The 45 minutes or so that pass before things get messed up serve well to build the personalities of the characters - at least as much as these things can happen in an exploitation film, anyway. Two young women are traveling from Germany to Italy to spend Christmas with one of their families. Meanwhile, two dipshit hooligan types end up on the same train while evading capture for petty crimes in the train station. The train is crowded so the young women bide their time standing near a lavatory while the dudes move throughout the train looking for trouble. A third woman, older than the other two and very sophisticated in appearance and manner, is accosted by one of the men and ends up forming an alliance with them that changes everything for the worse.
While the behavior of the lowlifes (not to mention the title of the movie, a-duh) caused some unease, I was wondering how on earth they were going to be able to attack the protagonists considering how many people were on the train. Then the girls change trains at a stop in order to avoid a delay and that's when I knew things were about to get ugly. The older woman turns out to be the catalyst for some horrifying deeds to be done, and she's quite creepy. She cajoles the girls to capitulate to the advances of the men and then goads the men into upping the intensity of their attacks. The ways in which she uses her appearance and station in life to her advantage are unpleasant yet pretty believable.
The most disturbing scene for me by far was when a passenger (one of the very few on the train, which by the way is being conducted by a man who is hitting the bottle so he's of no use), hearing the screams of a young woman being sexually assaulted, goes to the cabin and decides to just peep through the window at what's happening rather than go get help or intervene. Actually, he does end up intervening, but not in the way he should. It's brutal and depressing as anyone could want.
Night Train Murders is a great looking film, at least in comparison to the original Last House on the Left. While the villains aren't up to the level of, say, David Hess, they're creepy and repulsive enough. The end is awfully similar to Craven's film, as you will no doubt expect by that point. There's even a score by Ennio Morricone that adds great ambiance at times. Unfortunately, there's a song that plays over the opening and closing credits that is ungodly painful to have to listen to. Actually, considering how rank and dirty this movie is, it might be a perfect fit after all.
Tomorrow: In My Skin