In the press kit for Ghost Ship, producer Joel Silver assures us that, in the annals of cinema history, "there has never been a satisfying marriage" of sea tales and ghost stories.
One might forgive Silver for not being closely acquainted with Raúl Ruiz's surreal Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), but can he really be so unaware of a classic Val Lewton horror film of 1943 called The Ghost Ship?
This new film is not a remake of Lewton's work. It follows in the wake of similar horror movies produced by Silver and Robert Zemeckis during the '90s, such as the Tales from the Crypt series.
All these movies delight in using the hoariest conventions of the horror genre, spiced up with a little modern gore. But there is not a single idea animating Ghost Ship.
Captain Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) and his motley crew board the rotting remains of an Italian vessel lost for forty years. Beyond the darkness and the rats, there is soon plenty to scare these foolhardy explorers: apparitions, abandoned elevator shafts, sharp objects. Throw in a bounty of filthy lucre, and in no time betrayals and fights begin, urged on by shape-shifting, evil spirits.
Ross Gibson's book Seven Versions of an Australian Badland (2002) offers a vivid illustration of how seafaring mythologies and stories of haunting or possession can very naturally be used to explore all manner of social and historical traumas.
Ghost Ship, like so many glossy Hollywood horror movies of today, stupidly refuses these possibilities. It is simply a slick collection of shocks and jokes, mechanically mounted and indifferently acted.
MORE Beck: Thirteen Ghosts
© Adrian Martin December 2002