Friday, March 27, 2009

Ghost Ship (1952)

“Ghost Ship” (1952) is a time killer of the most modest variety. While it’s not remotely scary and opportunities are wasted to generate even the mildest of shudders, I found it watchable thanks to the cast and a couple of pop culture references that amused me.

Guy and Margaret Thornton (Dermot Walsh and Hazel Court, married in real life at this time) answer a newspaper advertisement for a small cruiser. The ship in questions is old and in desperate need of repair, but something draws the couple to the ship, and they decide to make the purchase. The harbormaster tells them the ship is considered haunted when it was towed back to port after being found adrift in the ocean with no one aboard.

The young couple naturally scoffs at the idea of a haunting, but guests soon complain of smelling cigar smoke when no one is around. Some crewmembers quit, telling Guy they’re seeing ghosts in the engine room. Guy doesn’t believe them until night when he’s in the engine room and sees a young man staring at him. He calls to him but the man disappears. To help clear up the mystery, the Thorntons call in a psychic who holds a séance on board the ship .

“Ghost Ship” is one of those movies where everything horrible is talked about, but hardly anything is shown. The scene where Thornton sees the man in the engine room generates a little suspense, but that’s about it for the 70-minute running time.

No one wonder Hammer Films made such a big impact on the world with their Quatermass movies and the Technicolor shocker “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957). British audiences expected their country’s horror films to be like “Ghost Ship” and were no doubt surprised – and pleased – by the visceral terrors on display in the Hammer offerings.

I always liked Hazel Court and it’s a pleasure to see her in any movie. At one point she mentions Frankenstein. She would utter the name much more frequently when she would co-star in the aforementioned “The Curse of Frankenstein.”

One scene I found very puzzling. At dockside, the Thorntons are waiting for the arrival of the psychic. The boat is approaching and Guy says, “We’re off to see the wizard.” Obviously a “Wizard of Oz” reference, but was “The Wizard of Oz” that well known at the time? I always thought its annual airings on television was what turned it into a pop culture phenomenon. I know it was re-released several times in the 1940s, and likely was a big hit in England. But it was jarring to hear a reference like that in a 1952 movie.

When you’re picking up on bits like that, it means there’s not much else to focus on. Director Vernon Sewell doesn’t even try to work up much atmosphere. Come to think of it, he didn’t do much with “The Blood Beast Terror” (1968) either, one of Peter Cushing’s lesser efforts. If you have Peter Cushing as a doctor whose daughter turns into a blood sucking moth and you’re watching it thinking about what to have for dinner, then all is lost.

He also directed “The Curse of the Crimson Altar” (1968) which is something of a cult film thanks to its cast: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele. But don’t let the cultists fool you, it’s still a dud.

Thankfully “Ghost Ship” is only 70 minutes. It’s not very good, and there are too many missed opportunities, but there are worst things to watch.

Rating for “Ghost Ship”: Two stars.

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