchblade. The one brief shot alone is enough to make you understand why this film was added to the DPP list, although astonishingly it was never successfully prosecuted. Maybe the VHS image was too dark to see what was going on?
After such brutality, it’s especially disappointing to see the lacklustre revenge. Okay, one of the thugs gets stabbed in the balls, but the other just gets shot. It’s lacking the ‘anything goes’ intensity of Craven’s film. The fate of Macha Meril’s character, who is the true villain of the piece, is left up in the air as a final ‘fuck you’ to the audience.
If it sounds like I’m being harsh, then I am. But that’s not to say there’s not a lot to like about Late Night Trains. The first half is actually pretty good. I’m a big fan of low budget filmmakers grabbing guerrilla style footage, and Lado here shoots in Munich at Christmas time. I love watching the folk in the background gawking slack jawed at the camera. I wonder if any of them ever saw the film and what they thought. It’s not exactly one to show the grandkids…
Director Lado also shows what a capable director he is throughout, particularly once the girls board the second train. This sequence is a masterclass of suspense filmmaking, the editing, lighting and performances creating some of the most oppressive tension of any of the Nasties. Meanwhile, Ennio Moricone’s score plays with diagetic and non-diagetic sound to create a truly haunting soundtrack, based almost entirely around a simple five note piano/harmonica riff.
If you don’t believe me, then listen to this spectacular nonsense from the VHS cover – Voted the ‘Best Late Night Horror Film’ 1978. Ummm, by who exactly? Nice try, but you’re fooling no-one.
So it’s not a bad film at all, despite it’s reputation. It’s just a bit of a pity that it seems to take such pleasure in the debasement of the youngsters, while short changing us with the unsatisfactory deaths of their abusers. But perhaps the greatest punishment of all is reserved for the viewer, who has to suffer through 70s Greek sensation Demis Ruossos’ unique vocal stylings as he mangles an otherwise pretty Morricone ballad, not once but twice. Having said that, of course I have it on my iPod. Don’t you?