Beyond the Slimy Wall: Ghost Ship
By Stephanie Star Smith
June 10, 2004
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Near the end of the last century, Hollywood heavy-hitters Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver formed Dark Castle Entertainment with the express purpose of producing horror films with the flavor of genre classics from the '50s and '60s. In particular, the company would draw inspiration - and material - from the films of legendary producer William "Schlockmeister" Castle. About the same time, Castle's daughter, Terry, revived her late father's eponymous production company, hoping to introduce Castle's flicks to modern audiences, in addition to creating original projects. The two nascent companies meshed their parallel paths in creating their maiden ventures, resulting in updated versions of Castle classics The House on Haunted Hill and Thir13en Ghosts. The pair of films, released near Hallowe'en in 1999 and 2000, respectively, were mixed in terms of creative success. Haunted Hill couldn’t quite decide whether it was a ghost story or a psychological thriller, whilst Thir13en Ghosts was a cunning and well-produced update of its original. The solid box office of the two films placed Dark Castle square in the middle of the territory of Dimension Films, the leader in the horror field to that point.
Hallowe'en of 2002 found Dark Castle releasing its first film based on original material, Ghost Ship. Though it didn't have quite the same box office success as the two Castle remakes, it was not by any means a bomb money-wise, and it was certainly a mark in the win column in terms of viewing enjoyment, and solidified Dark Castle's standing as a contender in the horror genre.
Ghost Ship centers on a marine salvage crew who are presented with what seems the chance of a lifetime: a derelict cruise ship has been spotted by a mail pilot in waters so far off normal shipping lanes that it's highly unlikely anyone is even aware of her, making it a rare opportunity for the crew to beat any other salvage operations to the proverbial punch. But as anyone who's ever seen a movie knows, there is more to the situation than first appears, and before long, the crew discovers what the audience has already figured out, given the title and the wonderfully wicked prologue; there may be no life on board, but the ship is definitely not deserted.
Legends of ghost ships abound. Some tell of ships that disappear, never to be seen again, at least by anyone who lives to tell the tale. Others relate stories of ships found drifting in sea lanes, deserted, with no indication of what happened to the crew but looking for all the world as though the crew will return at any moment. One of the things I really enjoyed about Ghost Ship was how it plays with these legends, adding a few twists and even going so far as to present a theory of how and why ghost ships come into being. Ghost Ship also doesn't commit the cardinal sin of telegraphing the entire plot inside the first ten minutes; you're really not sure who's doing what to whom or why it's happening until the characters figure it out. And even then, Ghost Ship reveals only parts of its secret at any one time, with the complete reveal happening in the denouement. Ghost Ship also has some surprisingly effective pathos added, something one doesn't often see in horror films. Add to all this the fact that the special effects are kick-ass, and you've got a winning combination that makes for a ripping good way to spend an hour-and-a-half of your time. I highly recommend you take the time to acquire the DVD from your local video emporium; much like Thir13en Ghosts there are some wonderful extra features on it that provide backstories for the spirits who play prominent parts in the film.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.