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Ghost Ship
Directed by Steve Beck
Written by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue
Ghost Ship
Principal Cast
Gabriel Byrne -- Captain Sean Murphy
Julianna Margulies -- Maureen Epps
Ron Eldard -- Dodge
Desmond Harrington -- Jack Ferriman
Isaiah Washington -- Greer
Alex Dimitriades -- Santos
Karl Urban -- Munder
Emily Browning -- Katie Harwood
Francesca Rettondini -- Francesca
 
Ghost Ship
 
Ghost Ship
 
Ghost Ship
 
Ghost Ship
 
Ghost Ship
 
Ghost Ship
A review by David Newbert

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The Internet Movie Database has a neat feature where you can see a listing of some plot keywords that describe a movie. For Ghost Ship, that list includes: ghost (naturally), spear gun, betrayal, cut into pieces, cult horror, slasher, explosion, and shipwreck. It also has underwater, person on fire, child murder, maggots, shot in forehead, torso cut in half, and twist in the end. Add the terms tugboat, cursed gold, and attractive tomboy as played by Julianna Margulies, and you've got a pretty good rundown of what Ghost Ship has going for it. True, it's mostly a list of clichés, but that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining.

However, it probably won't be everyone's cup of tea. Director Steve Beck, who was also the director of Thir13n Ghosts (2001) and a visual effects director for ILM on movies like The Abyss (1989), tries to keep the tale balanced as an atmospheric horror film, an exploitation/slasher pic, and an action-adventure story. That's a chimeric construction, and to Beck's credit, it mostly works. The film adheres to formulaic structures and stereotypes, while remaining unpredictable in a somewhat squirrelly kind of way. What's missing is suspense and narrative logic.

Ghost Ship has many of the usual elements you can expect to find in a typical haunted house movie, but in this case the story is set on board an Italian luxury cruise ship called the Antonia Grazia. We're told it disappeared at sea in 1962 on its way across the North Atlantic to America. It has supposedly been spotted today (today being 2002, when the film was first released) floating around the Bering Sea, which is on the other side of America from the North Atlantic which just goes to show that forty years later, a lost ghost ship can really get around. A salvage operation on the tugboat Arctic Warrior (love that name), run by Gabriel Byrne and Ms. Margulies, heads out to see if they can find anything worth taking. Of course, it's all a kind of trap, and the Antonia Grazia turns out to be a cruise liner of the damnedů

Anyone who mentions Ghost Ship today usually cites the impressive opening scene, wherein dozens of first class passengers are gorily dismembered by a loose tension cable while enjoying a ballroom dance. It's one of those "you have to see it to believe it" moments, where the editing and visual effects set the tone for the rest of the movie. The only survivor is a young girl whose ghost watches over the dead for the next several decades, and makes appearances to warn some our salvage crew of what lies in wait for them. In fact, there's another spirit on the ship, one who indulges in his own kind of salvage operationů but I'll leave that for viewers to discover on their own.

I suppose you could view this as a version of The Shining that takes place on the ocean -- just replace the posh Overlook hotel with a posh luxury liner, keep one of the creepy little girls, and you're halfway there. Yet Ghost Ship keeps adding to the basic concept, twisting and turning and eventually drawing you in with its enthusiasm and creepy atmosphere. It has a cast of good character actors who aren't given much to do, but who look great and have name recognition. It has one of the sexier nude scenes you can find in a horror film, if that means anything to you. (Thank you, Francesca Rettondini!) And its slam-bang finale is fun as Margulies turns into a Sarah Connor-type warrior woman.

This BluRay re-release has a terrific transfer, with great color, deep shadows and clear details that command your attention. Considering how much rust, dirt, rot and so forth the ship has, and that most of the film's pleasures are visual, details in the shadows are welcome for the visual depth they provide. No obvious artifacts, not too much film grain, blah, blah... you get the picture. The soundtrack is pretty terrific,too.

If you like gory, well-made thrillers, but haven't caught this one on late-night cable yet, give Ghost Ship a try. You'll find yourself plenty entertained. And besides, how can you deny yourself a movie whose poster slug line was "Sea Evil"?

Copyright © 2010 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years while studying film and literature, then joined the college book trade. He grew up on the East Coast, though he currently lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.


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