After "House on Haunted Hill" and "Thirteen Ghosts," the producing team at Dark Castle Entertainment move away from the William Castle catalogue and dip into popular ghost tales, transferring the old dark house setting to a floating relic with hidden secrets, as clumsily written by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue (the latter of "Rollerball" and "The Skulls" fame).
Using the same visual flair from "Thirteen Ghosts," former special effects whiz/newfound horror director Steve Beck starts the film off with a dynamic opening that initially - and brilliantly - evokes the bubbly romance-on-the-sea tales through a colourful title sequence - the old WB logo with skewed Eastman Color, retro script font in candy colours set to Gino Paoli and Alec Wilder's creamy "Senza Fine"- and Beck kills the cuddly mood with a gory montage, setting the mordant tone and plasma consumption for the rest of the film's efficient running time.
As with the aforementioned Dark Castle films, "Ghost Ship" looks gorgeous, exploiting the rusty colours of decay, and the moldy sets that dominate the film. The soundtrack is the usual blend of crisp sound effects, with two rock songs sandwiched between John Frizzell's furtive score, and eerie recapitulations of the Paoli/Wilder tune - a song first heard in the score for, and via Connie Francis's vocals in, the 1965 Robert Aldrich film "Flight of the Phoenix," and the perfect signature theme for the decrepit luxury liner that once stylishly traversed oceans in the Sixties.
"Max on Set" is the usual promo piece with brief interviews with the cast, key special effects crew, director Steve Beck, and producers Joel Silver and Gilbert Adler, whereas the included featurettes get into more detail on the film's obvious attractions - gore and visual effects.
"Visual Effects" functions simultaneously as a chronicle and promo for Photon FX, the resourceful Australian company that provided the film's visuals for the once-beautiful ship - patterned after the ill-fated Andrea Doria - through practical models, and more straightforward digital effects. There's also some decent montages revealing the creation of the liner - before and after possession - and a few hallucination sequences, including Italian beauty Francesca Rettondini's reincarnation in the grand ballroom to claim a vulnerable Isaiah Washington.
Practical devices also feature prominently in "A Closer Look at the Gore," where the opening sequence makes excellent use of prosthetics and some added digital enhancements. The film's beginning is clearly the sexiest moment in the film, though the occasional floating corpse gets some screen time, too.
The ship also gets its own featurette, covering research and design, and the immense models constructed for the wide cruising shots, and the excellent sets that comprise the ship's interior.
Besides a music video - basically a montage of money shots from the film - and theatrical trailer, there's a letter puzzle game that will play 4 shorts: level 1 offers a radio dispatch of a doomed salvage crew (2:00), singer Francesca's personal reflections on doomed Isaiah (1:11), and the evil plotting that contributed to the ship's mortal fate (1:37); level 2, accessible only when some of the preceding shorts are played, contains a brief self-reflection by the movie's Little Girl Ghost (1:14).
The cover art uses a lenticular hologram, giving the ship's bow a skeletal visage, and the words "Sea Evil" (get it? get it?) shimmering above the water surface.
Now, if only the owners of "Death Ship" [M] - starring Richard Crenna and George Kennedy - would wake up, the fun doomed ship sub-genre would be further enriched. Ahem.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan