Director: Alvin Rakoff
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080603/
Death Ship is one of those weird early ’80s horror movies that you’re not quite sure whether or not it was originally intended to be a made for TV special or an actual film. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s a bit slow and plodding, and while the premise is actually quite good, it just doesn’t quite get the job done. It’s still a good movie to catch on a rainy Sunday afternoon if you’re looking for some scary chills.
The titular vessel is a Nazi prison boat turned ghost ship that wanders the Atlantic looking for fresh blood. Literally. The ship apparently needs blood to continue functioning. So when you get right down to it, this is a movie about a vampire boat, and that’s a pretty awesome concept.
The characters begin the movie on a cruise ship. It’s Captain Ashland’s (George Kennedy) final voyage before turning the ship over to Trevor Marshall (Richard Crenna). Captain Ashland is very uncomfortable around people and is happy to be retiring. The Death Ship crashes into the cruise liner, sinking the boat and leaving a handful of survivors on a rubber raft, including the Captain and Marshall.
The survivors come upon the rusted hulk of the Death Ship and board her, hoping to find help or a radio. The ghosts of the ship begin picking them off one by one while Captain Ashland falls under the ship’s hypnotic spell. As more people are killed, the engines begin running more smoothly (I swear half the movie is shots of the pistons working) and more surreal encounters begin. People are suddenly transported from one room to another, and a Nazi propaganda film plays in a small theater where everyone seems to keep getting stuck, no matter where they were originally headed.
In the end, Marshall gets everyone into another life raft while Captain Ashland comes fully under the sway of the ship. He and Marshall fight, and in the end the ship rejects Ashland and kills him. As the survivors escape, the ghost ship sails off to attack another cruise ship.
The story is slow, but the overall premise is pretty entertaining. The ship is sufficiently scary and once the ghosts begin their torment in full, the movie delivers some good chills. Two scenes in particular are very well done, the shower scene where a lovely young woman is drown in blood, and the locker where Marshall needs to get the new inflatable raft. The storage locker is filled with corpses, and while they don’t animate in any way, the tense moments when he has to climb around them is very well done.
Overall, the movie is a bit too slow to rate a high score, but it’s certainly worth watching on cable. Also, the movie poster is just too awesome (see below) and is scary enough itself to warrant watching the actual film.