The Sleeping Car (1990)
Dir. Douglas Curtis
Written by Greg Collins O’Neill
Starring David Naughton, Judie Aronson, Kevin McCarthy, Jeff Conaway
This is a minor, harmless little movie about what at first appears to be a haunted train car, but turns out to just a haunted couch, I think. Only a few people die and the ghost doesn’t even show up much until the very last act, mostly it’s a movie about David Naughton (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) being a recently divorced guy who goes back to college to try and get his journalism degree. I don’t know if director Curtis (who directed only one other movie in the late 70s, but produced a bunch of fun horror stuff including FREDDY VS. JASON and SHOOT ‘EM UP) had just gotten divorced or if they just were trying to tap into the zeitgeist of the late 80s or what, but the movie definitely thinks this guy is awesome and keeps him supplied with a steady stream of lame one-liners which the direction seems to indicate are charming. Just like Michael Caine in THE HAND, he also almost immediately starts banging a beautiful sexually aggressive co-ed, so good on him, I guess. And also just like Caine in THE HAND, he has some unusual off-campus digs, in this case the converted sleeping car with a murderous past which for some reason is the movie’s title.
The characters are nowhere near as funny and witty as the movie seems to think they are, but they do have a certain good-natured chemistry which makes spending time with them a passable diversion while we wait for the murders. There aren’t many murders, but when they do come there’s a nice gimmick in which the couch kills people using couch springs in a variety of nasty ways. And when the ghost finally gets pissed, the movie successfully converts its irreverent humor into a good high-energy funny/scary GHOSTBUSTERS sort of small-scale effects show. There’s not a ton of tension since you never really think the movie is gonna kill its protagonists, but the offending apparition has a nice design and a few tricks to put the heroes through the wringer before they can win the day.
There’s not a whole lot of memorable material here, but it certainly qualifies as a watchable, inoffensive late 80’s horror / comedy with all the requisite boobs, blood, and banter. By far the most memorable thing, though, is Kevin McCarthy (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS 1958 VERSION) as Naughton’s oddball “white shaman” neighbor. Unlike the other leads, who all seem to be clamoring to see who can say the most "witty" lines the fastest, McCarthy boldly plays it totally deadpan, resulting in easily the most laughs of the film. The other characters don’t seem to have learned this lesson, but in general the film plays it like McCarthy does: not too pushy or flashy, but odd enough to be memorable and competent enough to get the job done.