For all your cult film, tv, cartoon, comic and video game needs

The Polar Express – A Christmas Horror!

Robert Zemeckis 2004 film ‘The Polar Express’ was in the main panned by critics on release and was not as successful as distributors Warner Brothers would have liked. It has since garnered a cult following and is a mainstay of the Christmas TV listings. Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book of the same name it was clearly aimed at the family market and it the UK received a ‘U’ (Universal) rating. Look just beyond its family friendly persona and a dark heart beats within.

For those of you who are younger than this old hack there is a possibility that ‘The Polar Express’ was the first horror film you encountered. Even though the intro to the film is a gentle family scene with a soothing Tom Hanks voiceover, it soon changes tonally once the train itself arrives.

The shaking of the child’s room and exploding radiator owe a debt to films such as ‘The Poltergeist’. This is quickly followed by a scene where the boy runs out to meet the train, as the steam clears a new character is revealed; now we’re heading into ‘The Exorcist’ territory.

So now we’ve met the train conductor, but there’s something not quite right about him. For a large part of the film the children aboard the train  do not fully trust him, to the point they even think he will throw one of them off the moving train for losing their ticket. The are they or aren’t they trustworthy character is a common factor in the horror genre.

As the journey continues our hero ventures to the roof of the train; here he encounters a tramp. The tramp is sinister and seems unbalanced. On top of this he has supernatural powers and even a ghostly back story. He will later use a puppet scare our hero as he ventures through the carriage of abandoned toys. How many horror films have creepy looking old dolls that could come alive at any minute?

Once at the North Pole the horror continues. Santa’s city is a maze of narrow alleys and industrial zones. Old time carols and Christmas songs crackle across the PA system occasionally sticking on a line as the vinyl record is scratched. The elves seem gruff in their manner and not the happy bouncy elves of most Children’s fiction. Their journey through the city is fraught with danger and they even end up trapped in Santa’s giant sack (make your own jokes).

The reveal of Santa should offer some relief, but even this is a mix of slow downed action and noises. The overall effect is quite disorienting and unnerving. This is quite a prolonged scene and it’s only Santa himself that offers us relief from this moment, which it almost feels like a gift.

‘The Polar Express’ is by far one of the most special and unusual family Christmas films of this century. Its use of motion capture would even have an influence on the making of on James Cameron’s 2009 film ‘Avatar’. Truly it’s a film that deserves repeat viewings and a great introduction to the world of horror for your children.

Related Posts
Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999)

Based on Marilyn Sadler and Roger Bollen's book of the same name, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century was directed by Kenneth Johnson and set in the year 2049. It Read more


Originally running between 1977-1979 for 108 episodes, Yatterman succeeded Time Bokan and followed what happened after fragments of a mysterious stone known as the Skull Stone are scattered across the Read more

Welcome to Paradox

Debuting in 1998 and running for thirteen episodes, Welcome to Paradox was an anthology show where all the stories took place in the fictional future city of Betaville although the Read more

Welcome to Marwen trailer released

Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis directs Steve Carell in the moving true story of one broken man’s fight as he discovers how artistic imagination can restore the human spirit. Read more

Timecrimes (2007)

Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Timecrimes (aka Los Cronocrímenes) is a Spanish science-fiction thriller. In the documentary Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD Nacho Vigalondo credits 2000 AD comic magazine Read more

The Witches trailer released

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, The Witches is a reimagining of Roald Dahl’s beloved story for a modern audience, Zemeckis’s visually innovative film tells the darkly humorous and heartwarming tale of Read more

The Rise of Skywalker – One 40 Something’s ‘Obsessed Fanboy’ pre-release thoughts…

No one likes an 'I told you so', so let's get the unpleasant bit out of the way. I told you so. Back in Feb 2018, whilst I was still Read more

The Maze (1953)

Directed by William Cameron Menzies, The Maze was 3-D horror film that deals with teratology and prenatal phylogenetic evolution. It begins when Scotsman Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) abruptly ends his Read more

The legacy of Santa Claus: The Movie

Santa Claus: The Movie was supposed to be the holiday hit of 1985. Such was the confidence that farther and son producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind had managed to get Read more

The Herculoids

Somewhere out in space live The Herculoids! Zok, the laser-ray dragon! Igoo, the giant rock ape! Tundro, the tremendous! Gloop and Gleep, the formless, fearless wonders! With Zandor, their leader, Read more

%d bloggers like this: