[box cover]

Ghost Ship

Before Ghost Ship — the third vessel launched from the exploitation port of Robert Zemeckis's Dark Castle Entertainment (previously responsible for the thoroughly unimaginative, yet modestly entertaining likes of The House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts) — recognizes the limitations of its pedigree and becomes a barely average horror entry, it gets off to an unexpectedly jaunty start to the strains of a lushly orchestrated rendition of the Gino Paoli standard "Senza Fine" (warbled to less-than-memorable effect by Connie Francis in Robert Aldrich's Flight of the Phoenix). As the opening credits pop by — done up in a garish pink worthy of a Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic comedy — the camera floats about the deck of the Italian ocean liner, the Antonia Graza, following a young girl as she furtively watches the ship's well-to-do passengers congregate on the dance floor. As she's motioned out to join the dancing throng by a kindly old officer, director Steve Beck begins to crosscut between the revelers and a vaguely ominous act of sabotage being perpetrated nearby. It's not until Beck halts his camera's gaze on a high-tensile wire that we realize the ghoulish depths of this set-piece. In just a few seconds, the wire will snap across from one side of the room to the other, leaving everyone but the blessedly diminutive little girl sliced in two. As with any other film in this genre, Ghost Ship is best measured by the inventive way in which it dispatches its characters, and on that count, it's a ghoulish champ early on. Alas, its triumph is short-lived. After that fiendishly bloody opening, the picture settles into its rote plot mechanics, leaving the viewer wishing that the filmmakers had renounced cleverness altogether, rather than getting one's hopes up. The rest of the picture concerns a scrappy salvage crew headed up by Gabriel Byrne that gets lured by a blandly mysterious young lad named Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) into plundering an abandoned vessel he spotted on a flight over the Bering Strait. Though the crew — rounded out by such familiar faces as Julianna Marguiles, Ron Eldard, and Isaiah Washington — is instantly suspicious of the unfortunately monikered Ferriman, they grudgingly agree to check out his ship, which, of course, turns out to be the long-presumed-lost Antonia Graza. Upon a cursory exploration of the eerily vacant, rusted-out cruise liner, the salvagers discover a sizeable cache of gold bullion that spurs them on to drag the immense ship back to shore themselves, lest they be forced to share the wealth with anyone else. This predictably leads to a fatal accident that strands the surviving crew aboard the Graza which, as they soon discover, is haunted by a murderous ghost seeking revenge for a decades-old crime the salvagers slowly uncover as they're picked off one-by-one. Unlike the other two Dark Castle productions, Ghost Ship is not based on one of Hollywood huckster William Castle's gimmicky horror efforts (though its one-sheet artwork is a dead ringer for the poster of a 1980 grade-Z, George Kennedy-starring garbage heap called Death Ship). But it still feels like a waste of generous studio resources on determinedly unoriginal source material. True, these films are charming in a shamelessly cheesy manner, but they're so handsomely designed and shot, one wishes they'd work from a script that's worth the effort. Warner presents Ghost Ship in a spotless anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) complemented by cacophonous Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a routine (i.e. insight-free) "Max on Set" feature, three technical featurettes showing off the design, visual f/x and KNB-supplied gore, an interactive game called "Secrets of the Antonia Graza", a music video, the theatrical trailer, and some underwhelming bells-and-whistles to check out on your DVD-ROM. Snap-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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