Thursday, 15 September 2016

Ghost Ship (2002)

Director: Steve Beck
Screenplay: Mark Hanlon and John Pogue
Cast: Gabriel Byrne (as Captain Sean Murphy); Julianna Margulies (as Maureen Epps); Ron Eldard (as Dodge); Desmond Harrington (as Jack Ferriman); Isaiah Washington (as Greer)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #24

There's a form of tragedy for me discussing the production company Dark Castle Entertainment as, at the right age when they were first founded, I grew up with the first initial films and the potential promise they had at that point in American horror cinema over the Millennium. Originally they were meant as a tribute to William Castle, the legendary showman horror director, but only after two films (House on Haunted Hill (1999) and Thirteen Ghosts (2001)) they stopped remaking Castle's filmography and started producing both original films and even non-horror movies like Ninja Assassin (2009) until they stopped in activity since 2013. Unfortunately most of the films I've seen from the company weren't rewarding in the slightest, and particularly with their first two films, Castle remakes that had immense flaws but a distinct ghoulish style to them, there was a hope for the company to have a distinct personality to make things more interesting in mainstream horror cinema at the time, when the slasher revival was going into decline and a strange aesthetic - think Limp Bizkit, pop punk, plots were you wished you had the original Playstation console controller in hand instead - took over American films for a youth audience in general.

The disappointment was immediately found in Ghost Ship, the third film out the gate, and revisiting now it's also a disappointment in terms of squandering a nautical horror premise that would've been great if done well. Growing up in a country that's an island, entirely unconnected to our nearest neighbours Europe baring an undersea subway tunnel, the symbology of the coast and especially the sea, with Britain's history of boating and ships travelling the world, has a great depth to it. Particularly when you're father used to build model boats of such ships like the Bounty, this becomes even more significant for me, the sea one of the only areas on planet Earth which is still very hostile for human beings to try to survive on. The premise allows a perfect ghost story, where a group that finds and claims lost ship wrecks encounters a legendary Italian cruise ship that was lost in the early Sixties, only to find themselves stuck on a haunted ship surrounded by hundreds of miles of fog covered sea. 

If there's one virtue to Ghost Ship it's the production design. The first two films of Dark Castle's, while riddled with flaws of modern American horror cinema, had such distinct personalities and production design that I've effectively come to like them as guilty pleasures I have no shame in liking. House on Haunted Hill, while very dated to its era of Marilyn Manson-like imagery, is an incredibly creepy and lurid film with a surprising amount of grotesque material for a mainstream American film. Thirteen Ghosts had an incredible production design and background mythology to it that, while squandered by the generic plot, still gave it some credibility. Ghost Ship has at least an interesting ship location to its plot even if its wasted, a waterlogged and abandoned ship that has a personality and menace to it to compensate for everything else, an inherent haunted eeriness to claustrophobic corridors which had splendour only to rot away. This is also a film famous, before it slips into tedium, for a great opening set piece that starts as a pastiche of the sixties, down to even the type of title font for the title, before an incredibly gruesome splatter scene takes place to shock the viewer. Sadly the film fails to capitalise on this beginning, the exotica or the incredible splatter set piece, but it's a great way to have started Ghost Ship anyway.

Aside from this, it's an incredibly generic horror film full of one dimensional characters trading quips rather than dialogue before cheap jump scares fill out the rest of the time. What's more annoying, as this is a common flaw still today, is that modern American horror films have quite an admirable trait of casting the protagonists as women who do not fall into the stereotype of damsels or even the glamour queens of old fifties b-movies, only to fail the actresses by giving them little to do and, with Julianna Margulies here, forcing her to gawk at a generic ghost girl that appears to her constantly as an exposition dump with a crisp English accent. The film is so predictable in how its presented that even Gabriel Byrne cannot spark a moment of interest anytime he appears onscreen let alone anyone else. The worst part is how the plot itself is exceptionally rubbish as well by the end, wanting to evoke Satan in its idea of a cruise ship trapping souls but without any courage to reference Satan or religion barring convoluted vagueness. By the third film, Dark Castle Entertainment already lost a personality that allowed me to forgive the first two films for their problems as a teenager and help them to stand out from what was being released around this time, none of the beautiful gruesomeness of House on Haunted Hill to the originality and obsession with clockwork and glass of Thirteen Ghosts. Ghost Ship barring its moments of style is colourless like a lot of horror cinema at this time onwards into the modern day, blasting a nu metal song at its end credits as if the whole thing was merely meant to be a placeholder to appeal to teenagers; the song itself isn't that bad, making me want to re-evaluate the band Mudvayne who play it, but it's completely out of place when exotic lounge music or an orchestral score would've been more appropriate, little mistakes like this that kill any personality in the film and spread to major issues for it altogether.


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