Trains make wonderful movie sets, particularly if the director wants to imbue his or her work with a sense of danger and claustrophobia. Sure, the clickety-clack of your locomotive may be relaxing, but you’re a captive audience in cloistered confines perched on steel rails often hurtling at breakneck speed over mountains, rivers and isolated terrain.
So, when the conductor hollers, “ALL ABOARD!” on the Halloween murder mystery train that is the heart of director Dale Fabrigar’s D-Railed, you know this ain’t no commuter hop to Newark.
In a wonderfully steamy, atmospheric opening, we’re introduced to several of our characters, part of a private party about to enjoy dinner and a show on a locomotive one young whippersnapper says, “must have been built in the 1900s.”
If that didn’t make you feel old, perhaps the partygoers and actors will, given most are dressed in period costumes from the golden age of train travel.
All starts innocently enough when dinner is served. But in a nanosecond, the “host,” wonderfully overplayed by Frank Lammers, appears, introducing the cast and patrons alike. As he works his way backward to the front of the rail car, one deviant decked out in a bowler hat, Clyde (Ben Hopkins), fatally stabs our host. Has the mystery begun, as the guests believe, or is something sinister afoot?
It doesn’t take long before all realize this is an unscripted heist, as Clyde’s accomplices reveal themselves. One of them, however, takes exception to Clyde’s brutal removal of Kathryn’s (Mia Christou) diamond earring. (Let’s just say he forgoes the earlobe clasp and gets a bloody gasp.) But when Thomas (Everette Wallin) pulls a pistol on Clyde, accomplice No. 3, Gigi (Tonya Kay), pulls another gun, restoring Clyde’s ill-gotten authority.
Poor Kathryn, meanwhile, manages to tick off Gigi when she refuses to surrender more of her diamond jewelry, leading to a bullet to the brain. Clearly, this was a lobe too far.
Sitting through all of this is passenger Evelyn Hyde (Carter Scott), who has taken the one young woman, Abigail (Shae Smolik), under her wing. It’s clear their bond is leading to something yet unseen.
At any rate, this is about the time D-Railed shifts gears from heist to horror. Clyde has headed to the locomotive engine, intending to get the engineers to stop the train so the thieves can abscond with their loot. But it turns out a deadly scuffle leaves the engine unmanned and racing toward a treacherous curve. As the conductor (Jack Betts) puts it, everybody has to move to the back of the train “or we’re all gonna die.”
As you might surmise, there is a derailment over water, leaving the bloodied survivors stranded in a train car partially submerged. Worse, the murky waters are home to a toothy creature who intends to enjoy a flesh feast. The decision becomes swim for land or stay put and face certain death. So, swim they do. While several make land, we soon learn this creature is amphibious.
There’s no sense in dropping more spoilers into the review but be prepared for a couple of twists and turns along the way.
D-Railed is a slick little flick, with much higher production values than you usually see in B-grade horror movies. Suzanne DeLaurentis, along with co-writers Fabrigar and Wallin, has crafted a plot that chugs along nicely, with perils aplenty. And what might have been an awkward progression from crime to horror is handled pretty deftly by Fabrigar’s direction. He coaxes decent to good acting out of a cast largely comprised of character actors, most notably Lammers and Betts as host and conductor, respectively. But it is Scott who shines brightest in her role as Evelyn. And her work here helps elevate young Smolik, who delivers a fine performance.
Kudos, too, to the wardrobe folks and cinematographers, who give this movie a look and feel that makes it appear better financed than most low-budget movies in the genre.
That said, we’re not getting out of here without a complaint. There’s one performer we have yet to identify, and he’s a BIG name in horror circles. We’re talking about Lance Henriksen, who has shined on screen in everything from Aliens to Pumpkinhead. Henriksen is top-billed in D-Railed as Manny, who runs the mystery train events.
Unfortunately, he’s given probably no more than six or seven minutes of screen time — a brief appearance at the beginning and a slightly longer sequence at the end. What a waste, what a shame. Perhaps this was negotiated in his contract, but if Lance Freakin’ Henriksen is going to be top-billed in a film, the audience deserves more than a paltry few minutes of his time.
D-Railed will be available VOD on Aug. 6. If you choo-choo choose to give it a look, you’ll get some enjoyment out of it — hopefully enough to offset the disappointment of seeing so little of an actor who has become an icon of the horror genre.