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Remember those fabulous trailers from the thirties and forties that feature headline like blurbs of text flying at you from the screen, usually in the form of questions? Well, after a truncated opening credits, we are treated to a whole bunch of stuff to read at the start of De Spooktrein. The lines in question seem to be testing the reader (the audience) to see if they believe in ghost, and insure that they will by the end of the picture. Then it leads into a handy introduction of the cast, complete with specially filmed head-shots and brief descriptions of their characters. Also, the music changes drastically between each person. Right from the start, you know you're in for a fun ride with this Ghosttrain, even if the super natural elements turn out to be rather exaggerated by whoever wrote these wonderful lines...
Based on Arnold Ridley's oft filmed play, the setting is changed to the deserted station of Valkenrade during the night of 24 July (presumably in the year 1939, though this is never stated). A group of travelers are stranded there after their previous train got delayed by happy go lucky Ted. He was the one who pulled the emergency brake at the request of Miss Borneman, after throwing her beloved parrot Klaartje out of a window. Now they are stranded at the station, together with magician Professor Alberto and his brand new and rather clumsy assistant Corrie, newlyweds Mieke & Eddie and doctor Looman. The old stationmaster immediately tells them they cannot stay the night, for the place is haunted by a ghost train that had an accident there exactly 20 years earlier. However, with no other transport nearby and a terrible rainstorm pouring down, the travelers have no choice but to stay.
So, jolly Ted puts up a puppet show, Prof. Alberto tries to do some magic and the distraught Miss Borneman discovers her nerves can be soothed by the doctor's little flask of cognac. Several strange and scary things occur, and not all of them can be accounted to Teddy's careless tricks. Then suddenly Dr Looman's patient, Julia van Dongen arrives, followed by her brother, who offers them the use of their car. Of course Teddy swiftly drives the car into a lake. These people just can't catch a break! To go any further into the story would spoil too much but needless to say, Ridley's play strikes a fine balance between humor and frights. I was surprised to see this Dutch production to successfully move into Universal horror territory, or at least copy the feeling and ambiance accordingly.
Czech director Carl Lamac (or Karel as he is billed here), yet another director roaming Europe in the thirties because of growing antisemitism, handles the material very well. Of the cast, Lies de Wind (newlywed Mieke) is probably the most recognizable to modern viewers, having made many television appearance up till the early nineties in programs such as De Poppenkraam, Prettig Geregeld and Goede Tijden Slechte Tijden. Although the running is only just over an hour, every character gets to do their own little bit. However, I did notice that the high strung character of Miss Borneman (Sara Heyblom) was effectively taken out of the equation by king alcohol about midway through, only to be replaced by the completely different, but equally hysterical character Julia (Fientje de la Mar).
Let's end this review with the immortal lyrics written and sung by Suggs of 'Madness' in 'Waiting for the Ghost Train: "But don't tell me there's nothing coming, you don't fool me. I hear the ghost train rumbling along the tracks - set them free".
8 out of 10
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