Monday, October 17, 2011

Night of Terror #17: 'The Ghost Ship'

Val Lewtonnnnnn. As tempted as I am to just end the post with that, I guess I should say some more about The Ghost Ship, if for no other reason than its perennially underrated status among the other horror movies from producer Val Lewton.

Lewton, in case you don't know, specialized in low-budget horror movies for RKO. The studio would give him a title and a poster, and he was free to pretty much do as he pleased as far as the script, casting, and directing was concerned. Luckily for us, Lewton's taste ran dark and mysterious, and his body of work is one of the most consistent of any producer. His movies are characterized by their bleak themes, ambiguous supernatural elements, and stark, noirish lighting and camerawork.

Though I've made it a habit to rewatch as much Val Lewton as possible every October since I first discovered him a few years ago, this was only my second viewing of The Ghost Ship. My impression was that it was a lesser entry in the series, but now I'm pretty sure it's just as good as his other more famous horror movies like Cat People or I Walked With A Zombie. Unlike his other movies, though, the only supernatural element is in the title. The menace here, rather than a woman who morphs into a cat or a zombie, is an overzealous, deranged, and fascistic ship captain played by Richard Dix. He's great, too, the kind of villain you just want to punch in the face well before he starts bumping members of the crew off.

There's a great and terrifying set piece when they finally DO start getting bumped off, as one guy stupid enough to mouth off to the captain ends up being suffocated in a room that's having really long chain getting fed into it (I'm sure there are nautical terms for this but I don't know them). This is a great horror/thriller that deserves to be as famous as Lewton's other stuff. Just don't expect to see any ghosts.

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