Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Death Ship





 **

I finally had a chance to watch Death Ship (1980) after many years of searching for a decent copy available. I had never been fortunate enough to find it for rent when I was a kid/teen on VHS, and a proper DVD release has only recently been provided so seeing this obscure oddity with George Kennedy and Richard Crenna had been hard to come by.

I will say that while this isn’t a good movie, it has plenty of crazy moments, a marvelous setting (a Nazi WWII interrogation ship (torture ship) that looks its age), some stylish camera shots (emphasizing the claustrophobic tightness of inside of the ship), and nicely foreboding lighting (darkened corridors and cob-webbed rooms). Crenna is the hero of the film while Kennedy soon becomes the villain. Crenna is to “replace” Kennedy as Captain on a cruise ship due to Kennedy’s grumpy, odious manner and personality. He’s a grouch with very little patience for social gatherings and orders his officers around with contempt and intolerance. Kennedy’s ship is rammed into by the ghost ship, knocking a hole in the hull, leading to it taking on rushing water, resulting in its sinking. 

A handful of survivors (basically the characters introduced to us on board the ship which includes a young Nick Mancuso as an officer), include Crenna, his wife (Sally Ann Howes) and two children (boy and girl), Kate Reid (I know her as one of the scientists in Robert Wise’s adaptation of The Andromeda Strain), Mancuso and his girlfriend (Victoria Burgoyne), Kennedy (when he emerges, he’s in a bad state), and a young Saul Rubinek (of Warehouse 13) as the cruise ship’s entertainer. They raft their way to the film’s Flying Dutchmen which seems to run on its own, operated by the spirits of the German crew who have never quite left. Once onboard, the ship (and later the possessed Kennedy) starts attacking them. Rubinek is lifted upside down by a hook, carried off the ship, dunked in the ocean, craned as high as the rope can pull him, and is dropped from quite a distance until violent waves (created by the ship as it starts up) drown him.

The film’s plot and some of its execution are what I believe sink it (pun intended). The “ghostly” commands and responses of the German crew “haunting the halls”, Kennedy’s anger about losing his post to Crenna used as leverage by the spirit of the former Nazi Commandant who preys on his lust for command as he marches the halls looking to discard folks that seem to be nuisances while expecting others to stay on the ship unless he considers them of no use, and the finale with how Kennedy is dealt with (the ship tires of him, too!) are examples of how this film is more than a bit absurd and nuts. 

The “shower of blood” scene where poor Victoria is stuck in a small space as she is bathed by blood, turning and turning, begging for release, as Nick must go to get help is quite an eye-opener, as is Kennedy hoisting over his head and tossing her overboard. A body crushed in the gears of the ship as it pushes ahead, the discovery of tortured (I assume) Jews in skeletal form in a room full of bunk beds and other bodies found frozen in a meat cooler, along with Mancuso trapped in a net, totally in hysterics, while surrounded by the mulch and dismembered parts of Nazi victims, only further provide examples of how Death Ship is quite a smörgåsbord of the ghoulish and bizarre.

Played straight and serious, which will no doubt add a charm to this film, the cast approach the material respectfully even though the story is quite unworthy of that kind of treatment. Kennedy is all asshole here. He never really is remotely likable. Crenna is focused on, at first, getting those still alive in a safe place (he presumes is the ship they encounter), and later is dead set on leading anyone not killed by the ship safely off of it. There’s not much more to Crenna’s character than protector and dependable leader, tolerating Kennedy until the ship’s captain possesses him. The “Nazi propaganda film” scene where  Crenna and Mancuso find the commandant’s room and endure the loud racket that stings their ears from the projector (and images of Hitler and his troops) is strange in its execution. Seeing Mancuso tearing apart one white screen after another in an attempt to remove a platform for the film to appear in a fit of agonized rage as Crenna clutches his ears and collapses with this nagging sound driving them mad is something to behold.

This does end in predictable fashion as Kennedy wears out his welcome, while Crenna awakens from a gun handle strike to the back of his head as he attempts to help his wife flee the ship into the water, to meet their children in a floatation boat. The helicopter makes its presence known. The Flying Dutchmen doesn’t just disappear…there are plenty more cruise ships liable to pass its way eventually, with the blood of passengers certain to “feed” its hunger.

All this said, that movie poster for the film is badass.

http://brianscarecrow88.tumblr.com/post/88341541426/death-ship
http://brianscarecrow88.tumblr.com/post/88341842261/death-ship
http://brianscarecrow88.tumblr.com/post/88342118561/shower-of-blood-death-ship

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