Released in America under titles like New House On The Left and Second House On The Left, the 1975 Italian exploitation film Night Train Murders crudely follows the template for Wes Craven’s notorious 1972 rape-revenge thriller The Last House On The Left. Act one: Two attractive young women venture off on their own. Act two: Sadistic thugs subject them to violence, degradation, and sexual assault, then leave them for dead. Act three: The perpetrators wind up in the house of one of the victims’ parents, who slowly realize what happened to their daughter. As facsimiles go, it’s mostly mediocre, absent much of the raw horror and intensity of Craven’s film, and not that distinct from the many ’70s Italian genre films pipelined into American grindhouses. But vive la différence: By making the film’s true lynchpin a bourgeois nymphomaniac who eggs the attackers on, director Aldo Lado and his screenwriters add a layer of social commentary that’s entirely their own—and, not coincidentally, by far the film’s strongest element.
Night Train Murders opens on Christmas Eve in Germany, as two friends (Irene Miracle and Marina Berti) excitedly prepare for a train ride back to Italy for the holidays, while two small-time crooks (Flavio Bucci and Gianfranco De Grassi) pick pockets and shake down a drunk Santa for pocket change. The two parties meet when the crooks flee the cops, jump the train, and hide away in Miracle and Berti’s cabin as the ticket-ticker makes his rounds. The men are initially crude and coarse with the women, but their torment amplifies into sadism and rape when another passenger, a well-mannered, classy-seeming blonde played by Macha Méril, joins the action. Meanwhile, Miracle’s parents wait at home until the train comes in, and are forced into action when they discover what happened on the trip.
Some of Lado’s touches are inexplicable, like his frequent abuse of zoom lenses to focus on some unimportant detail—an extra feeding ducks, say—and others are more inspired, like repeating a phrase in Ennio Morricone’s score through a villain’s harmonica, an echo of Charles Bronson in Once Upon A Time In The West. But between the tiresome cross-cutting between the vicious (yet oddly non-explicit) torture on the train and the dead scenes of the parents waiting, waiting, waiting for the women to arrive, it’s Méril that stands out. Where Craven was content to tar the perpetrators as drug-addled counterculture wastoids, Night Train Murders lays the truly depraved acts at Méril’s feet, suggesting that she, as a member of polite society, can slip the noose while her lowlife companions take the heat. The real loser here, however, is The Last House On The Left, which faces the double indignity of being ripped off and critiqued by the same movie.
Key features: A 15-minute interview where Lado denies having ever seen The Last House On The Left and defends the film’s politics, plus trailers, radio spots, posters, and stills.