if done willingly and poorly, generally does not go unnoticed and one cannot
help but see certain similarities in various works be it literature, art, or
cinema. In listening to the audio commentary with author Jonathan Rigby and director Alvin Rakoff on
the new, limited edition Blu-ray of 1980’s Death
Ship, a horror oddity about an abandoned old ship inhabited by the ghosts
of members of the Third Reich(!), a remark is made that the poster for 2002's Ghost Ship was remarkably similar to the poster art for Death Ship, and it’s true that the
similarities are uncanny. I can't help but wonder who came up with the idea for
the poster for Ghost Ship,
as Death Ship was well over twenty-five
years-old and seemed to be relegated to the land of forgotten cinema.
Captain Ashland (George
Kennedy) is at the helm of a cruise ship, about to turn over the reins to Captain Trevor Marshall (Richard Crenna) and he's
not happy about it. He seems perturbed by this changing of the guard,
commenting in no uncertain terms that his place as captain should be regarded
as more than something of a novelty to tourists. Unfortunately for him and his
guests, the unmanned and haunted titular ship that steers ahead, powered by the
blood of its most recent victims, is on a crash course to meet with his. Using
footage borrowed from Andrew L. Stone's The Last Voyage (1960) and Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the two vessels collide and Ashland’s ship begins to fill with water and
quickly sinks (too bad The Concorde:
Airport ’79 didn't sink with it!)
Crenna, Nick Mancuso (who provided the bulk of the horrifying phone calls in
Bob Clark's 1974 film Black Christmas),
Sally Ann Howes of Dead of Night
(1945) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
(1968) and a few other characters manage to be the only survivors in a lifeboat
and make their way aboard the decrepit ship that put them in their predicament.
Once on board, they find the ship bereft of passengers and crew, and slowly
become victims of the supernatural games that ensue.
the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that the ship in question was once used
as a Nazi torture chamber, as evidence of teeth, clothing and medical devices
start to turn up in explored rooms. The worst of these rooms houses a group of
cobweb-infested corpses, presumably the long-dead Jews whom the Nazis tortured.
One might wonder about the boundaries of bad taste pushed in a film that seems to
make light of one of humanity's most horrendous and egregious atrocities.
director employs some nifty scare tactics, such as a projector that runs
itself; a shower that turns blood red; and a crazed George Kennedy, apparently
possessed by the long-dead Nazis, going on a rampage. One must wonder why
distress signals are not sent, and why help is not forthcoming, given the radio
rules in place since the downing of the Titanic in 1912. However, this is a
B-movie shot in five weeks and done on a shoestring and asking too many
questions is not suggested. The ship in this film is supposed to be steering
itself with a life of its own, however one never really gets the feeling that
it’s actually alive, that it’s a merchant of evil like the house in Burnt Offerings (1976) or the hotel in The Shining (1980). The film ends the
way one assumes with will, but it’s not bad for what it is.
released on DVD in England in 2007, Death
Ship had at the time had been transferred from a print that was not perfect
and contained a few sporadic imperfections but was believed to be the best
surviving source material. That disc had included a disclaimer citing the film
lab that housed the original camera negative closed in the late 1980's and the
aforementioned resources were "lost" as a result. I would be curious
as to how this sort of thing happens as this is certainly not the first time it
has occurred, nor will it be the last. I'm always reading of an original
negative somehow getting "lost". Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell, the TV-movie that Crenna made the
year prior to Death Ship, was
released on DVD at roughly the same time and that movie looks like it was just
made yesterday. Honestly, Devil Dog’s
transfer could not be more beautiful. Yet a theatrical film's negative gets
"lost"? Insert quizzical expression here.
during the ensuing years, Death Ship’s
interpositive was unearthed and a new, 2K scan of this print has been made for
the new Blu-ray. The disc looks wonderful and is a vast improvement over the
DVD from 2007. In addition to the commentary, the following extras all have
been ported over from the 2007 DVD:
5.1 Surround audio
Stormy Seas featurette which runs about forty-one
minutes and consists of interviews with director Rakoff, writer Jack Hill,
actors George Kennedy and Nick Mancuso regarding the making of the film.
in Katarina Nightmare Theatre mode featuring
Katarina Leigh Waters. This is a fun little intro by a charming woman who also
happens to be a professional wrestler. She has done many of these for Scorpion
Releasing’s past releases.
What the Ship is Saying featurette. This is hosted by Katarina
Leigh Waters and it runs about four minutes. Since Ms. Waters is fluent in
German, she provides onscreen translations for the mysterious German voices
that beckon George Kennedy’s character in the film.
Blood Star featurette – this is a short feature
that provides excerpts from the original script, Blood Star being the film’s original title. A PDF of the entire
script would have been preferable.
Gallery – this consists of publicity shots taken for the film.
for Death Ship (1980), Blind Date (1984), The Unseen (1980), City on
Fire (1979), Seizure (1974), The House on Sorority Row (1983), Opera (1987) also appear.
Blu-ray also has new artwork and a reversible cover featuring the 1980 movie
poster art. I love when video labels do this, it’s a nice touch!
to purchase this edition, which is limited to 1700 copies, from Ronin Flix.