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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Death Ship (1980) Dis List Review #1

This column is reserved for terrible movies with little, to no redeeming qualities that are woefully disappointing to me; Movies that could, or should have had potential, but fail on nearly every level; Movies that aren't good enough to be bad cheese. This is...



George Kennedy (Captain Ashland), Richard Crenna (Trevor Marshall), Nick Mancuso (Nick)

Directed by Alvin Rakoff

A cruise vessel carrying hundreds of passengers is sunk by a menacing and derelict ship. The survivors awaken the following day to find the great black ship drifting behind them. They all board the ominous craft and immediately realize that something is terribly wrong. With no means of rescue, the dwindling survivors discover their involuntary exile was formerly a Nazi torture boat and the possessed Death Ship has no intentions of allowing any of them to escape alive.

Alvin Rakoff's obscure 'Haunted House At Sea' bears some similarities with THE SHINING (1980). However, this movie is nowhere near the class of the Kubrick film. The comparison springs from the possessed Ashland (played by Kennedy) to that of Jack Nicholson's crazed performance of Jack Torrance in THE SHINING. Like that character, Ashland descends into madness brought on by the spirits of the previous Nazi ship hands. Kennedy never comes close to the over the top shenanigans of Nicholson, but he approaches the role with a modicum of conviction. He doesn't seem at all comfortable in this role.

Make no mistake, this is a pretty terrible movie with very little to recommend it. Some scenes are well done, yet the bulk of the picture is shot in a turgid fashion. The script has an enormous amount of potential, but misses its mark at nearly every turn. I'm quite surprised that Kennedy and Crenna signed on for this. No doubt it sounded much better on paper than what ended up on screen.

Granted, both Crenna and Kennedy had begun appearing in horror pictures around this time with Crenna starring in the superior haunted house devil movie, THE EVIL (1978) and Kennedy with a guest starring role in the hillbilly horror JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980). Mancuso also did some other horror work such as NIGHTWING (1979) and the well done suspense film laced with horror elements MOTHER LODE (1982), directed by Charlton Heston.

The ship itself is a fine, foreboding set piece. Some attempt is made to express the notion that the ship is alive and lives off of blood. This becomes annoying after the multiple zooming in and out, or disorienting shaking of the camera bombards the viewer every few minutes. The Nazi angle is an interesting one yet it isn't explored to much of an extent and happens late in the film.

The disjointed nature of the movie is brought to bear in the 40+ minute documentary on the making of the flick. The overall lifeless handling of the material is understandable when director Rakoff admits that he didn't care for this type of movie and disliked the script. Writer and famed director Jack (COFFY) Hill shares a similar displeasure as he had hoped he was going to get to direct the movie but was unable to do so because the film was financed with Canadian money and the producers wanted a Canadian director. Hill states he would have taken an entirely different approach to the material than director Rakoff.

A couple of the well done sequences come during the last 20 minutes when Trevor and Nick make the discovery of the true origin of the evil ship. The shower scene is fairly unsettling, but aside from a lot of moldy and rotting corpses and one or two suspenseful bits, it's an extremely forgettable affair. This is definitely a case where the trailer is far better than the actual picture. I can't imagine this movie being on anyone's ten best list, or even a top 100.

The plethora of special features on this disc is heartwarming, yet at the same time, rather disconcerting considering there are so many far worthier movies that don't get anywhere near the attention this fairly lousy and unremarkable movie has gotten.

This review is representative of the British region 2 DVD from Nucleus Films.


Sean M said...

It's a shame that the movie may be as bad as you say it is because the basic plot sounds great!

venoms5 said...

It's an awful movie, but you don't have to take my word for it! lol

J. Astro said...


(sad Astro)

venoms5 said...

Hey, J., do you have the film on disc? I doubt I will ever watch it again. It's the R2 special edition. I would have no problem parting with it.

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