Peter’s Retro Movie Reviews: Death Ship (1980)

February 10, 2012

Death Ship (1980) Movie posterby Peter Nielsen

We’re aboard a large cruise-ship, it’s night-time and there’s a party going on. It’s apparently a dress-up party because everyone is wearing costumes. The trip is nearing its end, so everybody is having a good time, except for the captain. It is also his last trip, because the company has seen fit to retire him on the grounds that he’s unpleasant, rude and basically has no “people-skills” whatsoever, and should not be a captain on pleasure-cruises. He’s played exceptionally well by George Kennedy whom you might recognize from Airport 1975, The Delta Force, The Eiger Sanction or The Naked Gun movies, perhaps?

Unpleasant is actually an understatement, because he is not a nice man to be around. I don’t mean he’s evil, he’s just a big S.O.B. who cares for no-one but himself and his ship, and as I said, George Kennedy is great here. Just watch the party-scene, at the beginning of the movie, where the captain’s presence is required. Just watch his face! You can see the repressed anger and the disgust at him having to be there and “play nice”. I was waiting for him to explode at any second. Priceless!

He also has to put up with his successor, Trevor Marshall, being aboard to learn the ropes, so to speak. Trevor also brought his wife and two kids along to make matters worse, so no… Captain Ashland is not a happy man. The successor is played by Richard Crenna from Breakheart Pass, First Blood and its two sequels Rambo: First Blood part II and Rambo III just to mention a couple of titles.



All of sudden the ship is rammed by an old rusty freighter and goes down fast! And by fast I mean FAST! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ship sink this quick in any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s like… WHAM!! “OH MY GOD, WE’RE HIT!” SCREAMING! PANIC! GONE!!

The next morning, the few survivors are bobbing along in what looks like a large orange-red box. They suddenly come across a large freighter which, conveniently enough, has dropped anchor right next to them. A ladder is lowered and they clamber on board and start looking for the crew.

The ship seems to be in a sad state of neglect, and the toastmaster on the cruise-ship walks around deck making jokes about it, when all of a sudden his foot is caught in some wires and is promptly hoisted up in the air by a deck-crane. The crane swings him out over the railings and as the engines roar to life and the ship starts to move away, it drops him in the ocean to either drown or get mauled by the propellers. The rest searches the ship but it seems to be deserted and by the looks of it, it has been deserted for some time. But who the hell commands it then?

Having a bit of a rough and tumble.

Having a bit of a rough and tumble.

In the meantime, Captain Ashland, who’s been unconscious and badly “shook-up” since the accident that sunk his ship, starts hearing voices. Speaking in German they tell him his presence is needed on the bridge. His new command awaits him… The ship… awaits him!! And if you thought he was bad before? Well, you’re in for a nasty surprise!

The ship itself is pretty scary too, dark, decrepit and covered in rust and cobwebs. The long corridors and stairs are creepy enough just as they are, but when you sometimes hear sounds or music suddenly starts playing on old record players, they become downright scary. And then add doors and windows opening and closing on their own… Yeah well, the level just went up a notch to crap-your-pants-scary. Oh, but wait… it gets worse!

Captain of the ship.

Captain of the ship.

It’s not a particularly gory movie, it relies more on the psychological horror with sounds and imagery. Not that there’s no blood though, because there is. A lot! In one scene! It’s the infamous blood-shower scene, which actually doesn’t make much sense plot-wise.

It’s also the scene that has suffered most from trimming or from being “darkened down” in different versions of the movie. Not because of the blood, mind you, but because of the nudity. Of which there is a lot! Which kind of goes without saying because who takes a shower with their clothes on? And the actress in question, Victoria Burgoyne, looks good here, so I’m not complaining! At all! Even though it makes no sense…

And in all fairness, there are some pretty big plot-holes in Death Ship, I found myself thinking WHY a lot, but this is more or less considered a norm in this type of movie, right? Rationality is thrown out the window faster than you can say: “Hmm… it sure is dark down there. Let’s investigate!”

And they call this a luxury-cruise!

And they call this a luxury-cruise!

So… didn’t I like Death Ship then? Yes, as a matter of fact I did! I liked it fine, thank you very much! Sure the story is wafer-thin, but hey, I didn’t expect a Shakespearian masterpiece here. The sets are super-creepy and the cast actually does an ok job. The aforementioned Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Crenna of course, but also Nick Mancuso (Under Siege 1 & 2) as, er… Nick… a young officer who has a fling with one of the passengers, Lori, played by Victoria Burgoyne.

Saul Rubinek (Against all Odds, Unforgiven) has a small part as Jackie the toastmaster. Granted he doesn’t really do much, other than getting killed, but the way he gets killed is kind of unsettling.

Trevor Marshall’s wife Margaret, is played by Sally Ann Howes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a bunch of TV-movies) and Sylvia, one of the passengers, is played by Kate Reid from 1971’s The Andromeda Strain. She finds out the hard way that you really shouldn’t eat candy you find aboard a derelict ship. It’s downright stupid! And deforming too, apparently!

Death Ship is a slow-paced, but very enjoyable little horror flick and you could do a lot worse than spending an hour and a half with Captain Ashland and his new friends!

Until next time my friends… Please tell me your thoughts in the comment section below!

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