God and the Devil share a cabin aboard a train barreling through the night. A Night Train to Terror, if you will. Oh, I almost forgot, in the car up ahead there’s this breakdancing guy in DayGlo sweats. He’s the lead singer of this band, and they only have one song. I know they only have one song because they perform it over and over, and over again. There’s also a saxophone player, he gets a solo at one point. But back to the night train. Its destination could only be one place, a place we know all too well by this point: The Midnight Void.
Normally with an anthology feature, the filmmakers will conceive a series of thematically linked segments — all specifically designed for said film — framing them with a wrap-around device. Often the stories will be crafted by celebrated horror authors such as Stephen King, Michael McDowell, and Robert Bloch. Normally. But it would be a mistake to assume there’s anything normal about Night Train to Terror. Some would argue that it could be biggest mistake of your life.
No, Night Train to Terror takes an altogether different route. Here the segments are condensed versions of existing (or in one case, unfinished) films. Not so much stories as they are psychotronic clip shows — all spliced together in a way that seems less concerned with narrative, than it does the best way to induce a psychotic break in the viewer.
Tying this celluloid scrapheap together is a wrap-around tale involving the aforementioned train, God, the Devil, and breakdancing ‘80s rock group. The premise being that God and Satan will decided the fate of those featured in the segments before the train crashes at dawn (just roll with it). They also take time to discuss the fate of the sweatpants-wearing band, whose sole tune “Dance With Me” is a likely candidate for “phantom noise I’ll hear moments before suffering a debilitating stroke.”
It’s worth noting that Satan looks like Dracula, but instead of being a vampire, he runs a swingers retreat in Florida. The kind with a name like Hieronymus’s Hideaway.
But I digress.
After the Devil argues that he’s the superior being because he provides humankind with cocaine (very compelling), it’s onto the judging of who will receive heavenly bliss, and who eternal damnation…
Segment 1: The Case of Harry Billings (the unfinished Scream Your Head Off)
Harry loves cars, women, and booze. According the narrator, sometimes a little too much. I suppose that’s why he’s in a sanitarium where he’s being hypnotized and sent out to drug women and bring them back to Martin Moll, of the hit NBC sitcom Night Court. This is all part of a larger plan to strap naked women down onto tables, and occasionally even jiggle their breasts. Also to remove a limb or two and sell them off to medical schools in the Middle East. But mostly it seems to be about naked table strapping and boob jiggling.
Eventually Harry breaks free of their influence, and starts lopping off heads. Even that of Night Court’s own Martin Moll. Does he belong in heaven, or in hell?
Before moving onto the next segment, we get a glimpse at the most unforgiving of hells as the band performs their one song for what I believe is already the third time.
Segment 2: The Case of Greta Connors (from Death Wish Club)
Ah yes, Greta Connors. Greta sells popcorn and her body at the local carnival to support her dream of being a pianist who plays “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in her underwear. Frat boy Glen sees her in a Canadian trapper themed porno and falls in love. And then they join a death club.
Here they — and others — tempt death at the hands of a stop-motion insect, and a talking computer that melts a Rick James lookalike. And there’s some kung fu. Briefly.
What is Greta’s fate? Does it really matter? You know what, let’s just go back to the band as they take it from the top, this time throwing in a little bit of the worm to keep things fresh.
Segment 3: The Case of Claire Hansen (from Cataclysm)
Meet Claire Hansen, a Catholic surgeon who dreams of an eyeshadow-wearing Nazi officer who may also be an ageless emissary of Satan named Mr. Olivier. On top of that, she’s married to Night Court’s Martin Moll, who is now a Nobel Prize winner that wants to rebuild society on the ideals presented in his book God Is Dead.
Meanwhile, Claire is told to trap Mr. Olivier’s heart inside a box made from the cross on which Christ was crucified. As a result hellspawn emerge from her walk-in closet, and Mr. Olivier removes his shoes to reveal hairy hooves and serves Claire’s husband the saddest of cheese plates — the latter a sure sign that the Devil is afoot.
What shall be her fate? Only God and the Devil know. But when this train crashes at dawn, I’d like to think we’re all headed to same place, the only place where we belong… The Midnight Void.