The cult of the 80's is strong. People often wax nostalgic over glorious 80's cinema with its practical effects and over-the-top stories. And it's true - it WAS a glorious time for horror AND comedy AND action movies - genres you often found romping playfully together at that time.
BUT! This pro 80's nostalgia conveniently forgets the failures. If getting the formula for a great comedy is hard - balancing the elements to make a GREAT horror comedy is virtually impossible; this means there is potential to make BOTH a bad horror movie AND a bad comedy AND a bad movie overall.
Enter tonight's train wreck (oh the puns!): The Sleeping Car - not technically an 80's movie (having been made in 1990) but it's aesthetics are close enough to let it pass. And it was made by VidMark - any 80's horror fan knows that VidMark is like a beautiful seal of mediocrity in the VHS world.
Here's the particulars of this gem:
Open on a speeding train. There are no lights in the conductor's car. The conductor looks like a man in the throes of a panic attack. He calls for help. No one comes. In another room of the train, one that looks like a hobo carrier, there is a dirty mattress of the floor. A trashy 80's bar broad gleefully drinks beer with some random dude. The conductor bursts in and admonishes the man in a manner fit for the pulpit. The man laughs! Then we see it - another train speeding towards this one. The conductor jumps to safety while the couple (and presumably everyone else onboard) is killed in the fiery explosion of the two trains colliding. This may be the worst train system and he may be the worst train conductor - ever - if the train can have an epic, fatal crash because one douchebag wanders off to get some action in the hobo car.
This here is all just backstory for our actual tale of a journalist in the middle of a divorce who decides to go back to college (which looks disconcertingly like a high school - students included) and moves into a strange apartment built inside the one remaining train car from the wreck. It is remarkably undamaged, considering the flaming mess the other cars left behind.
The landlady is a cranky old lady who also happens to be the train conductor's widow. For those of you who love American Gothic (another VidMark classic) think here Ma and you'll get the gist of this character. While she's happy to swap awkward, unsexy (but possibly flirty) banter with her newest tenant, she is less than forthcoming about the angry, judgmental, and bloodthirsty spirit of her dead husband that already resides in the apartment. Safe to say, evil, undead entities don't make particularly good roommates and our reluctant tenant starts having terrifying nightmares and other ghostly encounters. THANK GOD his reclusive next-door neighbor is a world-famous exorcist.
If you're still with me, throw in a romance between our leading man and one of his classmates - she's supposed to be a college girl BUT I'm fairly certain she's a high schooler making their (admittedly) unfulfilling sex scene ("It was like the 3rd of July" she tells him) kind of creepy to watch. He'll dispatch the spirt and get the girl in the end. Queue the picket fences and 2.5 kids.
I don't think anything could save this movie, definitely not its "stars" David Naughton, Judie Aronson, and Kevin McCarthy
What a strange and moderately noticeable career David Naughton had; from Dr. Pepper spokesperson to snarky werewolf, he's never been a truly great actor and will likely pass out of this world without much notice. I think the casting department imagined that hiring David Naughtom would cement the movie's comedy / horror hybrid success (as he's so well loved for his role in American Werewolf.)
Director Douglas Curtis (who would go on to produce Freddy Vs Jason) only has two director credits to his name - for good reason. The tone of the movie is all over the map. One minute you think it may be an attempt at a comedy UNTIL it swings wildly into a more traditional morality horror tale in which sinners are punished for unethical behavior. I think there's supposed to be some sort of rape-y (my editor's favorite made up word that I use.) undertone to the evil entity's attacks - but if that's the case, it's not well enough developed to actual register as a plot point. Perhaps that isn't entirely Curtis' fault.
Writer Greg Collins O’Neill has an equally limited number of credits to his name with most of his work (read here, "two episodes") being on a '90's reboot of Zorro. (UGH.)
So, in closing, let's just say that this horror comedy is neither frightening nor funny - it just fails on all levels. Watching this one if you really love trains?...
You can watch the Sleeping Car trailer here:
You can watch David Naughton sing and dance his way into your thirsty heart here: