As I said during my The Last House On The Left review, after The Last House On The Left reached peak popularity, copycat films and foreign rip-offs starting appearing in Grindhouse cinemas alongside it. Late Night Trains (AKA Night Train Murders, Last Stop On The Night Train, The New House On The Left) is one such example of a The Last House On The Left copycat film. Whereas The Last House On The Left was made by emerging filmmakers with very little ties to America’s film industry, Late Night Trains was made by Aldo Lado, an Italian Director who had already worked on Italian Giallo films at the dawn of the 70s, so he had already established connections within Italy’s film industry before making Late Night Trains. This is the main reason why, in contrast to The Last House On the Left whose cast was made up of unknown actors, Late Night Trains stars a few famous faces of Italian cinema, and it even had the legendary Ennio Morricone composing the soundtrack. As a result, Late Night Trains sports a much higher fidelity than The Last House On The Left. The Last House On The Left is horribly gritty and amateurish, and in comparison, Late Night Trains is far more polished with greater production values and established actors in the main roles. Nonetheless, Late Night Trains avoided controversy about as well as The Last House On The Left did as both films wound up becoming a ‘Video nasty’, thus being seized and banned as part of the 1984 Video Recordings Act only to earn an uncut release in the UK fairly recently.
However, despite what differences there may be between both films, there’s no hiding the fact that Late Night Trains is certainly a copy of The Last House On The Left: two seventeen year old girls find themselves at the mercy of sadistic criminals who rape and murder them, the criminals then find themselves seeking refuge with the parents of one of the girls, then the parents find out what happens and murders the rapists in revenge. It follows the storyline of The Last House On The Left almost beat for beat, however, I find that it misses the point somewhat. I stated how The Last House On The Left was like a human tragedy, where every character winds up in dangerous situations because of their naivety. Late Night Trains, on the other hand, doesn’t carry on that theme. The plot of Late Night Trains seems more like a series of unfortunate events and coincidences, with characters put in their horrid positions via a bad twist of fate rather than by their own bad decisions. In my opinion, although this does offer a somewhat realistic take on life and tragedy as unfortunate events and coincidences definitely occur in real life, it loses the social commentary that I saw come through in The Last House On The Left. Late Night Trains unfortunately doesn’t offer a good thematic substitute, so in the end, Late Night Trains ends up feeling more like an empty copy of The Last House On The Left instead of taking an existing story and adapting it to confront current issues in society, which is what The Last House On The Left did in relation to the original The Virgin Spring.
However, that’s not to say that Late Night Trains is a complete trace over of The Last House On The Left. Late Night Trains does switch up certain points in the narrative in order to differentiate itself from The Last House On the Left in major ways. For starters, Late Night Trains is set at Christmas time, and the plot is about two seventeen-year-old girls, Margaret and Lisa, who take a cross-country train back home from Germany to Italy to visit their parents during the holiday season. The Christmas tie in isn’t exactly subtle either, there are constant reminders throughout the film that enforce the idea that Late Night Trains is a ‘Christmas’ film: the film begins with a Christmas market, the criminals beat up a man dressed as Santa, and the presents that the girls buy become a major plot point of the story later on. However, as the film continues it’s very easy to forget that Late Night Trains is a ‘Christmas’ film because the horrifying and harrowing plotline really subverts any ‘Christmas cheer’, and instead it rather puts a depressing spin on the season of goodwill.
As for the plotline itself: in all honesty, it’s kind of ropey. As I’ve stated earlier the sequence of events in Late Night Trains comes off as a series of unfortunate events and coincidences, but a lot of the major plotlines feel rather forced in order to justify the revenge part of the plot. For example: in the revenge portion of the plot, the details about the fate of the girls comes from a radio announcer, a radio announcer that speaks unlike any radio announcer I’ve ever heard as they describe the very brutal things that the girls went through with a casual flair, which I’m sure any real reporter would be fired for doing. It’s very distracting to witness, and it feels like it was put in there just so the plot can move on because the writer had run out of ideas on how to move things along. Using a radio in this way as a major plot-point with unbelievable, forced dialogue is incredibly lazy. I would rather the plot moved more smoothly as there was a plausible way that the radio announcer could have tipped the parents off, one that had actually been set up. However, instead, Late Night Trains decided to go the lazy, unbelievable way. In fact, upon reflection, there are a few moments throughout the film that feel forced and go absolutely nowhere, but the radio stood to me as the worst example. The other forced moments were relatively subtle and didn’t diminish the story as much as the awkward radio did.
One of the strongest aspects of Late Night Trains, however, is definitely the characters themselves; their personifications and how they impact the story. Late Night Trains is definitely a character centric film, and each characterisation is supported by a good performance from a talented actor. Margaret & Lisa, the two girls, are presented as believably average teenage girls. They’re kind, fun, somewhat rebellious, but at the same time they aren’t represented as being overly naive or even completely innocent, as the movie shows that they are aware of the situation as they try to avoid the rapists, calling them ‘crazy’. During the plot they actively try to help their situation by switching trains, but unfortunately, they find themselves at the mercy of the villains by sheer coincidence (coincidences being a running theme throughout the plot). Lisa’s Parents are also shown as being a typically average couple with their own flaws and issues, but what’s interesting to note is that they also have their own story arc throughout the film. The parents aren’t portrayed as overly happy and content like the parents in The Last House On The Left, in Late Night Trains they’re portrayed as realistically average. I found myself becoming invested in their story as well as the girls’ story, something The Last House On The Left couldn’t do. As for the villains; criminals Curly & Blackie aren’t portrayed as being wholly, sadistically evil. They’re portrayed as drug addicts, impulsive thugs, typical dumb crooks whose motivations lie more on anarchy and hedonism rather than sadism and torture. A personification which definitely contrasts with the crooks in The Last House On The Left. The ‘lead rapist’ in Late Night Trains, however, is a woman known only as The Lady On The Train, a lady who’s very manipulative, sadistic, uncaring, even psychopathic. Throughout the movie it’s firmly established that she’s the mastermind of the whole situation much like Krug in The Last House On The Left. The fact that the mastermind is a manipulative female rather than a testosterone fuelled male character adds a very interesting dynamic to Late Night Trains. The Lady doesn’t actually rape the girls, but she uses her charm and sexual prowess to manipulate Curly & Blacky into doing whatever she wants, which includes the rape and murder of the two innocent young girls. The Lady lies, controls, and constantly exacerbates the situation calling it ‘a bit of fun’. Her impact on the plot is not only crucial, but the dynamic she creates during the revenge sequence adds up to one of the most crushingly depressing, yet sadly realistic endings I’ve ever witnessed in a Rape/Revenge flick. Personally, I find her one of the most hateable villains in a Rape/Revenge flick because of her psychopathy, her uncaringness, her willingness to manipulate and control the world around her with absolutely no regard for consequence or human emotion, and her sadistic joy of watching others degrade themselves for her bidding as if they were her slaves.
The rape scene itself is definitely one of the most harrowing I’ve seen in cinema. Whilst The Last House On The Left had a rape scene that was full of intense, exploitative, explosive brutality as one of the characters is carved from top to bottom, the entire rape scene in Late Night Trains is quite eroticised with a focus on coercion and exhibitionism. The way The Lady, Curly & Black treat the girls isn’t just humiliating, it’s quite perverted as well as they forcibly manipulate and coerce the girls to strip and perform sexual acts on both them and a peeping tom, whilst they themselves perform their own sexual acts on each other. As the scene continues, the acts begin to build and build, turning the eroticism and psychological abuse into full on physical abuse and mutilation. The scene reaches a horribly graphic crescendo where Curly and Blackie regret their actions, thus showing them as mislead, manipulated idiots under the thumb of a manipulative psychopath instead of hard, psychopathic monsters. The Lady herself, however, bears no regret to the situation, even going as far to say ‘what did I do wrong?’ and that situation ‘wasn’t anybody’s fault, it was just one of those things’, thus showing just how emotionally detached and uncaringly psychopathic The Lady actually is, and setting up the characters for the cathartic revenge to come.
What’s interesting to note about the rape scene is that it does the same thing as The Last House On The Left: interjects the harrowing rape with footage of the parents enjoying their Christmas. However, whilst The Last House On The Left dramatically shifted the tone during these cuts with very intrusive music, Late Night Trains keep the music to a minimum, and these intercut scenes aren’t comedic in any way as they tell the story of how Lisa’s parents became closer over a Christmas party whilst Lisa herself is placed in a terrifying position. Basically put, this technique is what The Last House On The Left tried to do, but here, it’s done correctly as the constant contrast between the parents and the girls really do make the girls’ situation all the more hard hitting because of it.
In my opinion, the revenge is also very well done. Although the lead up to the revenge is wonky and mishandled plot-wise, the revenge itself is quite realistic in comparison to The Last House On The Left. There’s no silly traps or chainsaw chases. Instead, the revenge is shown as an impulsive act on behalf of the father who uses whatever he can find to kill the rapists. In all honesty though, the revenge isn’t cathartic at all, its short and played off as a small event which, when taken in context with the ending, feels very purposeful. I believe that Late Night Trains is a purposely harrowing film where any notion of cathartic brutality is taken out of the picture in exchange for a depressing, empty experience that many Rape/Revenge flicks usually don’t really want to venture into. On reflection, this approach really does make the film stand out amongst other Rape/Revenge flicks, even if it wasn’t really supposed to stand out at all.
In terms of technicality, there’s a lot that this film does really well. Taken from his experience in Giallo cinema, Aldo Lado applies his knowledge of creative camera angles and strikingly beautiful lighting to this movie. Although some of the camera angles during the first part of the film feel very reminiscent of the voyeuristic style cinematography in The Last House On The Left, once the more intense scenes come into play the style switches from naturalistic to stylised with the use of dark, harsh lighting, avant garde transitions and wide angled close ups which are quite uncomfortable to witness. What stood out to me, however, is that the film takes inspiration from classic Spaghetti Westerns with the use of character leitmotifs. The use of a harmonica to signify the villains in Late Night Trains is the same way a harmonica is used to signify the main character in Once Upon A Time In The West. This harmonica leitmotif is one of the most powerful aspects of Late Night Trains as the association with the theme brings about a sense of dread and tension from any situation in which it’s included. I’ve never really seen this technique outside of classic Spaghetti Westerns, which were treated more like operas than bona fide film, but because of how effective it was in this movie, I really want to see it used more often. It’s a simple technique that definitely leaves a lasting impact on the viewer.
In all honesty, Late Night Trains is nothing deep. I don’t feel like it’s really trying to say something clever like the previous Rape/Revenge films that I’ve talked about. It’s mainly a copycat of The Last House On The Left and that’s all. However, Late Night Trains is, in my opinion, a quite decent copy of The Last House On the Left. Albeit ropey, Late Night Trains succeeds where The Last House On The Left failed: there’s a consistent tone throughout the movie, it merges subtle humour with horrifying sequences quite efficiently, and it pulls back a lot of the over the top sequences that mar The Last House On The Left. One can definitely tell that this film came from the mind of someone who saw the original The Last House On The Left and said “How can I make this movie better?”, and that’s exactly what Aldo Lado did. Although it loses a lot of what made The Last House On The Left quite thought provoking on the youth culture of the 1970s and the tragedy of impulsiveness, Late Night Trains is just a better, more well-constructed movie. Although I would recommend giving both movies a watch because of their content, I would rather watch this movie again than The Last House On The Left.