Death Ship a Mildly Chilling Cruise for Nostalgic Horror Fans

No, it’s not Ghost Ship. And no, Ghost Ship is not a remake. This is the largely forgotten 1980 thriller, Death Ship. If you’re a certain age, and grew up in the 80s, you may have caught this one on late-night television. Like the eerie 70’s cult classic, Shock Waves, Death Ship is another horror movie revolving around Nazis and the supernatural. Yet while Shock Waves found an audience, this Canadian-produced export sailed into relative obscurity. But there’s a decent cast of familiar faces here along with better-than-expected production values. So is it time to pull out this from the mothballs after over 40 years?


On his last voyage at the helm of a cruise ship, the irascible Captain Ashland prepares to hand things over to his second-in-command, Trevor Marshall. But a mysterious black freighter ends the trip early, intentionally ramming the party vessel and sinking it. Only a handful of crew and passengers survive and find refuge on the same freighter. What they discover is a ship with no living crew, haunted by a malevolent spirit that is hungry for blood.

Death Ship Takes You on a Cruise Filled With Mostly Mild Chills

Maybe the best thing one could say about Death Ship is that it doesn’t waste much time. Director Alvin Rakoff keeps the mild chills coming at a decent pace. And the chills are pretty mild for the most part. Even if the jump scares don’t get much of a jump enough supernatural stuff happens to keep you watching. At the very least, Death Ship also maintains some atmosphere for most of its runtime. Arguably, the the thriller’s best scene finds a survivor caught up in a fishing net filled with skeletal remains. Though the editing here is suspect it’s the one time the movie taps into the kind of surreal atmosphere you expected.

On more than one occasion, however, Death Ship veers into silly waters.

By and large, Rakoff prevents the thriller from slipping into unintentional humor. On more than one occasion, however, Death Ship veers into silly waters. Supernatural horror gets a certain amount of leeway when it comes to plausibility. Still there’s a handful of scenes where our mysterious freighter defies the laws of physics. Rakoff also randomly gives us one of those old-school 70s-style slow motion scenes that serves no purpose. But it’s the shower scene that nearly derails everything. In addition to borrowing liberally from Psycho, Rakoff’s mix of gratuitous nudity and a generic horror chords doesn’t strike the tone he likely intended.

Death Ship Floats On Premise It Never Full Exploits

For a movie about a ghost Nazi torture-vessel Death Ship is a surprisingly sedate affair. Aside from a handful of skeletal remains, frozen corpses, and an unfortunate stumble into the ship’s gears, Rakoff relies on disembodied voices and moving ship parts. Even once Rakoff reveals the ship’s secret purpose in the thriller’s third act, Death Ship does almost nothing with it. While Shock Waves had zombie Nazis, Peter Cushing, and Richard Einhorn’s eerie soundtrack, Death Ship leaves a premise ripe with potential untapped.

Even once Rakoff reveals the ship’s secret purpose in the thriller’s third act, Death Ship does almost nothing with it.

On the plus side, a veteran cast of familiar character actors boards Death Ship. If you’re a fan of the Rambo movies you’ll recognize Richard Crenna who plays it straight as the incoming Captain Trevor Marshall. Not surprisingly, Crenna convinces in an ‘everyman’ role while lending the supernatural thriller some credibility. Conversely, George Kennedy (Creepshow 2, Just Before Dawn) chews the scenery as the possessed Captain Ashland. To be fair, Kennedy’s performance aligns with some of Death Ship’s sillier moments.

Death Ship Offers a Diverting Cruise for Nostalgic Horror Fans

No one’s going to confuse Death Ship for a forgotten classic. This is exactly the kind of movie that found its way into regular late-night television rotations. From start to finish, it’s is a pedestrian affair offering mild chills supported by a capable cast and bland music score. Neither outright bad nor particularly good, it sails along at a pace that makes it an easy watch. There’s little here to recommend to contemporary audiences. But older horror fans looking for some nostalgia may enjoy it.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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