It’s Not Just a Ship … it’s a Killing Machine!, The Hat Man, Beware the Night, And More
In this Issue:
- Horror History: It’s Not Just a Ship … it’s a Killing Machine!
- Image of the Week: The Hat Man
- Tiny Bites – This Week’s Best Horror Headlines
- Things We Love: Beware the Night
- Hey, That’s Us! – Shudder in the News
It’s Not Just a Ship … it’s a Killing Machine!
By Brian Collins
I was around 14 when I read an old FANGORIA interview with Jamie Lee Curtis where she talked about how she didn’t like watching horror movies. She mentioned Death Ship as one that particularly freaked her out, and thus I added it to my must-see list. My adolescent thinking was that if it was too much for Laurie Strode, it must truly be terrifying.
I completely missed the sarcasm in her (printed) voice; she was saying she was so easily scared that even junky fare would terrify her. And yet, the film still unnerved me. Now, nearly thirty years and a few viewings later, I still find it to be a compelling take on the classic “Haunted House” by moving the action to a WWII-era freighter.
The film (from some of the producers of Terror Train) stars George Kennedy as a cruise ship captain who’s about to retire (not by choice) and hand his duties over to Richard Crenna. Both mens’ skills are put to the test when their ship is hit in the middle of the night by a mysterious freighter that a handful of survivors (including Crenna’s wife and children) end up boarding the next morning to seek help. They’re only on the ancient, deserted ship for about 30 seconds when it starts attacking them as “unexplained accidents” keep popping up, gradually reducing the supporting cast.
Worse, Kennedy instantly finds himself possessed by the ship’s dark energy and begins wreaking havoc.
The Shining it is not, but if you can look past some of its hokeyness, it’s a surprisingly effective way to spend 90 minutes.
One aspect that works well is Alvin Rakoff’s direction that favors hand-held shots around corners and through hallways, almost as if he was shooting POV shots for a slasher film. The supernatural origins of the villain (Nazi ghosts, obviously) are laid out early on, but this directorial choice gives the viewer the uneasy feeling that the heroes are always seconds away from potential death.
Death Ship, despite its cheese-factor, makes me actively consider how few haunted boat movies there are. Haunted house films can be easily dismissed with a quick “why don’t they just leave?”, a question not so easily asked when the characters are on a boat in the middle of the ocean. But unlike other forms of transportation (i.e. airplanes), a ship allows for people to move around freely, providing a perfect location for a haunting. Yet there are only a handful!
Most well known is probably Ghost Ship, the 2002 Dark Castle effort which not only stole Death Ship’s “skull face on the bow of the ship” poster design but also borrowed part of its plot. Recently, the Gary Oldman vehicle Mary (which was not about the Mary Celeste despite the title and premise) went more Shining-esque about a family’s domestic drama (financial burdens, affairs, etc) coming to a boil on their recently acquired, possibly haunted sailboat.
The Mary Celeste did, however, serve as the inspiration for Bela Lugosi’s Phantom Ship (originally The Mystery of the Mary Celeste), though despite the new moniker it didn’t chalk anything up to ghosts. Instead, everyone on the ship is angry or jealous about something and they basically all kill each other or themselves.
The reason why there are so few haunted ship movies is likely due to shooting on the water scaring off producers; if you expand beyond spooky ships, Hollywood history has told us time and again that movies set entirely on the water (Speed 2, Titanic, Waterworld…) tend to go over budget and over schedule, which is a problem a big production can solve by throwing more money at it. This isn’t the case for low-budget horror on tight deadlines.
Alas, this incomplete list may not grow much, but we should appreciate the handful of entries we have that much more. Death Ship, in particular, is the sort of movie an impressionable viewer might have caught on late-night TV in the ‘80s and been forever scarred by (one death in a net of decomposing corpses is truly disturbing).
Now, after years of being largely unavailable due to rights issues, it’s easier than ever to discover or revisit. It’s true that there aren’t many movies like this, but even if there were, Death Ship would stick out.
Jamie Lee Curtis was right to be unnerved by it.
Death Ship is streaming now on Shudder.
Brian W. Collins is a writer for Birth.Movies.Death., FANGORIA, and the author of Horror Movie A Day. He owns multiple copies of Bat Out Of Hell on vinyl despite having no turntable and will defend Jason Takes Manhattan until his dying day.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
The Hat Man
TITANE, CHUCKY, AND MORE
Raw filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s follow-up Titane took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes in unconventional fashion.
Chucky’s back as we got a brand new teaser for the upcoming series.
Rob Zombie gave us a couple of sneak peeks at his take on 1313 Mockingbird Lane…
… and his fashion plans for iconic couple Lily and Herman Munster in his upcoming adaptation of the beloved series.
The LA Times wrote about Fear Street’s not-so-subtle call to stop the witch hunt for queer women.
Meanwhile, Dr. Alison Peirse gave BuzzFeed her recommendations for what to watch next (including some wicked Shudder titles).
This excellent piece on Sightseers explores the horrors of intimacy.
FANGORIA tackled the horrors of being a content creator in the viral series I Am Sophie.
THINGS WE LOVE
Beware the Night
Musicians Andrew Crawshaw (aka Meridian Arc) and Corey J. Brewer have released their debut album, Welcome Home, as Old Dark House. Named after the 1932 James Whale classic starring Boris Karloff (which you can watch on Shudder), it’s the perfect blend of synth and atmospheric dread.