The American rail system gains a whole new set of troubles in this weird horror thriller. The story is set in motion by past events: 10 years ago, officious train conductor Erickson (played by special-effects man John Carl Buechler)--called "the Mister"--admonished his horny assistant to
stop fooling around with the woman he had stashed away on board and to pay attention to railroad business. When the fledgling failed to carry out his duties, a devastating train wreck resulted, and when the smash-up was blamed on the Mister, the conductor was totally derailed mentally. Ten years
later, some time after the Mister's death, divorced college returnee Jason (David Naughton) is looking for cheap digs. After examining the sleeping car inhabited by the Mister after his (and the car's) retirement, Jason pays his widow, Mrs. Erickson (Ernestine Mercer), the rent and moves in.
Little does he realize the terror that awaits him and his next-door neighbor, spirtualist Vincent Tuttle (Kevin McCarthy). Jason's reception at school is a little rocky, since his professor, Bud Sorenson (Jeff Conaway)--another refugee from the real world--is constantly razzing him, and fellow
student Kim (Judie Aronson) comes across as a bit of a bitchy tease. After having a nightmare in which he's visited by his ferocious ex-wife (Dani Minnick), Jason is surprised by Sorenson and Kim, who drop by with a house-warming gift. It's a tape of railroad noises, which mysteriously turn into a
replay of the sounds from the night of the Mister's infamous train wreck. When jock Dwight (Steve Lundquist), who's jealous of Jason's relationship with Kim, breaks into the sleeping car with mischief on his mind, he awakens the spirit of the ever-vengeful Mister, who kills Dwight and dumps the
body in a ravine behind the sleeping car. As things start to go bump in the night, Jason is informed by his sleeping-car-mate, Vincent, that their abode is haunted, and (after some harassment by Dwight's pals) Jason and Kim stop bickering long enough to become lovers. When professor Sorenson
drunkenly stops by for a chat, he becomes the Mister's next victim. Wires pin him to the sleeper cushions, cutting into him before the bed folds up and crushes him to death. Kim herself is later posessed by the Mister's spirit while she is making out with Jason, and starts choking her lover. Jason
now begins to believe Vincent's ghost-obsessed ramblings, and the men force their landlady to reveal the truth about the evil sleeping car. They discover that after the Mister was fired, Mrs. Erickson made him move out of their house and into the sleeping car--where he used to bring nubile bimbos,
then slay them. Vincent claims that the Mister is feeding off Jason's energy, and he and Jason hatch plans for an exorcism on the Super Chief, assisted by Kim. While the trio try to de-Misterize the place, Jason's ex-wife returns to become the latest victim. As all hell breaks loose and lightning
streaks through the car, Vincent starts chanting and the Mister unleashes his full fury. Mrs. Erickson intercedes, only to be slain with her own hatchet. Following Vincent's mystical advice, Jason forgives the Mister for the train wreck and, as the fateful crash is replayed, the conductor's spirit
is freed and finds eternal peace.
Likeable mainly due to Naughton's amiable charm and McCarthy's pleasantly nutty performance, THE SLEEPING CAR is imaginative fright-night fun, but flawed on several counts. First of all, setting the film in a sleeping car (that just happened to be preserved for the Mister to live in and then
haunt) seems overly contrived. Even if you buy the bizarre premise of the haunted car, however, the film proves a shaky ride in other respects. Conaway for example, registers less as a jocular, comic relief wiseguy than as a complete boor. He's so constantly in motion, you begin to believe he's
been possessed by an entire set of Lionel trains rather than the Mister's spirit--it's as hammy a performance as you're likely to see. Lundquist's Dwight is extraneous to the plot and makes an uninteresting victim; in general, our involvement with the film would have been intensified if the
initial victims were people Jason really cared about. Later on, when Jason's nasty ex-wife gets her fatal comeuppance, it's more satisfying than when characters are simply introduced to be slaughtered.
On the plus side, the special effects cannot be faulted. They pump sorely needed energy into the movie whenever the story line starts to sag. THE SLEEPING CAR is also enjoyable for its steady stream of clever one-liners, although the constant joking mitigates the terror somewhat. The film settles
into combining laughs and goosebumps in equal amounts, and without moving into all-out parody, it's a fairly funny spook show. The essential elements of the physical production--including the score, visual effects, and sound effects, are all exemplary. Although they don't camouflage the film's
scripting and casting flaws, they help provide chiller fans with sufficient shocks and surprises. Reasonably amusing and creepily effective on occasion, THE SLEEPING CAR gives us a scary train ride to terror, with a conductor who probably rides the rails with Freddy Krueger in hell. (Violence,sexual situations, nudity, substance abuse, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: The American rail system gains a whole new set of troubles in this weird horror thriller. The story is set in motion by past events: 10 years ago, officious train conductor Erickson (played by special-effects man John Carl Buechler)--called "the Mister"--a… (more)