Review: Hell Train

By Christopher Fowler

Solaris, out now

Hired to write for Hammer Horror, Shane Carter devises a story about a train that seems powered by infernal energy…

If you’re a fan of the movies produced at the height of the Hammer horror boom in the 1960s, you should adore this loving pastiche of their tropes and style, in what on the surface feels as if it’s a novelisation of a missing script, but underneath is much more.

The main story, in which a group of mismatched travellers find themselves on the Arkangel, a train heading for a destination that’s been erased from every map on board, is counterpointed occasionally with vignettes showing the writer’s own journey through the Hammer system. This includes a wonderful account of a “casting” meeting, with cameos by Thorley Walters, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It also counterpoints the changes of the film’s First World War setting with the upheaval of the 1960s – a point that’s made forcibly in the final “modern-day” portion.

Fowler takes the stereotypical characters found in these films and fleshes them out, providing more poignant backgrounds and more credible motivations than their celluloid counterparts would appear to possess. The end result is a fast-paced fusion of a viscerally graphic horror novel with the style and charm of Hammer.

Verdict: Filled with twists and images that resonate long after reading, this goes far beyond a simple emulation of the Hammer style.  Recommended.  8/10

Paul Simpson

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