A baby-pink title, “Ghost Ship”, is superimposed over images of underwater bubbles fluttering toward the screen. Combined with a pleasant little melody, it seems like the introduction to something like “The Little Mermaid.” However, the horrific bloodbath delivered in the opening sequence confirms this is not a movie to bring the kiddies to. In fact, the blood and gore scenes are enough for even horror film fanatics to overdose on, and the plot is too dull to even hold the attention span of most adults.
“Ghost Ship” begins in 1962, aboard a luxurious ocean liner, the Antonia Graza. The setting is elegantly decorated with the rich colors and costumes of the passengers, and a lounge singer’s voice sensuously accompanies director Steve Beck’s visuals. This party scene chimes warnings from the comparable atmosphere of the “Titanic.” Indeed within the first 10 minutes, tragedy strikes. A gruesome massacre ensues, leaving a little girl as the only survivor. Beck deserves plenty of praise here for depicting, what all horror filmmakers strive for, a “new and improved” way of killing people.
The story commences some years later with a small band of ship salvagers. They sip beers as a young Air Force pilot, Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) approaches them with pictures of the missing Antonia Graza he discovered floating in the Bering Sea. With dollar signs twinkling in their eyes, the crew (including Ferriman) sets off to recover the mysterious vessel. As their tugboat ventures through the dark and stormy seas (of course) they literally bump right into the side of the enormous Antonia, and climb aboard to explore.
After starting off full speed ahead, the narrative continues to putter along for the next hour or so. It’s probably pretty frightening for those who are scared of the dark because the lights are so dim almost nothing on-screen is clearly visible. Of course a character shines a flashlight on a dismembered body part here and there, most significantly revealing an especially nice view of two characters wading through a river of bloated corpses. But other than his reliance on thoroughly disgusting us, Beck reverts to the traditional shock factors; slamming doors, rats in a trunk, close-ups of rotting dead people, etc. The score is tediously ominous and slow-paced, until it becomes suddenly amplified, letting the audience know when they should be scared. These techniques will make an audience gasp, but they’re equivalent to someone simply yelling, “boo!”
The characters have little dimensionality, and deliver seriously terrible lines. Epps (Juliana Marguiles, “ER”) at least veers off the road from the sexually objectified female victims of the traditional slasher films. Yet even with her tomboyish, tough, attitude she’s just a Ripley (“Alien”) wannabe. The captain (Gabriel Byrne, “Stigmata”) has minimal dialogue, except for obtrusively delivering expository information to the audience. In one particular scene, he and the “ghost captain” share a conversation over a drink (after we’ve been informed that he doesn’t drink anymore). The scene is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s, “The Shining,” and at this point we kind of wish Jack Nicholson would show up and give us something to actually be scared of. As the first mate is being seduced by the ghost of the lounge singer, the Beavis and Butthead-like duo Dodge and Munder are shoveling beans that turn to maggots in their mouths, and playing rock-paper-scissors for who gets to die next. Then there is Santos. Well, he is that unimportant minority who gets to die first. Santos’ clich