George Kennedy (yes, George Kennedy; George Kennedy + "the rental hit of 1983" = best movie ever) is the cranky, bitter Captain Ashland. Ashland is on his last cruise ship cruise; the dude hates cruise ships almost as much as I do. He can't stand any of it- sailing in circles, making nice nice with the passengers, etc- and he can't wait until his tenure is over. It'll be over sooner than he thinks, though, because there's a big ol' boat on a collision course with the luxury liner!
During the "collision course" action we get our first indication as to exactly how awesome Death Ship is going to be: the luxury liner is shown at night, all lights-aglow, whilst the evil Nazi ship is shown barreling along in daylight. So...one ship tooling around during the day, the other at night, and they're headed right for one another. Impossible? You wish!
Ships go boom and a few passengers from the cruise ship manage to make it into...well, it's not exactly a lifeboat- it's more like a lifebigredbox.
Now, if you had been watching Death Ship with me, at this point you may have turned to me and said "How did all those people manage to make it into the same big red box? They were all in very different areas of the ship when the boats collided.", to which I would have replied "It's no surprise they all ended up in the same big red box, for they were the only characters who actually spoke before the boats crashed." Then we both would have started making out with the Death Ship DVD case.
Our survivors are but few: Capt Ashland, his XO (Richard Crenna!), the XO's family (which, unfortunately, features two children- this pretty much guarantees two fewer victims of the Nazi ghost ship), a weirdo religious-type lady who has a hard on for Ashland, and a young couple-for-the-cruise-only. Their big red box eventually floats by the anchored Nazi ship- it takes them a really long time to notice, for some reason- and, thinking they're being rescued, our plucky band of survivors climbs aboard the death ship, only to find no one aboard. That's right, the boat is empty! But...who's driving that shit? Who's moving the levers and turning on the gramophone and showing those Nazi propaganda films?
Why, it's the ship itself, running on pure Nazi hate!
Life isn't as peachy keen as you might think it is when you're trapped on a Nazi death ship. George Kennedy gets a l'il bit possessed by the ghosts, dons a vintage captain's uniform, and gets his homicidal Nazi on...
Our plucky survivors begin to die off in unpleasant ways, including death by 40-year-old poisoned peppermints and death by getting crushed with a bunch of gooey 40-year-old Nazi victims...
There's the obligatory shower of blood scene...
All in all, I have to say- I firmly stand by my reluctance to vacation aboard big boats.
Death Ship wasn't exactly what I expected. Long unavailable in the US and billed as "The Shining meets The Poseidon Adventure", it's one of those movies that wormed its way onto my "must see" list. The film is bandied about in cult film circles, although no one seems to actually like it. I dug it, although it's not bad enough to be good-bad or bad-bad, and it's not good enough to be...well, good. "Good" and "enjoyable", however, are not always mutually exclusive.
Bits and pieces are undeniably creepy; the hulking, rusted-out Nazi ship is imposing, the idea of the boat acting on its own is fairly effective (although levers moving unaided isn't as scary the 50,000th time you see it), and the general atmosphere is sinister. There's plenty to laugh at in Death Ship, but there's also plenty to admire. I don't think you need to seek it out as fervently as I did, but if you come across it somehow, give it a shot. You know, kind of like if you find yourself floating along in a big red box after you've abandoned a sinking luxury liner- if a giant creepy ship suddenly appears behind you, why not climb aboard?