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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.33%
Worth A Look: 26.67%
Average: 6.67%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap53.33%

1 review, 9 user ratings

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Death Ship
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Jason-Masked Rubber Ducky in a Bathtub Instead?"
1 stars

For those wanting to settle in on a rainy Saturday night and get some undemanding pleasure from a horror flick, look elsewhere.

The first seven minutes of the hoary horror movie Death Ship are so atrociously and confusingly put together that it plays like a hastily put-together teaser trailer projected at some rat-hole Times Square theatre with pot-smoking teens in the balcony who wouldn't see fit to pay it any mind. A dark-gray ship on the high seas is given numerous close-ups with ominous-sounding music getting across the basic impression that we're supposed to, you know, find it frightening. Shots of this are interspersed with a nearby cruise ship whose captain is tiredly listening to a nuisance of a passenger ramble on and on about her late dead husband until he's summoned to the bridge by his crew who urgently report to him that that unknown ship is making a swift b-line for them. Before we're even remotely given our bearings through ample spatial logistics that would clearly define where the two ships are in actual relation to each other, we get a frenetic barrage of shoddy images of the ships colliding, tons of water flooding the liner, and bam, out of nowhere, we fast-forward to daylight where the only survivors of the wreckage are eight people in a life raft. (Being that this is a low-budget production, the lower the number of survivors the lower the amount of thespians to be paid, yes?) Three of them are members of the crew, three more the wife and two young children of the second-in-command, and the other two mere passengers. After floating along aimlessly for a while, that sinister ship all but sneaks up on them, and they try boarding it via a ramp that apparently has been lowered to them by the unseen crew, but right away it's clear this is one schizophrenic vessel. The ship, with unmanned motor parts purring away with a Grim Reaper's efficiency and malice, spews oil at the men from one of its orifices as they try to climb a rope ladder after having been thrown off the ramp; they eventually fight their way to topside where they come to the startling realization that, you know, there's something quite wrong here.

The rusted decks look like they haven't been scrubbed in ages, the rooms are adorned with a thick assortment of cobwebs and World War II artifacts, there isn't any food, not a single crew member can be found. A projector starts playing an old B/W movie by itself, nostalgic music comes blaring out of the intercoms, the controls on the bridge operate on their own. Eventually someone says, "This ship seems to have a life of its own." (Gee, ya think?) As it turns out, it's a forty-year-old German vessel where harsh interrogation techniques took place on the orders of Hitler (the music being heard is eventually replaced by tormented shrieks), and its former naval officer's ghost possesses the American captain, transforming him into a dead-eyed, steely-jawed madman determined to serve his new ship and slaughter the others. That's about it for context, except to add when the captain is asked where he intends to sail the ship, he replies, "Eternity." Whoa. It's hard to discern which is more ludicrous: this weak idea for a villain or George Kennedy's godawful performance that's more laughable than laudable. (It's too zombified for camp and too vague to take seriously.) At one point, he seizes an action-bolt rifle and starts shooting at everybody. What's this doing in a movie that's been advertised as a story about a monster ship? To give credit where it's due, cinematographer Rene Verzier (who did fine work in Rabid and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane) occasionally gives us scary-looking exteriors and interiors of the ship (one of the shots at nighttime has a whisper of nightmarish graphic vitality), but they're all but neutralized because the inept director, Alvin Rakoff, is an absolute disgrace at coherently juxtaposing. The camerawork is uncouth and spastic, as if an autistic child had been given a Super 8 and told to let loose -- at one point, we get a long tracking shot with the camera upside down so the blue sky looks like the ocean; and later on a character is alone in a room and the very next shot shows him in another room springing from a table and trying to stab the captain. The camera seems more possessed than the ship and captain combined.

Nothing in Death Ship works. The already-shaky story stops developing at about the halfway mark and doesn't play by any sort of rules. We're told the ship "needs blood," so why does it do its damndest to prevent the three men from coming on board earlier? And given that the title villain is considerably bigger than your typical haunted house, why not use the labyrinth levels of it for the characters to investigate and be methodically picked off by the wide assortment of gadgets the ship's chock-full of? (It's like plopping a character down in an Ebola-virus-infected room and having him suddenly die from an undiagnosed heart condition.) Why is hardly anybody truly scared out of their wits over the ghastly goings-on that make it perfectly clear there's an evil force behind it all? (When the projector starts playing that movie, the ladies and kids just plop into the chairs and start watching and even enjoying it, like they were watching a children's movie at a Cineplex matinee. And, contrary to what one of the mothers advised earlier, they don't stick together in the same room but wander off as if they were in a department store.) Why does a character drown in a fishnet full of decomposed skeletons when all he had to do was tread water and grab the side of the hull? (Did the horrible screams emitting from these bags of bones liquefy his brain?) More so, what is a first-rate actor by the likes of Richard Crenna, who fared better on a ship sixteen years earlier in The Sand Pebbles, doing in a bottom-feeder production like this? Collecting an easy paycheck, yes. (Sleepwalking as if he had molasses in his veins rather than blood, yes, also. He wasn't exactly exemplary in the low-budget haunted house tale The Evil, but at least that underrated little treasure delivered the creepy-crawly goods.) Actually, there is one interesting thing: considering how old the ship is, its light bulbs are still burning bright after all these years --General Electric must be kicking themselves for not taking advantage of a product placement that would be as flat-out flattering as this! Too bad Death Ship makes one long for a cheesy episode of The Love Boat.

Gene Siskel cited this as the Dog of the Week back in the day. Boy, was he right.

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originally posted: 12/08/11 11:23:20
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User Comments

4/21/16 Alistair F. Watched it again recently after sad news of G. Kennedy's passing. Still love it! 4 stars
2/22/12 curt long the worst movie I've ever seen 1 stars
6/21/10 Sarah A great no budget B-Movie movie with a great atmosphere. 5 stars
12/22/09 Chris F pretty tame was expecting a lot more but watchable (just) 3 stars
8/31/07 Alistair F. Much scarier than most big-budget horror movies. Creepy atmosphere. I love it! 4 stars
2/12/05 Jeff Anderson BETTER THAN GHOST SHIP! Weird & bizarre, my combination for perfect horror. WHERE'S THE DVD 5 stars
11/23/02 Kyle Pretty scary stuff. 4 stars
10/23/02 Anastasia Beaverhausen Vomiting into the wind is more fun than this chum 1 stars
6/25/02 Curtis Jr Death Ship is a scary ride to get through. A nice yet strange experience. 4 stars
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  07-Mar-1980 (R)



Directed by
  Alvin Rakoff

Written by
  Jack Hill
  John Robins

  George Kennedy
  Richard Crenna
  Nick Mancuso
  Kate Reid
  Saul Rubinek
  Sally Ann Howes

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