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Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Death Ship

It's Better to Be in the Water

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: March 7, 1980 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Horror
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Writers: John Robins, Jack Hill, David P. Lewis
Cast: George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, 
Nick Mancuso, Sally Ann Howes, Kate Reid, 
Victoria Burgoyne, Jennifer McKinney, 
Danny Higham, Saul Rubinek  

If you go into something called "Death Ship" expecting the next "Citizen Kane," you have only yourself to blame because you're severely lacking in common sense. But there's no better way to celebrate the Halloween season than by popping in a cheap, tawdry, blood-soaked horror flick that's low in budget but high in body-count. 

Movies like this aren't about the acting (which is just good enough) or dialogue (heavy-handed and hokey), but George Kennedy and Richard Crenna make the most of it.

The film begins on a regular cruise ship, captained by Ashland (Kennedy, "The Naked Gun"). He can expertly control a vessel, but he's chilly to his crew and incapable of dealing with the passengers. It's his maiden voyage; he's about to be replaced by his assistant, Trevor Marshall (Crenna, "Rambo"). Marshall's wife and two young children are also on board.  

After a "Poseidon"-like disaster capsizes the cruise-liner, Ashland, Marshall and his family, and a few other crew members and passengers are left to fend for themselves on a rickety raft.

"Help" finally comes in the form of an ominous black ship.

They're all better off drowning right then and there, but since that isn't an option, they climb aboard. It quickly becomes obvious that something is amiss. No one else seems to be on the ship – or are they? Of course, all of this is standard horror movie fare.

It isn't long before the "death ship" reveals two important facts about itself: 1. It's German. 2. It's haunted. Needless to say, a horror movie wouldn't use Germany randomly; it would naturally focus on the darkest period in that country's history. I'll leave you to figure out the rest.

If you only know George Kennedy as the friendly, goofy second banana from the "Naked Gun" series, his role here as a cold, crazed captain is quite a departure for him – and he pulls it off fairly well. Amazingly, Richard Crenna was born less than two years after Kennedy but seems twenty years younger in this movie. Maybe it's just me, but Crenna bears a striking resemblance to Bryan Cranston. (Is the "Breaking Bad" star available for a remake?)

Is it hyperbolic to say that "Death Ship" has the most memorable shower scene since "Psycho"? Maybe, but that is the undoubted highlight of the film and the sequence everyone will walk away remembering.

Even so, "Death Ship" is hardly a great movie – but it is an effective one. It features unsettling imagery, eerie quick cuts, and a spooky soundtrack. However, at times, the editing can be a bit haphazard – as if a connecting scene was chopped out or not filmed at all. The story and action are still easy enough to follow though. This isn't Shakespeare, after all. But I knew what to expect going in – and more importantly, what not to expect.

The moviemaking masters won't be losing any sleep over this little obscure slice of '80s horror, but I can't lie: I had fun.

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