In the world of bad movies classifications and subgenres, the “frankenfilm” is probably the lowest possible rung on the ladder. These aren’t movies about the infamous doctor or his monster—rather, they’re exceedingly cheap movies that often take the form of anthologies, splicing and stitching together cinematic body parts ripped from the corpses of other dead films to create an abominable whole. They’re generated when some cheap producer/director has promised a horror film to his studio, and by god, he’s going to deliver on that promise while shooting as little footage of his own as he possibly can.
Night Train to Terror is a stand-out example of the frankenfilm in action. This 1985 “feature” haphazardly chops together three different films, one of them incomplete, and in the process thoroughly scrubs out any semblance of coherence those films may once have possessed on their own. It’s all stitched together with a framing story that involves God and Satan riding a celestial train through the sky together while being serenaded by a breakdancing synth-rock band in the next car.
…so it’s basically any given train ride in 1985, is what I’m saying.
If you’re wondering what kind of beer one might possibly pair with a movie of that description then congratulations, you’re facing the same question I did. Rummaging through the fridge, I finally decided—“What’s the most absurd-sounding thing I have in here?” And in terms of names that was a fairly easy choice: Albino Pygmy Puma, an American pale ale from 2nd Shift Brewing in New Haven, Mo. When in doubt, match weird with weird.
The first segment of Night Train to Terror is its most extreme, violent and uncomfortable. Culled from an incomplete film called Scream Your Head Off, it revolves around a sinister sanitarium where head guard Richard Moll (from Night Court) spends most of his time undressing women strapped to tables and groping them before cutting them into pieces. The nudity is incredibly gratuitous throughout. Turns out they acquire these women by drugging and hypnotizing servants to go out and abduct them. Our lead character/drugged pawn is played by John Phillip Law, who bad movie fans will recognize as the skull-protruding villain Kalgan from the classic MST3k episode Space Mutiny. It’s a very dark and ugly segment, although it does feature the incredible beheading and arterial spray of Richard Moll. That’s really all it has going for it, besides a veritable cornucopia of boobs.
The beer, meanwhile, almost mirrors the “little bit of everything” philosophy of the film, except here those contrasting elements actually work together. The aroma shows its American pedigree, with citrus, grassy and floral notes derived from a blend of Columbus, Cascade, Summit and Centennial hops. The taste reveals a more complex malt character than expected for a beer labeled as an “extra pale” ale, with plenty of caramel character and a light grainy sweetness. There’s even something evoking fresh, dark grapes in there, which is typically a sign of the darker fruit notes of more intensely roasted crystal malts. It’s hop-forward, but that maltiness keeps it well in check. Balance is the byword.
Would that some kind of balance could do the same for the film. Its second segment is also its most boring, clipped from a 1983 feature called Death Wish Club. The club in question (which must need to seek new members on a pretty regular basis) is oh-so-sinister, gathering in the ’70s-style rumpus room of their secret lair in order to discuss how neat death is and participate in games of chance that inevitably kill one member at a time. Once again, the only thing of note here is a little nudity and some genuinely gross gore effects.
The real joy of watching this movie can be found in the framing device itself, the titular night train and its occupants. The conversations between Satan and God (played by “Lu Cifer” and “Himself” according to the credits) are adorably chock full of pithy camp from the first moment the train conductor arrives and inquires “What can I do for you … Mr. Satan?” Their incredibly pretentious dialog seems to have been written by some poor, deluded soul who really wanted to “make audiences think.” Was he at all aware of the context in which those lines would be delivered, I wonder?
The single best part of the film, though, is the synth-rock band in the next train car over from our quarreling odd couple, who perform snippets of the exact same song in every one of their segments, complete with slow-motion break dancing. Wait, the song is only a couple of minutes long? No problem, we’ll just start again from the beginning with an enthusiastic “From the top!” The costumes may be the most ’80s-esque collection of clothing ever assembled, particularly in the case of the lead singer, who is truly a sight to behold. He looks like a resurrected pirate trying to reassemble his old buccaneer outfit with whatever was available during a 15-minute shopping spree at the Mall of America in 1984. That’s as close as I can come to an accurate description.
The third and final story is the condensed version of a 1980 horror film called Cataclysm, starring Cameron “I was in Space Mutiny, too!” Mitchell, along with a second, unrelated appearance by Richard Moll as an angry, atheist scholar, as if there was any other kind to be found in horror movies. It’s the longest and most ably acted of the segments, which still feels like calling Moe the smartest of the Three Stooges. It remains just as incoherent in plot as the others—I believe it was about a Nazi vampire trying to recruit Moll into his evil, anti-God cult but could sense that there were at least three or four other subplots largely edited out. You may simply want to skip ahead to the end when evil wins and all the protagonists are slain. Yes, that’s what happens. Somehow, I doubt you’re angry at me for spoiling this.
This is a cheap movie. It is a bad movie. It is a movie that invests the minimum possible degree of care allowable by law into whether or not you enjoy it (most likely “not”). The only thing that makes it bearable is the occasional synth-rock break and a 750 ml bottle of Albino Pygmy Puma. The beer can make a claim the film cannot—that at least all of its components were conceived in the same calendar year. It’s a pretty terrible frankenfilm, but at least the beer is pleasantly lively.
If you can’t help but catch the synth-rock groove of this collection of gore, nudity and incoherent plotlines, check out the trailer for Night Train to Terror.
If you’d prefer to just sip an excellently balanced American pale ale, check out 2nd Shift’s Albino Pygmy Puma here.
Jim Vorel is a Central Illinois-based entertainment reporter and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him onTwitter.