"Are you telling me that an ape that lived 2 million years ago got out of that crate, killed the baggage man and put him in there? Then locked everything up neat and tidy and got away?"
"Yes, I am! It's alive! It must be!"
-Doctor Wells and Sir Alexander Saxton
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing did numerous films together. Although their most famous teamings were with Hammer films, they also did a number of non-Hammer movies. Indeed, their first teaming was in Laurence Oliver's Hamlet (1948), although they shared no scenes together.
As Hammer began its slow decline in the 1970s, Lee and Cushing were still in demand, mostly in the horror field. One film which proved memorable was this Spanish production. Interestingly, Lee, Cushing, and their co-star Telly Savalas were the only ones on the production who spoke English.
Lee plays Sir Alexander Saxton, a respected anthropologist who, in 1906 China, heads back to Europe on the Trans-Siberian Express with his latest find: the frozen remains of a primitive humanoid creature.
He is joined on the train by his nosy colleague/competitor Dr. Wells (Cushing) and his sarcastic aide Miss Jones (Alice Reinhart). Wells attempts to see what Saxton has unearthed by bribing the baggage man into taking a look inside the crate the find is in. Not long afterward, the baggage man is found dead in the crate and the relic is nowhere to be found.
Wells and Saxton put their differences aside in order to locate the creature, which they assume has been thawed out and on a rampage. These suspicions prove correct when it kills several men who work for the train's security officer, Inspector Mirov (Julio Pena).
A unique twist is when Saxton and Wells inspect the baggage man's body and realize that the creature kills people by essentially draining their minds, causing the victims' eyes to become completely white, as if they were boiled and their brains to become "smooth as a baby's bottom," as Miss Jones puts it. This leads the protagonists to theorize that the creature is, in fact, an extraterrestrial who first arrived on our planet in prehistoric times.
The creature eventually takes over the body of Mirov after he seemingly guns it down. This enables the creature to kill the Siberian authorities led by one Captain Kazan (Savalas) when the train makes a stop once news of the murders is wired to them.
With more and more victims to its name, the creature is ultimately able to resurrect them all as zombies before Wells, Saxton, and a few others manage to destroy them all by separating themselves from the bulk of the train as it plummets down a cliff.
Lee and Cushing are as charismatic a team as ever here and the 'body taken over' motif and the fact that the creature is not a prehistoric man but an extra-terrestrial who arrived on earth many centuries ago no doubt inspired the direction John Carpenter took his great version of The Thing (1982).
I also liked the theme music by John Cacavas, which is whistled over the main title sequence and by several of the characters during the course of the film.