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!]

Summer of 84

Over at Film School Rejects they asked if we are “approaching 1980s nostalgia fatigue.” We not only approached it, we settled in and signed the lease. Summer of 84 is another exercise in warm blanket era-sentimentality, a la Stranger Things, The Goldbergs and even before, on a popular Friends episode.

When it comes to our domain, horror, the 80s were something of a Golden Age so it’s not surprising filmmakers are longing for its return (Or maybe it’s all relative. The 90s ushered in a Dark Age.)

Summer of 84’s cultural touchstones include the usual suspects — Ghostbusters, MTV, and Reagan (what’s odd is that people are always time capsule-constrained to their decades. In the 80s, this site’s authors ingested a diet rich in 70s music and film, but if our lives ended up on screen, somehow it’d all be headbands, key-tars and Goonies).

Summer of 84 features four teen friends, roughly, the fatty, the nerd, the vaguely cool one, and the delinquent, and good-natured ribbing since lost to the Age of PC.

When their suburban town is rocked by a report of missing boys, a la the John Wayne Gacy case, one member of the crew casts suspicion on the local cop. The group then does some Hardy Boys inductive reasoning to dredge up clues to get their man. Their team also includes an eye-candy babysitter (too post-pubescent to run with this baby-faced crew, but providing good female energy) and their investigative reporting features nascent camcorder technology, and the even more inevitable Spielberg name-check.

With zippy dialogue and easy camaraderie, Summer of 84 whips along solely on its considerable charms, before completely unraveling in an exasperating anti-climax and embarrassingly stupid voice-over.

Merely snipping 10 minutes from the finale would’ve done this film wonders. But Summer of 84 is the work of three directors, so they were probably drawn and quartered in narrative direction.

Write (or direct) what you know is true for any era. And you could call the spate of 80s-styled horror movies by Generation Xers wistful thinking.

*** (out of 5)