Horror Express

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

Horror Express (Spanish: Pánico en el Transiberiano, lit. "Panic on the Trans-Siberian")[4] is a 1972 English language Spanish science fiction horror film produced by Bernard Gordon, written by Arnaud d'Usseau and Julian Zimet (credited as Julian Halevy), and directed by Eugenio Martín and loosley based on the novella Who Goes There?. The film stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, with Alberto de Mendoza, Silvia Tortosa, Julio Peña, George Rigaud and Ángel del Pozo in supporting roles, and Telly Savalas in a guest appearance.


In 1906, Professor Sir Alexander Saxton, a renowned 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 but travelling separately. Before the train departs Shanghai, a thief is found dead on the platform. His eyes are completely white, without irises or pupils, and a bystander initially mistakes him for a blind man. 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 the contents of the crate to be evil. Saxton furiously dismisses this as superstition. Saxton's eagerness to keep his scientific find secret arouses the suspicion of Wells, who bribes a porter to investigate the crate. The porter is killed by the defrosted humanoid within. It then escapes the crate by picking the lock.

The humanoid finds more victims as it roams the moving train. Each is found with the same opaque, white eyes. Autopsies suggest that the brains of the victims are being drained of memories and knowledge. One of the victims is a spy sent to find out the secrets behind Count Petrovski, who has invented a type of steel. When the humanoid is gunned down by police Inspector Mirov, the threat seems to have been eliminated. Saxton and Wells discover that external images are retained by a liquid found inside the corpses' eyeballs, which reveal a prehistoric Earth and a planetary view as seen from space. They deduce that the real threat is somehow a formless extraterrestrial that inhabited the body of the humanoid and now resides inside the inspector. Pujardov, sensing the greater presence within the inspector and believing it to be that of Satan, renounces his faith, pledging allegiance to the entity.

News of the murders is wired to the Russian authorities. An intimidating, xenophobic and power-crazed Cossack officer, Captain Kazan, boards with a handful of his men. Kazan believes the train is transporting rebels; he is only convinced of the alien's existence when Saxton switches off the lights and Mirov's eyes glow, revealing him to be the alien's host. It has absorbed the memories of Wells' assistant, the train driver, and others aboard, and now seeks the Polish count's metallurgical knowledge in order to build a vessel to escape Earth. Kazan stabs Mirov with his shashka and then shoots him. With Mirov dying, the alien transfers itself to the deranged Pujardov.

The passengers flee to the brake van while Pujardov murders Kazan, his men, and the count, draining all of their memories. Saxton rescues the countess and holds Pujardov at gunpoint. Saxton, having discovered that bright light prevents the alien from draining minds or transferring to another body, forces Pujardov into a brightly lit area. The alien Pujardov explains that it is a collective form of energy from another galaxy. Trapped on Earth in the distant past after being left behind in an accident, it survived for millions of years in the bodies of protozoa, fish, and other animals. It cannot live outside a living being longer than a few moments. The alien begs to be spared, tempting Saxton with its advanced knowledge of technology and cures for diseases. When Saxton refuses the bargain, the alien resurrects the count's corpse and attacks him with it.

Saxton and the countess flee, but the alien resurrects all of its victims as zombies. Fighting their way through the train, Saxton and the countess eventually reach the van where the other survivors have taken refuge. Saxton and Wells work desperately to uncouple the van from the rest of the train. Kazan's superiors sends a telegram to a dispatch station ahead, instructing them to destroy the train by sending it down a siding overlooking a gorge. Speculating that war has broken out, the station staff switch the points.

The alien takes control of the train as it enters the siding. Saxton and Wells finally manage to separate the van. The alien tries to find the brakes but fails to slow down the train. It crashes through the buffer stop, plunging down the deep cliff, and is destroyed after it hits the bottom. The van rolls precariously to the end of the track before stopping, inches away from the cliff. Saxton, Wells, the countess and the survivors gaze over the ravine as an inferno engulfs the train and its unearthly inhabitant.



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, the locomotive seems to be an unidentified RENFE locomotive whose wheel arrangement is unclear.

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. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 75% approval rating with an average rating of 6.85 out of 10, based on 12 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]


  1. ^ a b Gifford, Denis (2016). The British Film Catalogue Volume 2: Non-Fiction Film, 1888-1994. Taylor & Francis. p. 842. ISBN 9781317836988.
  2. ^ a b "Panico en el Transiberiano". iicaa Catalogo de Cinespanol. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  3. ^ "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
  4. ^ a b Gordon, Bernard (2013). Hollywood Exile, or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist. University of Texas Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-292-75641-0.
  5. ^ a b c Hodges p 71
  6. ^ Lukeman, Adam (2011). Anthony Timpone (ed.). Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen: A Celebration of the World's Most Unheralded Fright Flicks. Crown/Archetype. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-307-52347-1.
  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 p 75
  14. ^ "24 Feb 1974, 52 - The Montgomery Advertiser at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  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.


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