Horror Film Review: Ghost Ship (dir by Steve Beck)


Way back when we first started this year’s horrorthon, Arleigh shared a horror scene that he loved.  That scene was the opening few minutes of the 2002 horror-at-sea film, Ghost Ship.

That scene featured a few dozen wealthy cruise ship passengers all getting bisected by a thin wire cord.  While a young girl named Kate (Emily Browning) watches, everyone on the ship’s dance floor literally falls to pieces.  Torsos slip off of legs.  Bodies split in half.  The captain’s head literally splits in two.  While gallons of blood gush everywhere, people vainly try to reattach their limbs.  Actually, some of them can’t even figure out which limb belongs to them.  By the time everyone’s collapsed, there’s a lot of arms and legs to sort through.

In short, it’s an absolute mess.  I wouldn’t want to be the person assigned to clean up after all that.

It’s also a rather brilliant opening, one that only takes a minute to go from romance and sophistication to bloody dismemberment.  It’s definitely the one moment that everyone remembers about Ghost Ship, which is a bit of a problem because, once that scene is done, there’s still 85 minutes of film to sit through.  Ghost Ship‘s opening is so shocking and visceral that there’s no way that the rest of the film can live up to it.

As for the rest of the film, it deals with a boat salvage crew.  Gabriel Byrne is Murphy, the captain.  Julianne Margulies is Maureen Epps, whose name might as well be Ellen Ripley.  Ron Eldard is Dodge, who is in love with Epps.  And then there’s Karl Urban, Isiah Washington, and Alex Dimitriades, who are all playing characters who you know are going to be doomed as soon as you see them.  When they’re told by a pilot named Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) that he’s spotted a ghost ship in international waters, they set out to claim it for themselves.

Of course, what Jack has spotted is the same cruise ship where, forty years before, everyone was chopped in half.  After Murphy, Epps, and the crew board the ship, they discover a large amount of gold.  They also end up seeing a lot of ghosts, including the young girl from the start of the movie.  To their credit, the crew decides to leave the ship as quickly as they can.  Unfortunately, after their tugboat explodes, escape appears to be impossible and it becomes obvious that they have been lured to the cruise ship for a very specific purpose.

The film encourages us to wonder what the ship wants from the salvage crew but the answer to that question is never really in doubt.  For that matter, it’s not really a shock when it turns out that one member of the boarding party isn’t what he claims to be.  Despite being a bit predictable, Ghost Ship isn’t a bad film.  It has a reputation for being disappointing but actually it’s an atmospheric and competently directed horror film.  Though the characters are all thinly drawn, the talented cast does their best to try to bring them to life.  If the film ultimately doesn’t seem to work as well as it should, it’s largely because nothing that follows can match the power of that opening.  You watching the film waiting for a scene that’ll match that opening scene and when it never comes, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

 

 

Horror Scenes I Love: Ghost Ship


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Ghost Ship came out in 2002 and it was part of that very brief wave of Dark Castle Entertainment which began in 1999 with their remake of House On Haunted Hill and then petered out with 2005’s Gothika.

While not one of the better horror films to come out during the first decade of the new millennium, Ghost Ship was still entertaining enough to become a sort of guilty pleasure for horror aficionados.

Part of why some horror fans seem to enjoy this film, mediocre as it is through much of it’s running time, is the opening scene which takes on a grand guignol meets the Road Runner brilliance in its execution.

Just take a gander for yourself and try not to either vomit in disgust or smile gleefully at such a ludicrous gory sequence.

Horror Film Review: Thirteen Ghosts (dir by Steve Beck)


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Thirteen Ghosts!  

Oh my God, this 2001 haunted house movie scared the Hell out of my when I was way too young to know any better.  Seriously, it would come on HBO late at night and I would secretly watch it with the sound turned down and just the visuals would freak me out.

That lawyer getting chopped in half by the glass doors?  AGCK!

That ghost staring at Shannon Elizabeth?  AGCK!

That other ghost attacking Shannon Elizabeth?  AGCK!

All of the ghosts suddenly appearing and then just as quickly disappearing?  AGCK!

MATTHEW LILLARD!?  DOUBLE AGCK!

Seriously, I had nightmares about those ghosts!

For this month’s horrorthon, I decided to rewatch Thirteen Ghosts and … well, first of all, I was reminded by the DVD that apparently, the name of the film is not Thirteen Ghosts.  Instead, the proper name is Thir13een Ghosts, which is really kind of annoying because it’s not like that “13” even vaguely resembles a “T”.  I’m not even sure how exactly you would pronounce Thir13een.  Wasn’t one of the robots in the last Star Wars film named Thir13een?  Just looking at the title makes me think about that episode of South Park where Cartman went into the future and had a robot dog named K-10 (and a cat named Kit-9 and a bird named Kok-A-3!)

So, no offense meant to anyone who was involved in the naming of the film, but I’m going to keep calling it Thirteen Ghosts!

Anyway, I decided to rewatch Thirteen Ghosts because I remembered it as being the scariest film ever made and … wow, it really did not stand up to the test of time.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  The ghosts were still kind of scary and I guess that Tony Shalhoub did the best that he could do with the material.  But the movie itself…oh my God.

Seeing as how I’m contractually obligated to come up with at least 500 words about Thirteen Ghosts, let’s talk about the plot, shall we?  Tony Shalhoub is Arthur.  Arthur’s a widower who has two children, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts).  For some reason, Kathy is obsessed with sink fixtures.  Bobby, meanwhile, is your typical bratty kid.  Arthur is like way poor and about to lose his house.  Despite this, he continues to employ a housekeeper named Maggie (Rah Digga).  HEY, ARTHUR, THERE’S NO POINT IN HAVING A HOUSEKEEPER IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD YOUR FREAKING HOUSE!

Anyway…

Fortunately, Arthur is informed that his uncle, a legendary ghost hunter named Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) has died and, as a result, Arthur has inherited his mansion!  YAY!  PROBLEM SOLVED!  Of course, the mansion is kind of weird.  The walls are covered with Latin phrases and it’s all glass.  “I do not do windows,” Maggie says.  Ha ha ha.

Well, it turns out that the entire house is full of murderous ghosts.  (Of course, you can’t see them unless you put on special glasses.)  We occasionally get glimpses of the ghosts and this is where Thirteen Ghosts actually triumphs.  The ghosts actually are really freaky looking and they’ve all got enjoyably weird backstories.  That’s a good thing.

What isn’t a good thing is that, in order for the ghosts to get free and wreck some havoc, everyone in the house is required to act like a total idiot.  Hence, we get Shannon Elizabeth staring at herself in a mirror for literally four minutes, just so one ghost can sneak up behind her.  We get Bobby and Maggie constantly running off.  We also get Embeth Davidtz as a “spirit liberator” and Matthew Lillard as a psychic.

Does Matthew Lillard give a good performance in Thirteen Ghosts?  It’s hard to say.  He definitely gives a performance that could only be given by Matthew Lillard.  There’s a few scenes where you do wish someone on set had told him to calm down but, on the whole, you can count me in the pro-Lillard camp.  It’s a silly film and it needs someone willing to give a silly performance.

There are a few parts of Thirteen Ghosts that have stood up well.  The ghosts, the production design, the scene with the lawyer.  But ultimately, the movie fails because you really don’t care about Arthur or his family or his housekeeper.  In these type of films, the main characters either have to be likable or they have to be so unlikable that you don’t mind seeing them get terrorized.  But bland just will not get the job done!

Since I love lists, here’s my ranking of the ghosts, from least to most frightening:

  1. The Withered Lover — I can’t talk too much about her without it counting as a spoiler but she’s the only ghosts that isn’t malicious and therefore, she’s not frightening.
  2. The Bound Woman — A hanging woman wearing a prom dress.  Who cares?
  3. The Torso — The torso is a legless torso that has to drag itself around by its hands.  The torso is kinda freaky but it’s hard to be scared of something that doesn’t have legs.
  4. The Pilgrimess — The Pilgrimess was accused of witchcraft in the 17th Century.  She’s kind of scary but she’s also still in the stocks so she’s not quite as threatening as she could be.
  5. The Great Child and
  6. the Dire Mother — AGCK!  The Dire Mother is a tiny woman who is always feeding her giant son, the Great Child!  Creepy!
  7. The Torn Prince — The Torn Prince always freaks me out.  Not only is he massively disfigured as the result of a car crash but he also carries a baseball bat.  AGCK!
  8. The First Born Son — The first born son is a kid who has an arrow sticking out his head.  He whispers that he wants to play.  AGCK!  Children are creepy.
  9. The Angry Princess — The Angry Princess is a total rip-off of the bathtub ghost from The Shining but she still scares the Hell out of me.  AGCK!
  10. The Hammer — AGCK!  He’s a former blacksmith, covered in spikes and featuring a hammer in place of his left hand.
  11. The Juggernaut — Oh my God, this guys is scary and evil-looking!  We’re told that he killed 9 people when he was alive and 31 people as a ghost.  DOUBLE AGCK!
  12. The Jackal — OH MY GOD!  The Jackal gave me nightmares when I was younger and he’s still the scariest of the ghosts!  He’s the one who has a cage on his head.  The scene where he attacks Shannon Elizabeth is pure nightmare fuel!  TRIPLE AGCK!

Anyway, the movie’s not as scary as I remembered but those ghosts are still Agck-worthy.

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