Color, 1989, 94m. / Directed by Jeff Kwitny / Starring Mary Kohnert, Bo Svenson, Savina Gersak, Victoria Zinny / Media Blasters (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DD2.0

As most fans of Euro horror know, it was common practice to retitle films over and over to associate them as closely as possible with other, more famous titles. Thus you wound up with the likes of Cruel Jaws, Alien Contamination, and in the case of Mario Bava's Shock, a completely ridiculous retitling in America as Beyond the Door II. One of the last entries in this trend was the truly odd case of Amok Train, a last-gasp Italian horror film from producer Ovidio G. Assonitis who decided to issue it in America as Beyond the Door III (from Columbia Pictures, no less!). Unlike the Bava film, at least this one has some sort of satanic storyline to justify this marketing ploy, and the addition of Yugoslavian and American financing as well as a collection of mostly unknown international actors galavanting through Serbia results in a very strange but unmistakably unique horror film.

While many horror films tend to push any story plausibility to the edge of disbelief, Amok Train gleefully charges off the tracks in its first act and never looks back. The harebrained story kicks off when seven SoCal teenagers doing a Balkan studies course in Europe, with Beverly (Kohnert) particularly keen to explore her local ancestry. An opportunity arises in the form of mysterious anthropology professor Dr. Andromolek (Svenson), who guides them to a woodland pagan festival that turns out to be the refuge for a satanic cult. Drugged and nearly killed, all but one of the kids escape with their lives and climb aboard a nearby train. Unfortunately, the forces of evil are not so easily discouraged as the train itself, um, becomes possessed by a demonic force which wipes out nearly everyone aboard and takes the kids both on and off the tracks for, of course, a hell of a ride. Much dismemberment ensues as Beverly is informed (by the train, natch) that she's actually promised to Satan and is trapped into fulfilling her destiny, even if all her friends are torn to shreds in the process.

Apart from the always entertaining Svenson, Amok Train boasts a hilariously underequipped cast (including the apparently sedated Victoria Zinny, who appeared in tons of schlocky Joe D'Amato '80s films) as well as loads of over-the-top gore, much of which was scissored from the domestic VHS releases. Fortunately Media Blasters' release contains the full, plasma-spattered version with lots of latex and plaster heads spewing Kayro across the screen. Perhaps more divisive for horror fans is the grinding synth score by Carlo Maria Cordio (obviously inspired by his work on Aenigma) and the sheer stupidity of the plot (including a train vs. lake scene you won't forget anytime soon), but rest assured, you'll never be bored for a second.

Though films like these almost always went straight to video, Amok Train was actually shot in scope, which meant its surprisingly slick and atmospheric widescreen compositions were diced to ribbons for home viewers. The DVD reinstates the original framing, which helps immensely on a visual level along with the added unrated footage. Very nice all around. (The print still bears the Beyond the Door III title, which is bound to confuse more than one consumer out there.) The biggest extra here is a half-hour chat with Assonitis, who talks about the genesis of the film (basically a favor for some ambitious family friends) and its biggest cinematic influence, Runaway Train -- something you'll never hear about any other '80s horror film. He also talks about his rationale for the title changes, his experiences just before this film working for the notorious Cannon Films, and his discovery of James Cameron, a topic still mired in more than a bit of controversy. Also included is a much shorter interview with talented cinematographer Adolfo Bartoli, a batch of other Shriek Show trailers, and a promo gallery. All aboard!


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