Horror Movie News and Reviews

Jamie Lee Curtis: The Making of a Scream Queen – Terror Train

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Terror Train’s climactic scene occurs between Alana and Kenny in one of the abandoned train cars. In the scene, Kenny, in the guise of a conductor’s uniform, reveals his true identity to a horrified Alana.

Then Kenny pulls Alana close for an extremely deranged and twisted kiss. The kiss then triggers in Kenny painful flashback memories of the fraternity prank which allows Ben Johnson’s Carne character, the train’s conductor, to move behind Kenny with a shovel. He then whacks Kenny out of the train and sends Kenny crashing into an icy lake to his presumed death.

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The most interesting part of the filming of this scene was the kiss. The kiss wasn’t in the script, and was added on the insistence of Curtis who felt it would add power to the scene and to the end of the film. “I just thought that if she kissed him that it would bring a lot of tenderness to the scene and to the film,” recalls Curtis. “The kiss was totally my idea. All during filming, I was looking for ways to make my character more interesting but there weren’t many opportunities because most of the film was about the action and the killer.”

The idea of kissing Jamie Lee Curtis was a big surprise for the transsexual Derek MacKinnon who had no idea his stint playing the deranged Kenny Hampson would include this added fringe benefit. MacKinnon would actually kiss Curtis twice, the second time being at the end of filming when Curtis would carry out her ritual—a ritual that Curtis began with Nick Castle at the end of filming on Halloween—of planting a kiss upon the guy who was playing her screen nemesis. “Jamie was very uncomfortable about doing that scene, with kissing me, and it was very awkward but she insisted on it, and insisted on adding tenderness to the scene,” recalls MacKinnon. “She was a great kisser, and I thought we did a really strong scene, and then at the end of the filming she just kissed me out of the blue, right in front of the crew, and that kiss was even better than the one we filmed.”

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Terror Train’s transsexual theme is interesting because Curtis herself was going through a period in her career where tabloids had begun spreading the false and outrageous rumor that Curtis herself was a hermaphrodite who was born with both female and male genitalia. This is a hateful and ridiculous rumor—obviously born out of Curtis’ own androgynous, tomboyish appearance and sexuality that’s especially present during the climactic scenes between Alana and Kenny—that has nonetheless become an urban legend over the years, fueled also by Curtis’ later inability to bear children. “The tabloids wrote things like that about her and it was unbelievable to see her go through something like that,” recalls MacKinnon. “Everyone who was around her could see what a beautiful woman she was.”

Like the final scene of Prom Night, where Curtis’ face was eerily twisted in a state of warped convulsion, Curtis’ reaction to Kenny’s kiss is just as horrific and raw, with her lips contorted and quivering in response to the perverse act. Curtis’ masculine, raw sexuality is on full display during these final scenes. With her hair frazzled, her face covered with terror, her makeup dripping all over her face, Curtis appears like a caged, seething animal who’s no longer preoccupied with grief over her murdered friends, nor any possible thoughts of revenge, but is instead focused on basic survival. These images represent Jamie Lee Curtis, in terms of her scream queen persona, in her most basic and savage form.

Although the final confrontation between Alana and Kenny represents the end of the film, it wasn’t the end of Terror Train’s filming. On the last day of filming, a skeleton crew traveled to New Hampshire to film the icy exterior sequence where Kenny hurtles out of the train and then falls into an icy ravine which is seemingly his final resting place. Art director Guy Comtois played the killer as he’s floating lifelessly in the icy water because the stuntman who was supposed to do the scene became scared of the freezing water and kept trying to swim instead of playing dead.

Curtis’ last day of work on Terror Train was the filming of Terror Train’s origin sequence, the prank sequence that drives Kenny crazy, which was shot on December 22, 1979, Terror Train’s second to last day of production. This is the opening scene in the film, where young pledge Kenny Hampson is duped by Hart Bochner and the rest of the nasty frat members into thinking he’s going to have sex with Curtis in the upstairs bedroom of the frat house. This scene, Curtis’ last filmed scene, was shot inside a real frat house located across the street from Montreal’s McGill University where the film opens.

By this time, Spottiswoode had grown impatient with the inexperienced Derek MacKinnon who in turn thought Spottiswoode was trying to make his life hell. “He wasn’t an actor; he was a transvestite from the streets of Montreal, and he wasn’t familiar with the concepts of a contract and showing up for work on time,” recalls Spottiswoode who allowed Caryl Wickman to work closely with Curtis and MacKinnon for this scene. “In a strange way though he did a pretty good job. He was familiar with that world of cheap theater and was strangely effective.”

Before the scene in the frat house was shot, Curtis went upstairs to the bedroom to prepare for the scene. MacKinnon was downstairs, preparing for the scene with Wickman who’d grown close to MacKinnon along with Curtis and the rest of the cast who found Wickman’s presence invaluable. “Roger wanted me to go upstairs naked for the scene and I was very nervous about that until Caryl talked him out of it,” recalls MacKinnon. “Another strange thing that happened was that Hart Bochner and the rest of the cast, including David Copperfield who’d actually flown back in from Los Angeles just for the end of filming, were all sitting downstairs on a couch when I went upstairs to do the scene with Jamie. Hart told me to ‘break a leg’ before I walked upstairs to face Jamie. I was very nervous about the whole thing, and so was Jamie.”

In the bedroom scene, Kenny walks into the darkened room where he hears Curtis’ sexy voice imploring him to move over to the bed and to “kiss me.” When Kenny moves to the bed, he doesn’t find Alana’s warm body in the bed but rather a decomposed cadaver that the cruel frat pranksters stole from a University lab. Kenny then freaks out and has a nervous breakdown while Curtis, who co-star Howard Busgang recalls being “very nervous” prior to the filming of the scene, watches in stunned horror.

The cadaver was played by a young Montreal actress named Nadia Rona who went through five hours of makeup for her scene with Curtis who stood behind the bed and offered Rona encouragement. “They put me on a table and then Jamie and the guy walked into the bedroom,” recalls Rona. “Jamie was very friendly and pleasant, and Roger was also very nice and supportive. We would shoot the scene over and over again and each time the guy, Derek, would keep falling on top of me. That was the worst part for me because he wasn’t very coordinated and he kept doing the scene wrong. Jamie was always behind me and kept asking me if I was okay, almost like she felt protective of me. I could tell she was a very dedicated actress. It took many hours to film the scene, and everyone was tired, and when we finished, we all had a glass of wine.”

This was the last scene Curtis shot in the film, and as was the case at the end of Prom Night’s filming, Curtis flew back to Los Angeles immediately afterwards, anxious to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve back at home. Like Prom Night, the friendships that Curtis had formed on Terror Train with her inexperienced Canadian counterparts would quickly become a distant memory, although Curtis did maintain a correspondence with co-star Timothy Webber for a couple of years after Terror Train’s filming. “When the film came out in 1980, there was a premiere in Montreal and Hart Bochner showed up along with his father but Jamie didn’t show up,” recalls MacKinnon. “I later traveled and did press for the film for a year but I never saw Jamie again.”

This excerpt was taken from the book Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen, which is available in paperback  and on Kindle.

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