The temperatures still seem mild by Russian standards, where the  2014 Winter Olympics are kicking off in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. However, Putin & Co. have plenty other problems to deal with, after terrorist bombings in Volgograd raised huge security concerns, and protests over the government’s treatment of homosexuals appear to be coming to a possibly pre-arranged head to coincide with the two-week event.  (Pussy Riot’s appearance on The Colbert Report last night did nothing to discourage that assumption). So there all the makings of a massive Russo-Clusterf*ck.

So in contrast to whatever ‘frozen idyll’ may be put forth in the arena tomorrow, I present the Hammer-like terror-spectacle Horror Express (1972), available free via FilmOn’s VOD service, a very popular film from my childhood weekend TV viewing, and perhaps yours as well.

The Spanish/British production is also titled Pánico en el Transiberiano. It was filmed on an incredibly low budget in and around Madrid, but concerns the chaotic events that occur on the TranSiberian Express train bound from Shanghai to Moscow, bearing what  appears to be the remains of an archaic ape-creature found in Manchuria by a renowned British anthropologist.

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Christopher Lee is at the peak of his powers as Professor Sir Alexander Saxton, a combination of late Victorian intellectual and physical righteousness. Also on the train is Peter Cushing as the appropriately named Dr. Wells, an observant and humorous rival to Saxton and an interestingly lighter touch here to the usual ‘Van Helsing/Gran Moff Tarkin’ -type roles Cushing would play. When bodies start turning up with blank-bleeding eyeballs, things get awkward to say the least.

Telly Savalas as the Cossack Captain Kazan is also at his best, chewing the rug (which he also seems to wear as his robe) with gusto. Argentinian actor Alberto de Mendoza as the Rasputin-like Father Pujardov often steals the film even in such company. This is an excellent and rare chance to see this man in action, as it is with Catalonian actress Silvia Tortosa as the Countess Irina Petrovski, who could easily have been a big rival to Claudia Cardinale if the dice had rolled otherwise, and Spanish actor Julio Pena, who throws a bit of a Burt Lancaster in The Leopard vibe.

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John Cacavas, an associate of avant-garde composer Morton Gould, provides the otherworldly, haunting soundtrack. Sochi organizers could do much worse than to follow his lead for their Opening Ceremonies. This score certainly did much to help the ‘panic’ remain in memory.

Horror Express is available free via FilmOn:

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