Thank the Great Pumpkin for Dark Castle Entertainment. For three of the last four
years, they've put out late October films. The House on Haunted Hill
, and now Ghost Ship
. They're not great movies. You
might argue that they aren't even good movies. But they are horror movies. Not
limp faux horror like Urban Legend
or I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the Summer
. Not pervy sado-sleaze like FearDotcom
. And not beat-a-long-dead-horse
franchise pictures (are you listening, Michael Myers?) or dig-up-a-corpse-and-make-it-dance
desecrations ('Oooh, I've a great idea. Let's make a sequel to Carrie!
Okay, so the Dark Castle flicks do follow a certain formula of their own. Strand
seven or so people in a confined space, and then unleash the angry supernatural
forces. It's the Gilligan's Island school of horror film-making. In this
one, the salvage crew of the Arctic Warrior think they've hit paydirt when
they find the abandoned hulk of a 40-year-old ocean liner (hands on board include
Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies from E.R., and Karl Urban, who'll be
playing Eomer in the next two Lord of the Rings movies). But, well, unluckily
for them, the name of the movie is Ghost Ship.
Steve Beck, who directed 13 Ghosts, is also at the helm of Ghost Ship.
Beck's visual style is all about glam gore. 13 Ghosts was never truly horrifying,
and only occasionally scary or intense, but its saving grace was that Beck excels
at creating creepy and (blood)slick visuals. Nestled among some of 13 Ghosts
more mundane stock-horror detritus (stock characters, mediocre dialogue, poor
plotting) were some truly gruesome little masterpiece sequences, painted by an
artiste whose favorite colors are red, red, and red, and who wields a chainsaw-sized
brush with as much intricacy as a surgeon with a scalpel. I've never been a fan
of clumsy hack-and-slash gore. But give me something that has me saying 'Ewwww,
gross!' and 'Ooooh, cool!' at the same time, and I'm as happy as Elizabeth Bathory
soaking in a sauna of type O negative.
I don't know if Beck directs music videos, but if he doesn't, he should. The two
most effective sequences in Ghost Ship are set to music, one at the opening
of the film, and one near the end. The second sequence in particular achieves
a kind of melodramatic scarlet-spattered poetry that far surpasses anything in
Which is why it's too bad that most of the rest of the film is so very very average.
We've seen the 'trapped ragtag group get picked off one by one' thing many many
times before (the Aliens movies,
Below,Event Horizon, and other movies I barely remember, like
Leviathan and DeepStar Six. There are ways to make these types of
movies work. You make the audience feel what it's like to be trapped in a danger-lurks-around-every-corner
situation (Romero's Living Dead movies). You create characters so likable
that the audience roots for them, and really cares if they die (which is one of
the reasons I think Aliens works better than Alien. The space marines
I really liked, while I couldn't give a red shi(r)t for the dull-ass victims-in-waiting
crew of the Nostromo). And, if you can't get the audience to care about
the characters, at least make their deaths so elaborate or wicked that the theater
erupts with 'Ewwww's, applause, screams, or nervous laughter.
The crew in Ghost Ship are competently acted, but none of the characters
really had enoughÖ wellÖ character to make me care about their fate. I mean, they
seemed nice and all, but I didn't miss any of them when they were gone, or scream
out 'No, don't kill [insert character's name here]!' And, aside from one ghost-related
fatality, the main characters' deaths are uninteresting, and even handled in a
sort of casual, off-handed way.
As for making the audience feel trapped on the Ghost ShipÖ well, it's not
so great on that level either. There were parts that were scary, but could have
been scarier, and parts that should have been scarier, but just weren't.
On the balance, Ghost Ship has fewer flaws than 13 Ghosts, but it
also has fewer good bits.
Which is not to say that Ghost Ship doesn't have its moments. Aside from
the two strong music sequences, there's also the captain's cabin, the meat locker,
and the spontaneous reconstruction of the ballroom (which is the centerpiece of
the movie's TV trailers). Ghost Ship also gets bonus points because the
explanation for the ship's supernaturalness (That's actually a word. My Spellcheck
says so.) is a slight departure from the usual restless spirit stuff. The 'explanation'
is a little obtuse, maybe even ridiculous, but so what? It caught me by surprise,
and that's the way I like it.
If you're looking for horrifying Halloween treat, your best bet is
The Ring. But if you already gobbled that up, then Ghost Ship
might have just enough of the sticky sweet stuff (blood, that is) to put a grin
on your grill.