Death Ship (1980)

  • Time: 91 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Horror | Mystery
  • Director: Alvin Rakoff
  • Cast: George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso


Survivors of a tragic shipping collision are rescued by a mysterious black ship which appears out of the fog. Little do they realise that the ship is actually a Nazi torture ship which has sailed the seas for years, luring unsuspecting sailors aboard and killing them off one by one.


  • Take one look at the poster of Death Ship and its tagline ‘those who survive the ghost ship would be better off dead!’, and you can pretty much guess what you’re in for. Death Ship is a run-of-the-mill, low-budget horror featuring a killer Nazi ship that feeds off blood and manages to lure some unfortunate genre archetypes on board for 90 minutes of rambling shenanigans. The one major plus that perhaps makes the film stand slightly above others of its kind is the presence of two genre legends – George Kennedy and Richard Crenna – both no doubt looking for an easy pay-day but lightening the mood nonetheless.

    Grumpy and socially awkward Captain Ashland (Kennedy) is making his final voyage, transporting a ship full of dull socialites and holiday-makers around while his second-in-command Trevor Marshall (Crenna) waits patiently to take the reigns. When their ship is suddenly struck by a ghostly black freighter that blurts out warning messages in German, only a few survivors escape with their lives, drifting out to sea and eventually finding themselves on board the mysterious vessel. The group find nobody alive on board, and when the annoying lounge act Jackie (a young Saul Rubinek) is seemingly drowned by supernatural forces, it quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary ship.

    The injured Ashland gradually becomes obsessed with taking command of the freighter, mocking Marshall for his lack of leadership qualities and developing a sudden fondness for the Third Reich. The scenes between Kennedy and Crenna, two strong leading men in their heyday, are when Death Ship is at its most enjoyable. Kennedy hams it up no end, but this only adds to the fun. Sadly these moments are few and far between, and the obvious lack of funding forces the movie to resort to endless scenes of inane chattering, gloomy shots of the ship’s interior, and some terrible stock-footage where you can barely tell what’s happening. One scene of Victoria Bugoyne trapped inside a shower spurting blood is undoubtedly memorable but inspires some unintentional laughs, but that is slim praise for a film that ultimately bores.

    Rating: 2/5

    Read more reviews at The Wrath of Blog

  • By the last half of 20th century film making, horror genre pictures had solidified themselves in pop culture. Plus, the horror genre began splitting off into various sub-genres like the “slasher” and “monster” flicks. But when it came to out at sea related adventures, it’s hard to say whether there was a lot of them around yet that delved into the horror genre. The biggest noticeable boom in this particular kind of story / setting would be seen later with pictures like Leviathan (1989), Deep Star Six (1989), Deep Rising (1998), Virus (1999) and Ghost Ship (2002). But for Death Ship (1980), it seemed like this was the grandpap of all of them. It is by no means a true gem but it at least has certain aspects that should be respected for.

    After being shipwrecked and stranded in the ocean, a group of survivors from the wreck discover an abandoned rusty derelict. Once on board, they begin to realize that the ship is running with no crew. Odd. There’s more than meets the eye to this ship that’s for sure. Apart of the survivors are George Kennedy as Capt. Ashland, his second in command Trevor Marshall (Richard Crenna – with a full beard) and his wife (Sally Ann Howes – from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)) and kids. Although these actors are good choices, their performances aren’t among anything moving. Other than these actors, the last bit of the cast is highly forgettable. Partially this is due to the writing, which addresses some motivations, like the Captain’s but not all of them, and this isn’t the only flaw.

    The ship that which these survivors take refuge on has supernatural powers. It can close its own doors, control its own chains, pump its engines, steer itself and even is accompanied by ghostly voices. Nice! So how did it get these powers? Was it cursed? Don’t know, a topic that is never touched on sadly. There is an explanation to what it thrives on but that still doesn’t explain its current condition. But going back to the actual ship itself, is something to behold. The production design by Chris Burke and cinematography by René Verzier blend evenly. The look of this ship is as grungy and weather worn as they come. Not to mention all of those cobwebs all over the place. Although the back-story to the ship is not expanded upon, the mystery of not knowing does make it entertaining to a point.

    The camerawork is also done differently. To simulate that of being on a boat, the camera sways making it unleveled with square surfaces. It can get a bit nauseating at times but it feels realistic. The practical effects are nice too. All the ship’s eerie movements and creaky noises help make the vessel feel that much more bizarre. The horror aspect to the film is probably the weakest though. None of it was scary, it was just unsettling (and that’s ok). Adding to that unsettling feeling is Ivor Slaney’s score, which incorporates classical sounding orchestral tones and some synth. The best theme was the tune that plays for the ship’s engine pistons where horns crescendo and decrescendo for the swinging movement every time they pump. Too bad the complete score isn’t available. Horror fans may find something to like about, but I don’t guarantee a whole lot.

    It has a few respectable cast members but their characters’ are not developed fully. However, the ship’s production value, camera work, music and all around eerie surrounding is enough to make it somewhat likable.

    Points Earned –> 5:10

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