By Diane Hoh.
Hannah is nervous about travelling by train on her class trip from Chicago to San Francisco. But her concerns about claustrophobic corridors and potential derailment pale into insignificance when she and her best friend, Kerry, discover a coffin in the baggage car. Worse still, it turns out to be the coffin of Frog, their reviled classmate, who recently perished in a fiery car accident and is being transported to his parents on the west coast. Mack and Lewis try to reassure their girlfriends by pointing out that Frog’s death – though tragic – renders him incapable of hurting anyone on the train. But as the friends share stories of the various ways in which they mistreated the creepy, delinquent dead boy, Hannah’s own guilt – which she keeps to herself – starts to eat away at her.
Then Frog’s girlfriend, Lolly, is attacked – strangled with a scarf as the train plunges through a dark tunnel. Hannah is the next victim, knocked unconscious and briefly imprisoned in Frog’s coffin. When Mack reports seeing someone who looked just like Frog during a layover in Denver, Hannah becomes convinced that someone else burned up in the car crash, and Frog is on the train, wreaking revenge on those who made his life at Parker High so miserable. It’s only after Lewis gets an ice pick in the collarbone, and their friend Jean Marie disappears, that the others start to believe she may be right.
The storytelling in The Train is tighter than the claustrophobic corridors Hannah hates so much, and once the action gets underway, it continues to gather pace like a runaway locomotive, hurtling towards the devastating conclusion. Even between the vicious attacks on Hannah and her friends, the atmosphere of tension and danger prevails because, on a train, there’s no place to run. Then comes the genuinely shocking twist, which is the most memorable across all of the PHs I have read. As if that wasn’t enough, Hannah’s long-withheld confession sets up an exciting, perilous, mist-drenched finale. A wild ride from start to finish, The Train is, for me, the absolute pinnacle of Point Horror.
The lengthy description of Hannah, trapped, gradually realising where she is and then desperately, and in vain, trying to claw her way out of the coffin as she slides about on the satin, tears her nails on the wooden lid and, eventually, loses consciousness, is absolutely terrifying. As a child, the coffin scared me even more than the brief glimpses of Frog’s corpse which Diane Hoh cleverly describes in brief snatches – his form outlined in the dark on Hannah’s bunk, a tattooed wrist glimpsed through a barely open lid – just enough for our imaginations to fill in the gruesome blanks and conjure up monstrous bugaboos to haunt our sleep. It gave me nightmares back then, and made such an impression that down the years I have always recalled The Train as being my favourite Point Horror. On this re-read, whilst I’m not too concerned about sleepless nights, I still shuddered throughout Hannah’s ordeal, and was genuinely horrified by the ending I knew was coming. Frightening, tragic and fraught with peril, The Train merits no less than a top fear factor rating of…