Death Ship (1980)

I’d never heard of Death Ship (that I can remember) but when I saw the movie poster, it all seemed decidedly familiar. I’m guessing many of you thought the same thing because it’s pretty obvious that 2002’s Ghost Ship blatantly stole the poster art from the earlier movie, but while the premises are similar (haunted ship) the latter is not a remake of the former. It didn’t really matter to me as I hadn’t seen either movie, but since this is a website about 80s movies and not one about 00s movies, I figured I’d give Death Ship a try.

It’s Captain Ashland’s (George KennedyDay of Resurrection, Just Before Dawn, Wacko, Creepshow 2, Demonwarp, Death Street USA, Uninvited, The Terror Within) final voyage and all he wants is to pilot his ship and be left alone, but thanks to some of the muckety mucks at the home office (probably that kiss-ass Stubing) he has to spenddeathship george kennedy his time out hobnobbing with the vacationers cavorting around on the Promenade Deck. If that isn’t bad enough, Ashland has to sit with his own replacement Captain Marshall (Richard Crenna, Leviathan), Marshall’s wife (Sally Ann Howes), and their two bratty kids at the Captain’s dinner. Soon, things get much worse when a mysterious black freighter rams the cruise ship, thereby sinking it and leaving Ashland, Marshall and his family, a ship’s officer Nick (Nick Mancuso), Nick’s girlfriend Lori (Victoria Burgoyne), the ship’s comedian deathshipJackie (Saul Rubinek), and passenger Sylvia (Kate Reid) as the only survivors floating on a makeshift raft in the ocean. Luckily, the group drifts up to a seemingly abandoned black freighter (little do they know it’s the same one that sank their ship) and they decide to climb aboard. Sure it looks pretty uninviting, but it has to be better than floating around on a piece of cruise-ship debris exposed to the elements. Besides, it’s not like the ship is possessed by the ghosts of dead Nazis trying to murder them (because that would be silly), so what do they have to lose?

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Death Ship is fifty percent disaster movie, fifty percent supernatural horror movie, and one hundred percent terrible. The movie does manage to create an unsettling mood at times, I’ll give it that much, but even then it’s less the “horror-movie-creepy” kind of unsettling and more the “walk-into-a-sketchy-public-restroom” kind of unsettling – you just try not to think about it too much and hope it’s over soon. Apparently, everyone involved with the movie thought it was terrible too because when I searched the internet for behind-the-scenes-type stories, I found virtually nothing. No interviews, no amusing stories about filming – nothing. It’s as if on the final day of shooting, everyone huddled up and made a pact to never speak of Death Ship again, but then who can blame them?

On paper, the movie probably looked pretty decent, but beyond that I don’t really think anyone involved tried very hard. Many of the scenes are confusing and poorly cut together, the attempts at humor are really lame (OMG, that little boy rolled his eyes at his sister and exclaimed, “Women.” in that can’t-live-with-them-can’t-live-without-themdeathship richard crenna way JUST LIKE GROWNUPS DO! WHAT FUN!!!), and most of the actors seem to just be ambling through (I swear I could see on Richard Crenna’s face the exact moment he decided he needed a new agent). The possessed freighter itself is the most interesting (and most likable) character in the movie, its signature moment coming when it tosses the obnoxious lounge deathship blood showercomedian overboard never to be seen again, which, not coincidentally, is the moment I started rooting for the ship. Death Ship has all kinds of super-powers, like making candy that causes facial boils, turning shower water into blood, and, upon ramming a cruise ship, the ability to make footage from an entirely different movie appear (Why go to the expense of sinking a ship and filming it when you can just splice in scenes from another movie?).

If you’ve read some of my other reviews, you know I’m a big fan of so-bad-they’re-good movies. While parts of Death Ship fall into that category, most of it is pretty dull which makes it a just-plain-old-bad movie (Experts in the field of bad-movie-watching agree). But, variety exists for a reason and I have read reviews from people who like the movie, so maybe you will too (Or if you already do like it, feel free to weigh in below). If you thought Ghost Ship was awesome, love the idea of haunted ships in general, or are a fan of unnecessary, impromptu slow-motion-running scenes, you may want to give it a try. Otherwise, there’s no need to put Death Ship high on the priority list.

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Favorite Line:
“This ship needs blood, Marshall.”

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