A cruise liner is minding its own business when suddenly an empty, ghostly freighter rams it. The wreck leaves only a handful of survivors, including a hard-ass Captain Ashland played by George Kennedy. The survivors drift on a raft until the freighter appears again. Like every group of protagonists in every haunted location based movie, they willingly enter a situation despite the obvious red flags. They board the Death Ship. We learn that the boat is a “Nazi interrogation vessel,” still on its mission to kill. In fact, it needs blood to keep running. Eventually the Death Ship possesses captain Ashland, and generally terrorizes the lot, killing off a few of them.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes Death Ship engaging. It’s a disappointment in most regards. The acting is terrible, the characters are under-developed (to the point of wondering if anyone even tried at all), and the premise is never really fully explained. There are some shocks, but they’re too hokey to be convincing or effective. In fact, there’s almost nothing redeemable about this film at all. Yet, I still enjoyed it. Maybe not as a spooky Shining-esque boat horror I assume they intended, but as a campy masterpiece.
One of Death Ship‘s many enjoyable flaws is the unexplained nature of, well, everything. A lot of strange things happen and have strange consequences. For example: a woman writhes around in a blood shower in one sequence and in the next we just get the information that she’s dead. How did she die? Why does a ship that needs blood waste so much blood on a shower? You don’t get answers, but do you really need them after watching someone squirm around under a shower head oozing fake blood? There are so many moments like this.
Death Ship is great, but it is also bad. Unlike cult films like Troll 2 — which is tone-wise the best movie to compare it to, where unknowns deliver the best performances they can muster under bizarre direction and bad writing — Death Ship manages to get a similar style of performance with actual actor, and actual Oscar winner, George Kennedy. The idea of a Nazi Interrogation vessel still sailing back and forth on the atlantic looking for victims isn’t developed much more than this one sentence. I think the strongest thing it’s got genuinely going is the ominous synth-y soundtrack.