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Ghost Ship
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Steve Beck (director) and Mark Hanlon (writer)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   October 25, 2002
Review Date:   October 28, 2002
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)
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, 13 Ghosts, 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, Soul Survivors or I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the Summer Before That. 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 13 Ghosts.

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, The Thing, Resident Evil, 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.

RevSF Film/DVD editor Jason Myers once stepped in a big pile of ghost ship. Yuck!

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