Ghost Ship Review
Read an alternative review by Eamonn McCusker (Region 2 DVD)
Ghost Ship is the kind of pleasant surprise that makes regular movie-going worthwhile. On paper, it looks like just another derivative horror flick but this one comes with some style, a dark sense of humour and even a few ideas of its own. It's a labour of love for its producers, who include Robert Zemeckis, director of Back To The Future and Cast Away, and Joel Silver, producer of Die Hard and The Matrix. Together with co-producer Gilbert Adler, they've dedicated themselves to keeping alive the spirit of 1950s horror. With the Tales From The Crypt TV series and its spin-off movies Demon Knight and Bordello Of Blood, they aimed to resurrect the grisly humour of EC comics. Later, forming Dark Castle Entertainment, they remade two William Castle exploitation pictures - House On Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts. They've had mixed success. Tales From The Crypt was a good show but the films were just overproduced exercises in special effects and noise. This time however, they've got it right.
The film opens splendidly. An old-fashioned Warner Bros logo, period music and credits establish the time and place - a luxury cruise ship crossing the Atlantic in the early sixties, where a beautiful, raven-haired crooner serenades the wealthy and the decadent. It's the set-up for one of the goriest and most memorable scenes ever to appear in a mainstream horror film. I'll say no more - critics who've spoiled it should suffer the same fate as the passengers. One of the pleasures of Ghost Ship is its refusal to display the usual major studio restraint towards violence, horror and sex. In these PG-13 times, here is a movie determined to push the limits of the R rating. It certainly earns its British 18!
Moving forward to the present day, we meet the crew of the salvage tug Arctic Warrior, captained by salty old sea-dog Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne), who have just put into port after a long time at sea. Their planned shore leave is interrupted by coast guard pilot Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington), who has a proposition for them - he's spotted a large vessel floating adrift in the Bering Sea and offers to take them there for a percentage of the bounty. The ship turns out to be the Antonia Graza, an Italian liner which disappeared without trace in 1962. It appears completely deserted until strange things start happening and the crew start seeing people who couldn't possibly be there.
So far this could just be a nautical twist on that worn out horror movie premise of the scary old house haunted by a malevolent presence, which we've all seen countless times, sometimes transplanted to hotels (The Shining), trenches (Deathwatch) and space ships (Event Horizon). Although Ghost Ship does show worrying signs of taking that route, with familiar scenes of characters wandering about alone and encountering strange phenomena, in the second half the film plots a pleasingly different course and even shows signs of intelligence and wit. Instead of some vague evil entity, there's a surprisingly well thought out villain with a logical purpose. The ending is marred slightly by under-budgeted special effects but is otherwise satisfying and the final twist is darkly amusing and in keeping with the spirit of the movie.
Gabriel Byrne makes a fine cap'n, though I wish the great Irish actor had been given more to do. Julianna Margulies, who played George Clooney's favourite nurse on ER, makes a strong impression as Byrne's tough-but-sensitive right-hand woman and Desmond Harrington is also effective in his supporting role. Steve Beck is not a great director - like a lot of filmmakers today, he could ease up with the scissors - but he does a decent enough job, especially with the show-stopping opening. Ghost Ship is marvellously shameless trash and, if they still released double-bills, it would make a perfect companion for Deep Rising, another blood-soaked B-movie treat set on a deserted ocean liner.