Horror Express

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Horror Express
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEugenio Martín
Screenplay by
Story byEugenio Martín
Produced byBernard Gordon
CinematographyAlejandro Ulloa
Edited byRobert C. Dearberg
Music byJohn Cacavas
  • Granada Films
  • Benmar Productions
  • Scotia International[2]
Distributed by
  • Regia Films Arturo González (Spain)[3]
  • Gala Film Distributors (UK)[2]
Release dates
  • 30 September 1972 (1972-09-30) (Sitges)
  • 30 November 1973 (1973-11-30) (New York)[1]
Running time
90 minutes
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
Box office755,542 admissions (Spain)[3]

Horror Express (Spanish: Pánico en el Transiberiano, lit. "Panic on the Trans-Siberian")[4] is a 1972 science fiction horror film directed by Eugenio Martín. It stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Telly Savalas, with Alberto de Mendoza, Silvia Tortosa, Julio Peña, George Rigaud, and Ángel del Pozo in supporting roles. Set in 1906, its plotline follows the various passengers of a Europe-bound train on the Trans-Siberian Railway that is stalked by a primitive humanoid creature brought onboard by an anthropologist.


In 1906, Professor Sir Alexander Saxton, a British anthropologist, is returning to Europe by the Trans-Siberian Express from Shanghai to Moscow. With him is a crate containing the frozen remains of a primitive humanoid creature that he discovered in a cave in Manchuria. He hopes it is a missing link in human evolution. Doctor Wells, Saxton's friendly rival and Geological Society colleague, is also on board, along with the Polish Count Marion Petrovski and his wife, Countess Irina, are also waiting to board the train with their spiritual advisor, an Eastern Orthodox monk named Father Pujardov, who proclaims to Saxton the contents of the crate to be evil. Additional passengers include Inspector Mirov and a squad of soldiers.

Saxton‘s eagerness to keep his scientific findings secret arouses the suspicion of Wells, who bribes a porter to investigate the crate. The porter is killed by the defrosted humanoid within, who escaped the crate after picking the lock and kills several more passengers. Wells performs an autopsy and deduces that the creature absorbs the skills and memories of its victims. When the humanoid is gunned down by Mirov, the threat seems to have been eliminated. Saxton and Wells discover that the real threat is a formless extraterrestrial that inhabited the body of the humanoid. Unbeknownst to them, the creature has transferred itself into Mirov.

The extraterrestrial stranded on Earth millions of years prior and kills passengers with specific knowledge that could help it build a new spaceship. Eventually, Kozak Captain Kazan stabs and shoots Mirov. With Mirov dying, Pujardov, believing the creature to be Satan and having pledged allegiance to it prior, allows it to possess him. The passengers flee to the brake van while the alien murders Kazan, his men, and the Count, only until Saxton, having discovered the creature cannot use its powers when it is exposed to light, blinds it. The alien bargains with Saxton, tempting him with its advanced knowledge of technology and cures for diseases. When Saxton refuses, it resurrects all its victims and has them attack Saxton.

Saxton and the countess fight their way through the train until they reach the van where the other survivors have taken refuge. Saxton and Wells uncouple the van from the rest of the train containing the alien. Kazan's superiors send a telegram to a dispatch station ahead, instructing them to destroy the train by sending it down a siding overlooking a gorge. The survivors watch on as the train crashes down the gorge and goes up in flames.




The film was co-produced by American screenwriter/producer Bernard Gordon, who had collaborated with Martin on the 1972 film Pancho Villa (which featured Savalas in the title role). Martin made Horror Express as part of a three-picture contract he had with Philip Yordan, and Savalas was under contract with Yordan as well.[5] The film was a co-production between Spain's Granada Films and the British company Benmar Productions, who made Psychomania (1971).[5]

According to Martin, the film was made because a producer obtained a train set from Nicholas and Alexandra (1971). "He came up with the idea of writing a script just so he would be able to use this prop," said Martin. "Now at that time, Phil was in the habit of buying up loads of short stories to adapt into screenplays, and the story for Horror Express was originally based on a tale written by a little-known American scriptwriter and playwright."[5]

Rumors that the train sets were acquired from the production of Doctor Zhivago[4] (or Nicholas and Alexandra)[6] were refuted by Gordon, who said in a 2000 interview that the model had been constructed for Pancho Villa.[7] Filmmakers used the mock-up from Pancho Villa as the interior for all train cars during production, since no further room was available on stage. All scenes within each train car were shot consecutively, with the set then modified for the next car's scenes.[7]


Horror Express was filmed in Madrid between 1971 and 1972 and produced on a low budget of $300,000, with the luxury of having three familiar genre actors in the lead roles, and filming began in December 1971.[8]

Securing Lee and Cushing was a coup for Gordon, since it lent an atmosphere reminiscent of Hammer Films, many of which starred both of the actors. When Cushing arrived in Madrid to begin work on the picture, however, he was still distraught over the recent death of his wife, and announced to Gordon that he could not do the film. With Gordon desperate over the idea of losing one of his important stars, Lee stepped in and put Cushing at ease simply by talking to his old friend about some of their previous work together. Cushing changed his mind and stayed on.[7]

The train's departure scene was filmed in Madrid's Delicias railway station. The locomotive which pulls the train in that scene is a RENFE 141F, but later in the film, miniatures are utilized for the exterior shots of the train going by camera and for the climax in the end.

Like all Italian and Spanish films of the period, Horror Express was filmed mostly without sound, with effects and voices dubbed into the film later. Lee, Cushing, and Savalas all provided their own voices for the English market.[9]

Release and reception[edit]

Horror Express generally received positive reviews. At the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 80% approval rating with an average rating of 6.85 out of 10, based on 15 reviews.[10]

The film was first titled Pánico en el Transiberiano and first released as an officially selected film of the 1972 Sitges Film Festival on 30 September.[11] Director Eugenio Martín won the Critic's Award Best Script for this film.[12] According to Martín, his native country of Spain was where the film fared worst, both critically and in terms of box office revenue.[9] The film was received more positively in other markets where the audience was more familiar with low-budget horror films, such as Great Britain, the United States, and Australia. "I was a bit surprised myself at the film's popularity overseas, but it didn’t really do a great deal for my subsequent career", said Martin.[13]

Montgomery Advertiser film critic Jery Tillotson gave the film a positive review, writing, "Good performances, brisk direction, and fast action moves this thriller a notch above the average shocker".[14]

Home media[edit]

A special edition Blu-ray/DVD release of the film was issued in 2011 by Severin Films.[15] Arrow Films released a new Blu-ray edition on 12 February 2019.[16]


The film was used as a "virtual reality" experience in the 2021 television show Creepshow season 2, episode 5 "Night of the Living Late Show".[17] In that episode, the film is the favorite of the inventor Simon Sherman (portrayed by Justin Long), who had it placed as one of the interactive features in his virtual reality invention called the Immersopod. While archive footage of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are used in the episode, Hannah Fierman portrays her rendition of Countess Irina Petrovsky.


  1. ^ "Travel the Rail of Horror! Horror Express... Starts Friday". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. 29 November 1973. p. 23 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  2. ^ a b Gifford 2016, p. 842.
  3. ^ a b "Panico en el Transiberiano". iicaa Catalogo de Cinespanol. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  4. ^ a b Gordon 2013, p. 265.
  5. ^ a b c Hodges 1999, p. 71.
  6. ^ Lukeman 2011, p. 160.
  7. ^ a b c Newsom, Ted. "Hollywood Exile: Bernard Gordon, Sci Fi's Secret Screenwriter". 7 June 2000.
  8. ^ 'Coyle' Next for Monash Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 10 Dec 1971: j26.
  9. ^ a b Walkow, Mark. Horror Express (liner notes). Image Entertainment.
  10. ^ "Horror Express (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 25 October 2020.
  11. ^ "5ed. Semana Internacional de cine Fantástico y de Terror (30/9–6/10): Films". Sitges Film Festival. 1972. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  12. ^ "5ed. Semana Internacional de cine Fantástico y de Terror (30/9–6/10): Awards 1972". Sitges Film Festival. 1972. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  13. ^ Hodges 1999, p. 75.
  14. ^ Tillotson, Jery (24 February 1974). "Horror Express". Montgomery Advertiser. p. 52 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ Barton, Steve (13 April 2010). "British Horror Coming on Strong on DVD and Blu-ray". Dread Central. Archived from the original on 6 December 2014.
  16. ^ Squires, Jon (30 November 2018). "Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Classic 'Horror Express' Getting Arrow Video Blu-ray in February". Bloody Disgusting. Archived from the original on 1 December 2018.
  17. ^ Squires, John (27 April 2021). "This Week's Season Finale of "Creepshow" Literally Steps Right into Classic Movie 'Horror Express'! [Clip]". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 10 July 2021.


Further reading[edit]

  • Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Vol. 1: 1950–1957. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.


External links[edit]