The original Terror Train is generally considered a cornerstone of the Golden Age of slashers—and, along with Halloween, The Fog and Prom Night, is one-fourth of the quartet of films that turned Jamie Lee Curtis into a scream queen—so it’s surprising that it took until 2022 for it to receive the remake treatment, more than a decade after the remakes of Halloween, The Fog and Prom Night. Perhaps an explanation for this delay is the fact that there actually was a Terror Train redo in the works during the early 2000s heyday for horror remakes, but it ended up as a completely different film, entitled Train (2008), with Thora Birch in full torture porn mode.
Taking the polar opposite approach of that movie, which was so drastically different from the original it became its own entity, the new Terror Train is basically a beat-by-beat retread of the first film except for the identity of the killer. Thankfully, the makers of the remake were smart enough to avoid the original’s association of cross-dressing with homicidal insanity, but I’m not sure why you’d make such an otherwise slavish redo of a movie whose strong point isn’t its storyline. Despite its reputation, the original Terror Train is a fairly rote slasher saved by a harrowing final 15 minutes when the killer and the “final girl” have their cat-and-mouse showdown.
I would call TT22 a pale imitation, except given the racially diverse nature of the cast, it’s anything but pale. The film’s most noteworthy deviation from the original, in fact—aside from being set on Halloween rather than New Year’s (which makes more sense, given the costumes)—is that the heroic “final girl” (Curtis’s character), Alana, is played by a black actress, Robyn Alomar. (Alomar’s last name comes from her stepfather, Puerto Rican ex-baseball star Roberto Alomar, but whose birth father apparently was black, as she has identified herself as black in the past.) Further, the original’s primary male heroic character, train conductor Carne (Ben Johnson—the Oscar winner, not the ‘roided up Olympic sprinter) becomes a woman this time around (Mary Walsh), and there’s a prominent new character, a porter named Sadie (Nadine Bhabha, born from Guyanese and South African parents of Indian descent), who does a lot of the leg work investigating the murders that the male Carne undertook in the original.
With the two main protagonists being POC, not to mention two black supporting characters (Alan’s boyfriend Mo [Corteon Moore] and the president of the frat [Dakota Jamal Wellman], both white in the original film), it’s not hard to envision TT22 being accused of “wokeness,” a label that has come to be slapped on films simply for the sin of showcasing non-white/male/heterosexual/cisgender characters. The horror! In truth, the original Terror Train has one of the largest selection of black characters in any slasher of its era: a whopping three! (Granted, two of them die.) In an interesting twist, in the remake, the original’s surviving black character, Merry (Vanity), is played by a white actress (Tori Barban), while the originally black character of Jackson (Anthony Sherwood) becomes Asian (Kenny Wong). Have fun with that one, anti-wokers.
Furthering the “woke” narrative is the use of some overly on-the-nose buzzwords that add little to the story beyond establishing that the frat prez is an upstanding individual—stating “Our fraternity is committed to respect and inclusion” and advising partygoers to “Make sure to receive consent when engaging in any sexual activities”—and that frat boy Doc (Matias Garrido) is a sexist pig—using the term “snowflake” and complaining to Alana that if he said about women what she says about him, he’d be “canceled.” Race is never really brought up, which might be a good thing, because if these interactions are any indication, it probably would’ve been cringe-inducing.
I hesitate to call this remake pointless, because it’s certainly nice to have POC leads in a horror movie, but otherwise, it’s an inferior retread. However, it does bring up a salient point that has bothered me when watching many a horror movie over the years. During the climax, Alana, who has supposedly regretted taking part in the prank three years earlier that spurred the train massacre, is asked, “Why are you still friends with all of those horrible people?” It’s such a simple yet logical question that many teen-skewed films, regardless of genre, have glossed over for decades: how are we truly supposed to sympathize with the lead if all her friends—and typically her boyfriend in particular—are assholes? It’s like trying to root for Mitt Romney.