[Blu-ray Review] Scream Factory's 'Ghost Ship' Collector's Edition Uncovers a Cast/Crew Still Haunted by the Film
1999 was a good year for William Castle fans…
…That’s because that was the same year that Dark Castle Entertainment launched their first film, the excellent House on Haunted Hill, a remake of William Castle’s 1959 classic starring Vincent Price. It was the beginning of what Dark Castle promised would be a yearly William Castle remake with a focus on owning the Halloween season.
Sadly, that only happened for one more film.
Steve Beck was the man behind the camera for 2001’s Thir13en Ghosts remake. The studio was so thrilled with the film, they hired Beck for the next, what would be their first original concept (already abandoning the Castle model). Sailing in came Ghost Ship (2002), which also happened to be Beck’s last feature film. With the upcoming collector’s edition of Ghost Ship coming from Scream Factory, anyone even the least bit curious to why will be happy to know that there is a treasure trove of answers on this disc.
And it all goes back to the script.
Originally titled Chimera, the film was supposed to be a Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets Ten Little Indians type film, about a salvage crew that discovers gold on a lost ship and one of them turns on the others, picking them off one by one. This was the film Beck was excited about. It was the film the cast was excited about. And it’s the film I get excited about just hearing Beck describe it on the all new commentary. According to Beck, 9/11 happened during development, and Dark Castle suddenly decided they wanted to go in a more classic horror, spooky entertainment route. Chimera became the victim of heavy studio influence, and was drastically changed into what is now Ghost Ship.
“In our business, the only plan is there is no plan,” says Murphy (Gabriel Byrne). The same could be said about Dark Castle and their approach to Ghost Ship.
The main story retains elements of Chimera. It still revolves around a salvage crew, led by Epps (Julianna Margulies) and Murphy, and accompanied by a phenomenal young cast that includes Karl Urban, who receive word of a potential lost ship at sea from Ferriman (Desmond Harrington), a random creep at the bar who wants to go with them and take a cut. Once the crew arrives at the ship, they discover a rusty wreck worth plenty by itself, not counting the crates of gold below deck, but find themselves haunted by the ghosts of the ship and the travesty that happened there.
You know what makes creepy ghost girls creepier? Creepy ghost girls on creepy ghost ships! Especially when they’re played by the talented Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) in one of her earlier, palest roles.
Between Beck’s commentary and new interviews such as a chat with Isaiah Washington (who plays the sexually unlucky Greer), there’s a pretty good sense that the cast/crew are all still a tad haunted by Ghost Ship. Beck is refreshingly honest all throughout the commentary on how much he loved the Chimera script, and how devastating it was to have the film so recklessly transformed by the studio. The poor guy repeatedly says he tried his best, he did what he could, but it’s easy to understand why there’s a tinge of remorse in Beck’s voice when describing Ghost Ship.
Ghost Ship is a bit of a stinker sinker. And I say that as a hardcore aquatic horror fan.
Whatever bit of thrills and chills Chimera was, Ghost Ship is not. Browning’s ghost is associated with some old blocks that spell “I am bored,” and, well, I can’t ignore the irony. While I’ll never not be a fan of seeing strong women like Margulies’ character proving they can play with the boys and do the job better than them, the characters are so thin you can see through them. Kind of like ghosts. A lot of that’s because the character development was cut down to make room for extra bodies, action and of course, ghosts, none of which there is enough of. Outside of the first fifteen minutes, Ghost Ship tends to be a slog to get through, and can sometimes feel like dragging a tanker on a little tug boat. It doesn’t help that the cast does a lot more friendly chatting with ghosts and not enough screaming.
But those first fifteen minutes? Wowza. They make up for every ounce of boredom through the rest of the film.
The opening scene of Ghost Ship, where the entirety of the fancy smancy passengers prove they are truly a cut above the rest after being decapitated by a wire gone crazy, is simply one of the best in horror. Few horror films can claim to dispatch over thirty people in such bloody, grotesque fashion in just the first few minutes. Heads fall off. Intestines fall out. And each and every body does that smooth, sliding apart trick prominent in the early 2000s that has us all looking back and wondering, cake?
Ghost Ship also boasts some excellent FX work, which is well detailed in behind the scenes footage by FX supervisor Jason Baird, who still owns a dummy head of Byrne, because of course he does and how could you not want to? We may not see enough of the uglier side of the ghosts, but when we do (in particular the decayed mug of actress Francesca Rettondini, no doubt a callback to The Shining’s woman in the tub), the makeup is effectively chilling.
The disc also gets into the excellent production design, an element of the film which gets overlooked far too often, because Beck and crew weren’t shooting on an actual ship. As Beck mentions, not a single shot of Ghost Ship was shot on an actual boat except for the tug boat scenes. Every bit of the SS Antonia Graza was a built set, with wonderfully disgusting production design by Graham ‘Grace’ Walker, who makes sure you never want to touch a single inch of the Graza, for fear of getting Tetanus.
Just like the Graza itself, Ghost Ship is a rust bucket of a film, one that promises grandeur and entertainment with it’s shocking prologue, but ultimately sinks thanks to a bunch of unforeseen “guests” who destroyed everything it offered. Deep within all of the rust and old walls though are nuggets of gold, remnants of what Ghost Ship once was that had all of the potential to make it special. Ghost Ship isn’t a terrible film. It’s just not what it could’ve been, but as Murphy would say, “if the sea gives you an opportunity, you take it,” and that’s what Beck and his crew did, despite the changes.
All of that being laid on deck, Scream Factory’s disc is a must own for Ghost Ship fans and those with any sort of morbid curiosity in the film alike. The disc offers a ton of new and old features that go deep into the bowels of the film, including Secrets of the Antonio Graza, which provides a fun audio prologue to the events. But it’s Beck’s commentary that makes this disc a pearl under all of that seaweed. Beck’s honesty, intelligence and contemplative nature give a whole new soul to Ghost Ship. It’s impossible to listen to this commentary and not feel sorry for Beck and what could’ve been, while appreciating what is there on screen.
“I had my time,” says Beck, in reference to Ghost Ship being his last film. Personally, I wish he would’ve had more.
The Ghost Ship Collector's Edition releases on blu-ray from Scream Factory on September 29th. Check out the full list of special features below.
By Matt Konopka