Tag Archives: Ernest Borgnine

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE (1973)

AKA Emperor Of The North

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DIRECTED BY: Robert Aldrich

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT: A maniac conductor sadistically stalks hobos along his Depression era freight, smashing their skulls with a club hammer when they try to ride the rails.  NO ONE rides his Number 19 train for free.  Evil incarnate, he exists only to hunt men.

Still from Emperor of the North Pole (1973)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Emperor Of The North Pole may not have the requisite look, feel, or scary music, but it is very much a horror movie.  Instead of the supernatural, the monsters are men.  The killer is no cloaked slasher striking by night, but a crazy-eyed, obsessed railroad man, insane with twisted rage, filled with frothing blood lust, armed with cruel and unusual instruments of punishment.  He gets his kicks by smashing in skulls and he strikes in broad daylight unrestrained, with complete impunity.  This incongruency—a horrifying film that masquerades as a suspense drama by telling an unconventional, real-world story—makes for an unusual viewing experience.  Add larger-than-life archetypal characters; bizarre, colorful monologues; and a deceptively simple plot about a symbolic evil vs. slightly-less-evil struggle, and the result is a riveting, weird movie.

COMMENTS:  Pastoral Oregon locations set an illusory bucolic tone in the opening shots of Emperor Of The North Pole as a steam locomotive winds its way through rural woodlands.  This is Union Pacific’s Number 19 freight, and it has a madman on board.

It is 1933, the depths of the Great Depression, and 1/4 of Americans are unemployed.  Many of them are literally starving to death.  A mobile army of homeless men roams the country looking for temporary work, stealing rides on the rails.  They are nomads who live by no law but their own, and the Railroad Man is dedicated to their destruction.  On the Portland route, that man is Shack (Borgnine), a ruthless conductor who enforces the “paying passengers only” rule with deadly reverence.

Railroads don’t like it when you stow away on board or trespass on their tracks.  Today they employ a battalion of federally licensed, armed railroad detectives to catch you, and these men behave like real bastards when they do.  But in 1933 even the railroads were hard up.  His actions condoned by underfunded, undermanned, corrupt law enforcement, Shack takes the job of controller, making sure that no one rides for free.  Drawing from his own sadistic black book of dirty tricks he patrols his train like a monstrous gargoyle, perpetually on the lookout for bums.

Relentless and Argus-eyed, Shack is a real-life Terminator: he can’t be reasoned with, he can’t be bargained with, he has no mercy to appeal to, he is hard to kill, and he will never, ever stop.  Shack has a savage arsenal of bizarre, creepy weapons at his disposal, but his favorite is the engineer’s heavy, double-headed club mallet.

When Shack, creeping along the speeding 19’s boxcar catwalk, finds Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE (1973)