De spooktrein (1939) Poster


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It's black and white, don't try to hide it
Chip_douglas29 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
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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A fright of ghosts
eabakkum29 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
It is difficult to place the film De spooktrein ("The ghost train") into a certain category. The makers combine elements of horror and detective stories, in the best tradition of Alfred Hitchcock. In addition the narrative allows to engage in character studies, and this is done with a keen sense of humor. So read on. It is especially this elaboration on human interactions, which makes the film worthwhile. In retrospect the plot is predictable (spoiler). The viewer is introduced to passengers on a train. They are fairly comfortable, considering that it is murder on the Orient Express (joke). However they have to change at a remote railway station, and there they miss their connection. Therefore they are forced to spend the night together in the waiting-room. This inconveniences a bunch of smugglers, who use the station for the illegal shipment of machine guns to another country. The smugglers try to drive out the passengers by spreading the rumor that the place is haunted. Each night at twelve a ghost train passes the station. It carries a fright of ghosts (joke), who drag along all people in their vicinity. Of course the passengers are alarmed and feel defenseless. Some become hysterical, others try to assuage their companions. Apparently the company is not open to exciting new experiences. They are a heard of cowards. Perhaps the comparison is misplaced, but the atmosphere reminds me of the passengers in the film Stagecoach, when they hear that the Indians are at war. At first the Indians had reservations, but enough is enough. In the end one of the passengers turns out to be an inspector of the police, who has instructions to catch the smugglers. At the critical moment a motor-cycle police force armed with carabines enters the scene. Unfortunately they are stopped by the machine guns, and the smugglers escape in their private (foreign?) train. However, they are doomed, and their train derails on a bridge. This may indeed be called a happy end and a relief (what trees do in spring). If there is a message, it is the allusion to the poor armament of the Dutch army in comparison to the neighboring Hitler Germany. Subtitles are lacking. Don't hesitate to leave a comment. I love it.
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