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Pánico en el Transiberiano (1972)
By coincidence, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee made two films in 1972 that featured prehistoric relics causing mayhem in a period setting. The first to be released had been The Creeping Flesh while the second was Eugenio Martino's Anglo-Iberian Pánico en el Transiberiano, not released in the UK until March 1974. It's much better than one might imagine given Martino's track record and the generally poor reputation - not entirely undeserved - of 70s Spanish horror.
Martino directs like the driver of the train, at breakneck speed, careering through the plot leaving little time to ponder its many inanities. He does sterling work with a limited number of sets and a clearly restricted budget, most evident in the rather tatty special effects. Arnaud d'Usseau, Julian Zimet's script is unusually complex and ambitious, artfully suggesting that the unearthed fossil could be anything from a Darwinian missing link to a long stranded visitor from another world.
The script also boasts unusually interesting characters - instead of the ciphers that most Spanish films (and all too many British films of the time), Pánico en el Transiberiano has characters who are interesting shades of grey, people with faults, foibles and failings which lend them a certain depth. d'Usseau and Zimet also attempt some philosophical debate, not all of it convincing, though the confrontation between the creature and Saxton adds a welcome cosmological slant to the horrors - the creature tells its discoverer that "The history of your planet is part of me. Pull the trigger and you will end it. I will teach you to end disease, pain, hunger", lending it a quality that elevates it from the usual run-of-the-mill rampaging monster.
The script is also remarkably prescient. The scene in which Wells and
Saxton put aside their differences to check the survivors for traces
of the creature by testing their eyes (the creature's presence enters
its new hosts through the eye) clearly foreshadows a similar scene in
John Carpenter's The Thing
(1982) in which Kurt Russell tests his colleagues' blood in search of
the alien parasite.
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