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Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Ghost Galleon (1974) review


Maria Perschy (Lillian), Jack Taylor (Howard), Barbara Rey (Noemi), Carlos Lemos (Professor Gruber), Manuel De Blas (Sergio), Blanca Estrada (Kathy), Margarita Merino (Lorena)

Directed by Amando de Ossorio

The Short Version: The quality found in Ossorio's first two Blind Dead pictures is lost at sea in his third and, to put it mildly, weakest of the quartet. The silly script has some merit, but is indicative of the bikinis and monsters formula that has been mind-numbingly popular on cable television for years now. The plot, such as it is, attempts to find ways to get beautiful models aboard a decayed, seafaring haunted house harboring ten of those sightless satanists, the Templar's. Aside from a few moments of inspired creepiness in this atmosphere heavy, but monetarily light horror movie, Ossorio's direction is adrift with nowhere to go; and dominated by a sluggish pace that makes the Blind Dead look like running zombies in comparison.

Noemi, a fashion model, is curious as to the whereabouts of her lover, Kathy, who works for the same modeling agency. Threatening to go to the police if she doesn't get answers, her employer, Lillian, takes her to see a producer named Howard Tucker who states Kathy is part of some vague publicity stunt out in the middle of the ocean. Explaining to Noemi that nothing is wrong, things quickly do go wrong as the supposedly business savvy Tucker and his curiously small staff of two people lose contact with Kathy and another model named Lorena. Figuring he could lose a lot of money and incur a scandal, Tucker holds Noemi hostage and takes her along to find the two missing models. With a nutty professor tagging along, the group discover a mysterious, fog-enshrouded 16th century galleon out in the middle of nowhere. Learning they are not only caught in some parallel dimension, they also find they are not alone aboard the derelict vessel.

Whatever difficulties Amando de Ossorio encountered making his four Blind Dead movies, creativity was never inhibited.... yet THE GHOST GALLEON threatens a mutiny on all that innovation with its severely impoverished resources. As interesting of a scenario as placing the Templars aboard a boat sounds, it's extremely limiting in what you can do with it; and Ossorio keeps the title vessel the primary locale for ninety, occasionally stagnant, minutes. 

Ossorio, who again wrote the script, tries valiantly to come up with ideas to keep his cramped boat set interesting once the cast climb on deck. He succeeds in certain areas and fails mightily in others. Much like a crew trapped in a storm at sea, the director battles the elements that threaten to prevent him completing his celluloid voyage. Aside from a few inspired moments, THE GHOST GALLEON never makes it back to port. The obvious lack of a budget is the film's biggest hindrance; and nowhere is a lack of funds more apparent than in the depiction of the Satanic brigantine.

Never once looking like anything other than a toy boat in a bathtub, Raul Artigot's camera lingers on it more than he probably should have. The crew do their best to disguise the fakery, but we see so much of it an air of unintentional hilarity creeps in like a bony Templarian appendage reaching for your throat. The shots of the skeletal satanists' coffins sinking to the bottom of an aquarium are equally painful to watch. The worst is saved for the sail ship burning up and descending below the murky bath water depths. Ossorio has stated in interviews how disappointed he was he didn't have the funds necessary to give what could have been the most ambitious entry of the quartet a more lavish look.

Still, his crew were more successful in realizing the interior sets of the boat and its hellish hold--as cramped and claustrophobic as they may be. The set decoration and lighting are impeccable. The sound design accommodates the Gothic ambiance to the point where the ship literally becomes a haunted house at sea with its creaking coffin lids, ratted and torn sails and darkened hallways. 

Elsewhere, the plot device of an inter-dimensional 16th century galleon encased within an infernal fog isn't bad at all, it's just not handled all that well. Much like the plot of Ossorio's second series entry, THE GHOST GALLEON may have inspired John Carpenter for his 1979 ghost tale classic, THE FOG. 

With very little good to say about it, the picture falters in another crucial area--one that made the previous two movies a success--that being the music of Anton Garcia Abril. The intonation of the chanting monks, organ beats and macabre melodies made for one of the greatest, though sadly underrated horror film scores of all time. Alas, there are no new Abril cues for THE GHOST GALLEON; everything is lifted from TOMBS and RETURN, and they're sporadic at best.

As each entry in this series is different from the one before it, THE GHOST GALLEON is a rehash of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD in a variety of ways. The lesbian angle of that picture is explored again; only here it feels less like exposition than a means to pad the severely strained plot out to full-length. Noemi (NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS Barbara Rey) is this film's Betty (expertly played by Lone Fleming in TOMBS); and like Betty, she too is raped. Unlike Mrs. Fleming's Betty, Rey's Noemi has very little substance and her character operates in the same fashion as Janet Leigh's did in PSYCHO (1960). About the most we get out of Noemi and her live-in lover Kathy is they both look good in a bikini. 

By comparison, there were multiple strands of subtext involving the Betty and Virginia characters in the earlier film. Betty's trouble with men is mentioned and later visualized in one of the film's more grim sequences. As for Virginia, it's never made explicit, but there's a hint she is uncomfortable around Betty for having coerced her into sexual experimentation when they were younger; her tagging along with Virginia and Roger only reinforces this aspect of intrusion, leading to her jumping the train near the film's beginning.

The fates of Virginia in TOMBS and Kathy in GALLEON are remarkably similar. Both assume safety in a confined space, biding the night away with the more reassuring sounds of a radio. Meanwhile, the living dead rise a short distance away. Not surprisingly TOMBS wins here, too, but GALLEON holds steady its own tension-laden course.

Regarding the plot of THE GHOST GALLEON, there's not a lot of it--which, the same could be said for TOMBS, only the director had more room to play around with and solidified a classic in the process. Limiting himself to the confines of a galleon set was quite a feat even though the film takes on water very quickly, sinking as fast as the toy-ship-in-the-bathtub special effects. The narrative thrust found in RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD is absent in both TOMBS and GALLEON, but the first film does more with its folkloric properties in spinning a traditional ghost story than the entry being reviewed.

The cast of GALLEON is smaller than TOMBS and even less is done with them. The very welcome face of genre vet Jack Taylor (American star of dozens of Mexican and Spanish genre fare) is unable to keep this one afloat, nor is the gorgeous Maria Perschy successful in making this one a consistently engaging experience. Sadly, we never see her in a two-piece. The one actor who does make a difference is Carlos Lemos as the eccentric Dr. Gruber, who comes off as a cross between Professor Van Helsing and Brother Theodore. 

Lastly, both TOMBS and GALLEON have downbeat endings. The train massacre that closes the former is easily the best shot finales of the two; but the latter is given a slightly stronger jolt in that the Knights Templar, after being dumped into the ocean, escape their coffins and emerge from the sea to stalk and kill again. With everything else covered, this brings us now to the Templars....

The history behind the Blind Dead as it relates to THE GHOST GALLEON is revealed not through flashbacks as in the previous two pictures, but told by Dr. Gruber after he finds the navigational log below decks on the 16th century vessel. From a Captain Hollander, Gruber learns the Captain was returning from the Orient with a number of Templarian militants who had found immortality through the worship of Satan. This is the only movie in the four film series to not feature a sequence of the Templars committing atrocities when they still had skin on their bones. Thankfully, along with the art decor, Amando de Ossorio excels in the few scenes with the Templars, as well as his crafting of the suspense, building up to their unveiling some 40 minutes into the movie.

Minus their horses, the skeletal death-bringers look basically the same aside from some added patches of hair creeping out from under their moldy hoods. With so many faults, Ossorio handles the Templar special effects very well, and, in some minor ways, surpasses those of the previous entries. Gone are the metal gloves worn by the Blind Dead when they brandished a sword. We only see a bladed implement once so the rest of the time it's just the bony, outstretched appendages on display. The Templar arms and hands appear augmented and a little more articulate than before. 

This is also the only series entry where we see the living dead knights feasting on flesh. Granted, in RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, we saw a living, breathing Templar gnoshing on a freshly removed heart during a flashback, but this time, instead of merely drinking blood, they hack away at a female victim and eat the limbs. Regrettably, this is the only scene of violence in the entire movie. Some deaths occur offscreen and certain cast members die in ways not involving the monsters. With so much lacking in this production, it's a wonder Ossorio forged ahead at all. In the early 1990s, the director stated in Gorezone magazine that he had ideas for new adventures of the living dead Templars, one of which returned them to the sea.

Hands down the weakest of the four Blind Dead movies, more tolerant viewers will be forgiving per the good qualities present, as threadbare as they are. On the other hand, bad movie buffs have a chest full of gold guffaws awaiting them with a booty of poor effects work. In most cases, a film series would be finished with a disastrous outing as this one; fortunately, Ossorio got his ghoulish groove back for his swan song, the NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS (1975). A lackluster effort overall, THE GHOST GALLEON could have done with losing about 10 minutes of running time and a few more shock moments to make for a more memorable cruise into terror. 

This review is representative of the Blue Underground Coffin Box Set release. Specs and Extras: 1.85:1 anamorphic 16x9 widescreen; theatrical trailer, TV spot, radio spots; poster and still gallery.

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

I think that's a pretty fair review.

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