May 28th, 2023 – As a frequent visitor to Thorpe Park, there’s many attractions in the park I’ve had countless rides on. Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, however, was not one of them. In fact, the only time I would ride DBGT was to show friends who had not experienced it how bad it was. From the glitchy headsets to the awkward plot, the VR experience was hardly a gem in Thorpe’s solid ride line up.
It’s always satisfying when a theme park acknowledges a weak spot and works to improve it. When Thorpe Park recently announced that DBGT would be re-themed to Ghost Train a wave of relief rushed through the enthusiast community. No more unreliable VR! But…how exactly do you re-imagine a ride that was built around those pesky headsets?
The intrigue built up over the closed season, until Thur 25th May when we were invited to preview the brand new Ghost Train.
***SPOILERS FROM HERE ON***
The ride is now an actor-led experience, but you’re not simply walking into a building full of jump scares. The actors lean hard into storytelling, ensuring by the time guests disembark from the first train journey, they all know a couple of things:
– Who The Believers are
– What happened at the seance
– To be extremely wary of the ominous Chapel Station
Guess where the train stops.
The sense of dread created towards Chapel Station is impressive. Riders step off the train into dark corridors reminiscent of the Catacombs in Paris. Skulls line the walls as far as the eye can see, it’s a suitably dark lead up to the rides most memorable scene: The Crypt.
The Crypt is huge dark room, full of wraiths, a coffin and skulls that flash dramatically. It’s steeped in a demonic atmosphere.
Inside this room guests witness a train conductor become possessed, before the music crescendos and a wrath flies across the room above the heads of the crowd. This effect made me scream every single time we rode Ghost Train. It’s very well executed.
Before you have time to recover from the overhead scare, more ground-based wraiths have surrounded you. They ominously appear, seemingly out of nowhere, and the impact is chilling to the bone.
Next we return on to the train for another journey, and here’s where the jump scares kick in. At first I was taken aback by the erratic movements of two train conductors and the possessed sound effects that accompanied this. Then I noticed them. The nuns. Oh god. They appeared either end of the train, lights briefly flashing over them. My brain started to wonder if I had imagined that terrifying face. Nope. Not imaginary. They are most definitely there. And now they’re fast approaching the middle of the carriage.
I adored this scare section. It was so much more than a person jumping out and screaming at you. It created a genuine knot of fear in my tummy. Before you even have time to recover from this, the train switches to black light, highlighting UV symbols about The Believers scrawled all over the train. Here’s where Ghost Train reaches its dramatic climax, assuredly with all guests on board screaming. Those screams quickly turn to laughs as the lights snap back and a ‘See it. Say it. Sorted.‘ audio plays before you exit the train. It’s not often you can go from screaming to giggling in a second but Ghost Train nails this dynamic perfectly.
The final scene takes place within the gift shop. At this point we need to discuss the abundance of easter eggs in this ride. From the moment you enter the queue line to the gift shop, there are so many little nods to the heritage of Thorpe Park – the train stops on the line named after areas in the park, the WWTP radio poster, the train itself is situated on Platform 13. If you know your Thorpe Park history, especially Fright Nights, you’re going to find so many things in Ghost Train that make you smile and point excitedly.
With it’s loving but subtle gaze towards Thorpe fandom, Ghost Train is self referential without feeling contrived.
Another improvement from DBGT to Ghost Train is the meta aspect where a ride acknowledges that it is a ride within its own storyline. DGBT positioned its riders as “thrill seekers at a theme park” from the start of its pre-show. A narrative, which in all honestly, did not aid immersion.
Ghost Train, however, saves the fourth wall breakage for the final scare in the fake gift shop, with Angelus bellowing:
“This isn’t photo redemption, it’s soul redemption!” It ties the final gift shop scene together neatly and once again brings a fun layer of humour to the ride.
It would be easy to reward Ghost Train on the merits of what it’s not. It’s not a VR ride. It’s not an IP ride. It’s not tied to a celebrity. It’s not reliant on screens. And these are all very good things for a dark ride to NOT be.
However, Ghost Train goes far beyond ‘re-imagined ride’ territory and soars into a merit all its own: worlds most unique and immersive Ghost Train. And easily one of the scariest too.
Written by Serena Cherry, CF Social Media Superstar & Goon.