Night Train

Les Bernstien's existential 1998 thriller evokes 50s film noir even as it giddily fulfills the criteria for an underground item; with its seedy milieu, scummy characters, and deliberately patchy narrative, it's clearly the work of a febrile imagination with no budget. Joe Butcher, a gruff loser played by paunchy John Voldstad, crosses the border to Tijuana searching for a bag of greenbacks and a brother who sells snuff films, and his sordid nightmare journey brings him in contact with a Mexican spitfire, a grizzled drunk, a villainous dwarf, and an obese sexpot. Bernstien, a Hollywood visual-effects veteran, goes after the visceral sensations of life in a lawless border town, with helter-skelter camera angles and frenzied montages. The press materials for this impressive debut call it a grade-Z Touch of Evil, but it's closer to Edgar G. Ulmer (Murder Is My Beat) in its unconventional ingenuity.

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