Well, since I was in the mood for a horror movie, I thought that I’d take a look at a film from 2002 that is quite literally called “Ghost Ship” (I wonder what it could be about?).
If I remember rightly, I noticed this film mentioned in film magazines and sitting on shop shelves back in the day and was intrigued by it. Unfortunately, I was only about fourteen or fifteen at the time and many of the video shops nearby had an annoying habit of asking for ID. As nostalgic as I sometimes get about the early 2000s, I’m so glad that I’m not a teenager any more.
Anyway, out of curiosity and nostalgia, I ended up buying a second-hand DVD of this film a couple of weeks before preparing this review. To my delight, not only did this film arrive in one of those wonderfully old-school cardboard and plastic DVD cases, but it also contained this utterly awesome lenticular cover art which makes a skull appear when you tilt it slightly 🙂 Seriously, I miss the heyday of physical media 🙂
So, let’s take a look at “Ghost Ship”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (and a CREEPY SKELETON. Wooooo!).
The film begins in 1962, on board the luxurious Italian cruise liner S.S Antonia Graza. There is a lavish party, complete with big band and glamourous singer, and all of the passengers are enjoying the festivities. Well, everyone except for a young girl sitting on the deck who finds the whole thing utterly boring. Eventually, the ship’s kindly captain takes pity on her and invites her to onto the dancefloor on the ship’s front deck. Meanwhile, someone lurking in the shadows pulls a lever.
Suddenly, the lights on deck begin to explode. A high-tension metal cable breaks loose and scythes its way across the deck – slicing and dicing all of the dancers except for the young girl, who survives by virtue of being very short. Then, in classic horror movie fashion, she lets out a loud scream.
We then flash forwards to the Bering Sea in 2002. A rough and ready salvage crew on board the Arctic Warrior are towing a dilapidated ship back to port when it starts to take on water. Captain Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) and a couple of the crew are eager to let it sink, but tough-as-nails crew member Epps (Julianna Margulies) thinks that she can weld the breach in time. After lots of high-wire acrobatics and some tense moments, she manages to plug the hole with the help of a couple of her friends.
Back at port, Murphy isn’t really that annoyed about Epps disobeying orders. After all, the team have made a big pile of money from the old ship and are spending some of it in a neon-lit dive bar. Suddenly, a mysterious man approaches their table. He’s a sea-rescue pilot who has spotted a cruise ship adrift at sea and is willing to tell them where it is in exchange for both a cut of the profits and a place on the salvage expedition.
The crew agree to his terms and set sail. And, after some mysterious issues with the radar, they almost crash into the floating remains of the S.S Antonia Graza. It’s covered in rust and appears to be slowly sinking. Strangest of all, there doesn’t seem to be anyone left on board. It’s almost like some kind of ghost ship…
One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, before I started watching it, I was in a fairly glum mood. By the end credits, I had a huge grin on my face 🙂
Yes, it’s a fairly cheesy mid-budget horror B-movie which is about as scary as a kitten and also includes some angsty late 1990s/early 2000s Nu metal music too. But, this stuff is what makes this film so enjoyable. It’s a gloriously fun “so bad that it’s good” horror movie with a lot of personality, a sense of humour and a wonderful atmosphere. It’s also a reassuring relic from a rose-tinted time when films like this actually appeared in cinemas and survival horror videogames were regularly being released for the Playstation 2.
And, yes, this film is a survival horror videogame at heart 🙂 It takes place in a self-contained location like the old “Resident Evil” videogames (and the first “Resident Evil” film) and it is filled with wonderfully rusty, dilapidated and gloomy set designs that wouldn’t be out of place in one of the old “Silent Hill” games. And, although I haven’t played it, the “abandoned ship” idea was also used as a premise for a game released in 2005 called “Cold Fear“. Not to mention that the 2001 Game Boy Color game “Resident Evil: Gaiden” (anyone remember that?) also takes place on a creepy old ship too. This film is wonderfully evocative of late 1990s/early-mid 2000s survival horror games 🙂
Although this is a film that will probably only scare you if it is the very first horror movie you’ve ever watched, I still really loved the film’s horror elements. There’s a good mixture of ghostly apparitions, ominous locations, gory moments, some mild psychological horror and even a couple of gloriously corny jump scares that are more unintentionally funny than anything else 🙂
All of this is handled with a knowing theatricality and a gleefully dark sense of humour which more than makes up for the lack of actual scariness here 🙂 Plus, like with 1980s monster novels, half of the fun of a film like this is the fact that you get to feel like an absolute badass when you find yourself totally un-scared by the film’s “horrifying” events.
The film’s special effects, pacing and direction play a large role in this “fun horror” atmosphere. Not only is the reveal of the film’s (utterly silly) film noir-style backstory directed like a cheesy, rapidly-edited music video but even the gruesome opening scene is played as much for hilarious dark comedy (with body parts moving independently of their owners etc…) as it is for actual horror.
Although this film isn’t quite as ultra-gory as I was expecting, this allows many of the film’s grisly and/or bloody moments to have a slightly slapstick quality to them which just adds to the film’s charm.
Add to this the fact that this film mostly consists of “build up” – with the horror elements only seriously coming to the forefront during the last 20-30 minutes, the fact that it has random moments with Nu metal music that are completely at odds with the gothic “1960s” horror atmosphere and the fact that it also concludes with a gloriously silly and random plot twist … and you have a film that – whilst it won’t actually scare you – is just fun to watch. It’s a gloriously cheesy “so bad that it’s good” late-night horror movie that will put a huge grin on the face of anyone with even a vaguely dark sense of humour 🙂
And, yes, this film is funny. In addition to various lines of dialogue, the cheesy neon pink font used in the opening credits, a couple of “laugh out loud” gross-out moments/jump scares and several moments of grisly dark comedy, this film also contains a brilliant parody of a popular horror trope from the early 2000s too. Although the ghostly child that appears on the ship is initially presented in the same “creepy” way that you would expect from other early 2000s horror movies like “The Ring” and “Resident Evil”, she actually turns out to be one of the good guys later in the film. Seriously, I was not expecting this and it certainly made me laugh.
Another awesome thing about this film is the characters. Although you shouldn’t expect in-depth characterisation here, the fact that the main characters are a rough group of salvage hunters means that they are just fun to hang out with. They make corny jokes about each other, listen to cheesy Nu metal, drink beer etc… and are just generally the complete opposite of the boringly “prim and proper” main characters who often turn up in older horror movies. You get a real feeling of friendship and camaraderie in this film that is an absolute joy to experience.
The best characters are either a hilariously comedic metalhead called Munder or the film’s protagonist, Epps, who actually comes across as a more understated and realistic version of the typical Ellen Ripley-style protagonist you’d expect in a horror thriller. Imagine Starbuck from the 2000s remake of “Battlestar Galactica” and this should give you a vague idea of the kind of cool character she is. Plus, the film’s villain is a wonderfully corny “evil for the sake of evil” character who is quite literally working for the devil. Scary? No. Hilarious? Yes 🙂
And, talking of awesome stuff, I cannot praise this film’s set design and lighting highly enough. Not only does the ruined cruise ship look intriguingly creepy and gothic, but the film is also filled with lots of wonderfully atmospheric lighting that is gloomy enough to create atmosphere whilst also being bright enough to let you actually see what is going on. As I mentioned earlier, this is the kind of film that – visually – wouldn’t be out of place in an old survival horror videogame and it is a glorious visual feast for anyone with a vaguely gothic sensibility and/or memories of when mainstream videogames were better 🙂
All in all, this film was an absolute joy to watch 🙂 It’s a gloriously fun “so bad that it’s good” horror B-movie that is wonderfully evocative of both old survival horror videogames and the early 2000s in general. Yes, it’s a lot more likely to make you laugh than scream, but this is part of the film’s charm. It’s a film that has personality, a sense of humour and lots of entertaining macabre silliness. It’s the cinematic equivalent of one of those old monster novels from the 1980s. Seriously, I miss the days when films like this were a lot more common.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four. It is quite literally “so bad that it’s actually good” 🙂