Death Ship – 1980 – a nazi slasher?

Death Ship

I wasn’t really educated enough when I first saw Death Ship in 1980. I thought that the cover art was more or less stolen to the much newer horror flick Ghost Ship. It took me a while to realize that Ghost Ship is actually more or less a remake of Death Ship. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me but it just didn’t. It’s so obvious now. Of course, the cover art alone is no guarantee since art gets ripped off all the time. Movie with no relation at all to each other can have very similar cover art. I will not make a comparison here though, I will only focus on Death Ship from 1980 in this review.

Collision course

It starts out nice enough, even if it is kinda awkward. This big cruiser is on a trip and its captain is about to be replaced. He has a couple of days left with the ship as its captain and is very reluctant to give up his command. At this point, it’s unclear why he’s being replaced. At least it was for me. I thought that he was about to go into retirement and he speaks about being a captain for over 40 years. A respectable about of time to say the least. I don’t think all of that time was on the same ship though but in either case. Such a period of time on any job is enough to earn my respect for sure.

There is an awkward dinner party. I’m not sure if it’s at his honor or not but it’s clear that He doesn’t want to be there and would much rather spend his time on the bridge of his ship. Maybe he has a control issue and doesn’t really trust the officers under his command. It’s more implied than spoken out loud but that’s my interpretation anyway. Anyway, when it’s discovered that another ship is headed in their direct course and even seems to adjust their course to aim for a collision he needs to return to the bridge. This situation requires the captain, with all his experience to handle.

Open sea

Well, the ship crashes and soon a hand full of people are in a lifeboat floating on the open ocean. They must fight to stay alive and also keep themselves on the same course to increase their chances of ger rescued. But when a mysterious boat appears they estimate their survival depends on going abord it. Once aboard, there doesn’t seem to be any crew but still, it’s operating. The engines are running and the steering wheel amount other things move by themselves. Doors open and closes and lightning goes on and of on its own, it seems. What is this ship?

When it comes to mysterious boats floating around on their own, I always draw parallels to the old open by Samual Taylor Coleridge – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s about this seaman finding himself the only surviving member of the crew in a shipwreck. In the poem, he, himself, made a crime against God and there’s an albatross present and causing the things to occur. The Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden also immortalized the open on one of their albums. I guess that’s where I first got in contact with it.

Here there’s no albatross, no icebergs, and no crime against God in that sense. The ship turns out to be an old Nazi ship, so I guess it’s more crimes against humanity in focus, than crimes against God. The ship itself seems to be infected by the evil that once took place there. And…it’s also contagious as the retiring captain starts to act weirder and weirder.

Slasher

In essence, Death Ship is a mix of demonic possession and classic slasher movie. Not in the sense that there are a killer n the loose brutally and violently killing of teenagers one at a time. It has more of a mystique to it. What’s this ship’s real secret? Is it haunted? Does its crew really live in the shadows or is it the nazi essence that affects the survivors? There are no general bloody kills even if there are some violent deaths. Even if it brings up paranormal questions there are very realistic demise going on. And the actors are very good and very well known, even outside the horror community. At least George Kennedy and Richard Crenna are. I’m not sure how great stars they were in 1980 but they’re certainly not genre-actors.

Death Ship seems a little dated though. It didn’t age as well as one could have hoped. It’s still a fine movie but you can tell that it’s old by the way it is made. By the way, the story is told and certainly by the cinematography. It has that older feel to it. I realized that this style is not for everyone but if you like it I think you will like this film a lot. If you crave modern horror maybe you should skip this one.

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Tommy Snöberg Söderberg

Autodidact film scholar and music-loving thinker who reads the occasional book.

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