13 December 2009

The Cassandra Crossing

This rather cheap-looking 1976 horror film had me terrified as a child. A messed-up terrorist attack on the 'International Health Organisation' leads to a rather deadly viral form of bubonic plague being released. Carried aboard a long-distance trans-Europe train by a terrorist escapee, the train is quickly quarantined by a general who appears to be only very slightly megalomaniacal.

It is decided that the train will travel over the Cassandra Crossing, an extremely rickety bridge, and eventually stop at a medical camp. As events unfold, it slowly dawns on the train's inhabitants that they're not really heading for a distant medical centre at all, but are in fact intended to plunge to their death, ridding the world of a rather tricky problem.

Of course, as it turns out, the plague is curable. But will the general stop the train? Will he hell, and one small train-based uprising later, the train is stopped just in time.

This film, along with The Satan Bug, was one of a number of disaster films that focused on unexpected viruses. The tradition continues, of course, with films like 28 Days Later; an escaped disease always makes for plenty of fun. Nowadays, watching these kind of films, I'm not remotely worried. Back when I was seven or eight, however, the very idea of it terrified me. A later passion for reading things like The Andromeda Strain didn't do much to cure me of this delicious penchant for biological terror. But nowadays, if you do decide to inflict The Cassandra Crossing on yourself, you're likely to spend much of the film with the corners of your mouth turned down in a wry smirk.

Overacting, men in white wellies, and huge oxygen tanks authentically marked 'O2' all add to the fun. The train changes shape, size and colour repeatedly throughout the film, and the shots of a man crawling on the roof of the train features the worst superimposing I've ever seen, and that includes early Carry On films when they're riding in a carriage and the same scenery keeps going past outside.

The Cassandra Crossing was directed by George Pan Cosmatos - yes, the guy responsible for the second Rambo film. Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren, O.J. Simpson and Martin Sheen all feature heavily. It was released in 1976, and if you have 129 minutes of your life that you don't want back, you'll love it. It's excellent. Keep an eye out for the model train hurtling off the bridge at the end!

Released: 1976
Director: George Pan Cosmatos
Genre: Disaster
Sophia Loren as Jennifer Rispoli Chamberlain
Richard Harris as Dr. Jonathan Chamberlain
Roddy Navarra as Robby Navarro
and Burt Lancaster as Col. Stephen Mackenzie

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