Death Ship

Isn’t the captain supposed to go down with the ship?

Not here. He survives, and according to the poster, “would be better off dead” for doing so. Death Ship, needless to say, is a weird disaster film / supernatural horror-hybrid that is set on the high seas (and by the looks of the insane premise, “high” being the operative word).

A sweaty George Kennedy plays Ashland, a bored cruise ship captain whose vessel collides with a mysterious rusted brown freighter. His takes on water, and disappears quickly, leaving but a handful of survivors on a raft. They float about for a bit before coming upon the rust-bucket boat in question, now anchored, and they hop aboard.

They go exploring, only to discover that the ship in uninhabited. It’s always a delight to see a bunch of people poking about on an abandoned vessel, which we have not seen since the wacky 90s Italian horror, Creature from the Abyss, aka, Plankton).

There’s a ghost in the machine, however, and one of the passengers (Saul Rubinek, the Daphne love interest from Frasier) is hoisted by a crane and dunked/keelhauled to his demise.

The survivors realize that something is seriously amiss and they really haven’t been rescued at all.

You see, the titular ship has been totally abandoned and is just drifting around as if it’s been possessed by some nefarious spirit. Spoiler alert: It friggin’ has.

Even though Death Ship isn’t a slasher, and is as far removed from the likes of Friday the 13th or Halloween as you can get despite coming out during the Golden Era of horror, it still manages to succeed because like those films, there’s a solid understanding that place matters.

***1/2

[Check out our podcast discussion of Death Ship!]

Santa Claus (1959)

At our latitude, Santa Claus comes with a set of built-in expectations: an unhealthy BMI, a felt suit, more hos than a red light district, and of course, the white beard.

1959’s Santa Claus, aka, Mexican Santa Claus, aka, Santa Claus vs. The Devil, upturns the sled, and gives us so many weird twists and turns that it makes for must-see Christmas viewing (especially if you’re tired of seeing James Caan glower at Will Ferrell on every fourth channel this time of year).

In this version, children, not elves, are the unlucky toilers in Santa’s employment standards-skirting workshop, and director Rene Cardona goes through great pains to show us that the kids are of every color and creed: there’s a protracted scene of ethnic stereotypes as American kids with cowboy hats, Germans in dirndls (say that three times fast) and Africans in grass skirts sing traditional, and decidedly un-traditional songs (the Brits sing a few bars of “London Bridge is Falling Down,” for reasons that defy logic and description).

And weirder still: Santa’s workshop isn’t on the North Pole, but is lunar. So it’s not a stretch to say this film is sheer lunacy.

He really knows when you’re sleeping/awake, as his base is equipped with espionage equipment that’d be the envy of the Stasi: telescopic eyes, satellite dish ears, etc. so he can peer down onto the earth’s surface and find out who’s been naughty/nice (depicted here, oddly, as “good” vs “liars).

Santa’s antagonist is “Pitch,” which sounds like some obnoxious a capella singer but who is in actuality a devilish emissary sent by Satan himself to spoil Christmas (“pitch” is a reference to a pitchfork). Pitch gets inside the heads of children to make them do bad things, like chuck projectiles at Kris Kringle or covet expensive dolls.

As weird and wonderful as Cardona’s infamous Night of the Bloody Apes (in which a bad scientist tries to treat leukemia, a bone marrow ailment, with an animal heart transplant) Santa Claus is a real break from your typical holiday fare, not to mention reality.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to the Really Awful Movies Podcast team discuss Mexican Santa Claus!]