Friday, March 15, 2019

#2,502. Death Ship (1980)

Directed By: Alvin Rakoff

Starring: George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso

Tagline: "Those who survive the ghost ship are better off dead!"

Trivia: The setting was the Carribean Sea, but the exterior water filming location was the Gulf of Mexico

Death Ship, a 1980 Canadian-produced horror film, was based on a script written by Jack Hill, the creative mind behind such exploitation classics as Spider Baby, The Swinging Cheerleaders, and Coffy. Though only billed as a story consultant (the final screenplay was penned by John Robins), just seeing Hill’s name in the credits was enough to pique my interest. And while it may lack the exploitative goodness of some of Hill’s directorial efforts, Death Ship is just eerie enough to hold your attention. 

A jam-packed luxury cruise liner, scheduled to return to dock in three days’ time, is rammed and destroyed by a ship that seemingly appeared out of thin air. Those who survived the collision include Captain Ashland (George Kennedy); his second in command Captain Marshall (Richard Crenna); Marshall’s wife Margaret (Sally Ann Howes) and their two children (Jennifer McKinney, Danny Higham); Crewman Nick (Nick Mancuso) and his girlfriend Lori (Victoria Burgoyne); an elderly widow named Sylvia (Kate Reid); and ship’s entertainer Jackie (Saul Rubinek). Together, this ragtag group climbs aboard the boat that hit them, which appears to be an abandoned World War II-era German warship. The survivors make the best of the situation, searching for food and a radio to call for help, all the while wondering what happened to the crew of this ominous vessel. 

It isn’t until people start to die, however, that Captain Marshall and the others realize they may not be alone after all, and that whoever (or whatever) is in control of this ship won’t rest until every last one of them is dead. 

Death Ship doesn’t get off to a stellar start. The collision that sinks the cruise ship is underwhelming, to say the least (it’s over far too quickly to generate any real tension), and if I somehow found myself aboard an empty warship in the middle of the ocean, I’d be asking a hell of a lot more questions than the characters in this film (like, if the warship is, indeed, abandoned, who dropped the ladder that let us climb aboard?). 

Fortunately, the fright meter jumps a few notches the moment the survivors start to explore their new vessel. Simply put, the German warship is one creepy-ass boat; each corridor is darker and more treacherous than the last, and the living quarters are covered from top to bottom in dust and cobwebs. Even the usual scare tactics you find in just about every ghost story – strange voices, doors and hatches that swing open by themselves – managed to send a shiver up my spine. In addition to its extraordinarily realized setting, Death Ship features a solid performance by George Kennedy as the no-nonsense Captain Ashland, a by-the-books commander who is more than a little susceptible to the German ship’s supernatural forces. 

Though lacking in blood and gore (save one very messy shower scene), Death Ship is an ‘80s horror film that still packs a punch.

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