Death Ship (UK - DVD)
Not to be confused with Ghost Ship or Event Horizon, says Gabe Powers.
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As a hip and happy cruise ship sales the Caribbean, an evil rust-bucket vessel approaches. The malevolent vessel uses its evil boat powers to attack and sink the cruise ship. Only seven passengers survive, including the captain, who has been seriously injured.
The naive castaways think they're saved when they happen across a ghostly freighter. Little do they know that this former war machine is the same death ship that sunk their first boat. They innocently climb aboard, unaware that they've sealed their fate, and insured their doom. Doom!
Spending my college years bleeding ever major video store in the Phoenix area of their horror movie collections ensured two things: one, I didn't have a girlfriend, and two, I ran out of cult classics pretty quickly. Thanks to John McCarty's Official Splatter Movie Guide volumes one and two, I've carried a list of ultra-violent must-sees around with me for years. The problem is that so many of these lost ‘classics’ aren't available on DVD in the US, so I end up having to import them to see them, and most of them aren't worth the money.
Death Ship has been on my list for a while, and here I've finally gotten the chance to see this elusive little video hit. Now that I've finally seen it I realize my problem is one of expectations. I expected a thrill a minute, classless exploitation movie, filled with gore and little ambition. Instead I got an atmospheric and old fashion thriller, that takes elements of The Shinning and The Poseidon Adventure and riff on them with class. It's actually a pretty good movie. What the hell?
Seriously, this isn't a cheesy gore epic, and I'm pissed. Let's run down a list of all the things wrong with Death Ship:
1. It features a bunch of solid actors (George Kennedy and Richard Crenna front the cast).
2. When a character hears a scary sound they walk away from it and get help.
3. There is only one bloody, naked woman the entire movie. The entire movie!
4. Four characters die of suffocation (drowning or strangulation). That's not very violent.
5. It's called Death Ship, instead of Evil Nazi Boat, which is obviously a better title.
At least the budget is low, there are some skeletons with gross, rotten flesh on their bones, and there's a whole lot of unnecessary slow motion. Next time the filmmakers might want to trade all the middle aged people for some nubile and busty teenagers, and all the atmospheric creepiness for some grotesque blood and guts. One naked woman in a shower spurting blood just isn't gonna do it.
On a serious note, when I reviewed the Italian release of Galaxy of Terror I mentioned that large sections of the plot had been taken by Paul Anderson for Event Horizon, a film mostly accepted as the director's best (relatively speaking). Now that I've seen Ghost Ship, oops, I mean Death Ship I know the real source of Anderson's inspiration. Or you know, thievery. Whatever... The films are so similar they both pop up on Amazon.co.uk when you do a Death Ship search.
‘At least it's anamorphically enhanced’, the box art should read. It's dirty, it's grimy, it's like watching 8mm projected on a lumpy brown wall, but at least it's anamophically enhanced. The image is obviously damaged, and artefacts flicker about with wild abandon, but honestly it doesn't deplete very much from the viewing experience. The colours are accurate, if a little dark, and details are sharp enough that I was never unclear on what was happening. The transfer isn't going to win any awards, and Nucleus isn't winning any comparisons to Blue Underground or Anchor Bay, but I'm really not all that disappointed.
Inadvertent hilarity is what makes a great bad movie, but as I've already noted, Death Ship somehow isn't a bad movie. There is one valuable case of inadvertent hilarity here though, and it's in the soundtrack. At the beginning of the film the music spikes into super dramatic mode every time we cut to the outside of the doomed cruise ship, then falls silent when we cut back inside. Comic gold.
Anyway, we've got two Mono tracks, one labelled Dolby Digital, the other PCM. They sound more or less identical. I understand the sentiment behind the uncompressed PCM track, but it's really a waste of disc space. The sound is clean considering the source, but both tracks peak pretty regularly and these peaks are a bit distorted. Because it's a Mono track things get a little cluttered, and the track is flat.
I've got plenty of well restored and remixed B-horror releases on my shelves, but so many of them are nearly bare in the special features arena. This Nucleus release is full of love and information.
The first extra is a rather intellectually rooted commentary track with director Alvin Rankoff and the author of English Gothic (the film is a UK/Canada co-production), Jonathan Rigby. Rankoff is pretty mean to the film, but still manages to remember what happened on set, and Rigby (also not a real fan of the feature) is full of all sorts of back-story information. Rigby is very well prepared, and a good moderator. The track is runs out of steam a bit at the end, but there is very little silence, and I learned quite a bit.
The meatiest extra is the fort-two minute documentary, entitled ‘Stormy Seas: The Journey from Blood Star to Death Ship’. Chapter one is all about director Alvin Rakoff's basic disinterest in the subject, original writer Jack Hill's ( Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Big Bird Cage, Switchblade Sisters) basic anger at the project being ripped from his hands (he includes a reading of his producer's script notes), and everyone's shock that the film has a cult following. It's all very similar to the even more in depth story behind Alien on that DVD. The focus moves onto the actors, who everyone seems to agree were great. Then there's some talk of the 'infamous' shower of blood scene, and the anecdotes continue so on and so forth. I'm frankly shocked at how much these guys remember about such a minor film. It's a very pleasant little documentary.
The deleted scenes are from an alternate Canadian video cut. These brief scenes are pretty low quality, but include subtitles for those of us that don't want to deal with the garbled Betamax dialogue. None of these scenes are particularly interesting, but their inclusion is important for completion’s sake. The proceeding notes thank a message board poster on DVDManiacs.com for the footage, which made me smile. The internet works.
Next is a selection of pages from Jack Hill's original script, which is more in keeping with his style of filmmaking (i.e. not subtle). This seems to be more of what I was expecting from the film. The pages aren't flippable, but in slide show form, and sometimes go by a little too fast.
This packed to the gills single disc also houses three fun-time trailers, a smashing gallery of poster press book and video art from around the world (man did Ghost Ship rip them off), a note on the video quality of the disc, letting us know this was really the best they could do with what they had, and a trailer reel for other Nucleus releases.
Not exactly what I expected from such a well spoken for cult item, Death Ship may appeal even to those uninterested in underground horror gems. This DVD, though lacking a bit in video quality, is fully stuffed with entertaining extra features.
Check out my friends at Xploitedcinema.com for this and other cult horror releases.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 26th March 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English, PCM 2.0 Mono English
Extras: Director/Author Commentary, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Original Story, Trailers, Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Cast: George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso, Sally Ann Howes, Kate Reid
Length: 87 minutes
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