by Bernard Gordon
As usual, Telly Savalas had to make his own creative contribution to the scenes, especially if that meant stealing the scene from everyone else. One day I had a frantic call to come to the set because Telly, playing the brutal Cossack colonel, was under a blanket making love to a girl in the telegraph station we had situated in the middle of Siberia.
Hurrying to the set and wondering how I could stop Telly from having such a good time, I arrived to find that, in the midst of this freezing Siberian scene, Telly had decided it would be wise to warm himself under a fur robe with the local girl. He wasn't making love to her, scarcely cuddling - a friendly encounter for mutual warmth. I liked it and told the director to shoot it just that way.
Telly came to me one day. "Bernie, you're the luckiest man I've ever met in the film business." This puzzled me. "Not because you're rich," he went on. He assumed that since I was in sole command of this studio opperation I was a least being well paid. I didn't dare tell him that I was still on a meager "expense only" account - it would have lowered me in his estimation. "You're the only one I've met in this business who sends a few pages, a new scene, up to the set, tells us to shoot it, and then gets to see it in the projection room next day. Most writers have to wait months, even years, if they ever get to see their work on the screen, and then it has usually been fucked up. But you get to see it exactly as you've written it immediately."
For all of his screwing around and his shticks, Telly was an exceptionally bright and perceptive man, and he had hit the nail on the head: I had been feeling fortunate for precisely the reason he indicated. I was able to see a scene in the dailies within a day of writing it. I learned which scenes worked and which lay on the screen like dead fish. I learned to distrust reliance on dialogue instead of image.
Mark Miller's book CHRISTOPHER LEE AND PETER CUSHING AND HORROR CINEMA, a filmography of their twenty-two films together, describes HORROR EXPRESS as "the ultimate Lee/Cushing film", praising their performances extravagantly. He also notes, "Savalas plays his small role of an unpredictable, arrogant bulldog for every ruble it's worth and practically steals the film from his two co-stars."