I still get a kick out of this weird flick. This post first ran in 2014.
Be forewarned: the 2002 horror flick, Ghost Ship, has one of the most memorable—and gross—opening hooks in all of filmdom. We find ourselves aboard an Italian luxury ocean liner, the Antonia Graza, in 1962. As Francesca, a sexy singer, croons a tune, dozens of well-dressed, well-heeled people fill the dance floor. A girl named Katie (Emily Browning), on her way to meet her parents in New York, is bored, until the ship’s captain asks her to dance. Nearby, someone pulls a switch and unleashes a wire cord from a spool. The wire slices across the dance floor and cuts everyone except little Katie in two. Most of the people remain alive for a few seconds, unsure of what just happened, until body parts begin toppling everywhere. The captain, who had bent down to dance with Katie, still holds on to her as the top part of his head falls off. Katie screams (can’t imagine why), and we…
Flash forward about forty years. A salvage crew, led by its captain, Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) and first mate Maureen Epps (a pre-Good Wife Julianna Margulies), is celebrating a recent success when they are approached by a young Canadian pilot named Jack Ferriman. Seems he’s spotted a large, derelict vessel floating in the Bering Sea. Since it is in international waters, they can claim the salvage if they’re able to bring it in. Hell yes; off they go.
The vessel, of course, is the Antonia Graza, long thought to have gone the way of Davy Jones’ Locker. As they explore it while making ready to tow it into the nearest port, all kinds of “weird shit” begins to happen. Epps swears that she’s seen a nicely dressed little girl; another crewman hears a woman singing a sultry Italian song; they find a digital watch, not a product of the ’60s; and they find the corpses of another salvage crew, plus a skeleton hanging in a closet. And let’s not forget all of the bullet holes at poolside. Uh-oh…
But what the hey, they also find a potload of gold bars, which means—they’re all freaking rich! So given all of the “weird shit” going on, they make a wise decision: load the gold onto their salvage tugboat and get outta Dodge. Screw the ship.
Yeah, right. “Something” causes the salvage tug to explode, killing one of the crewmen and leaving the others stranded on the Antonia Graza. Perhaps they can get the old tub going again and sail it to port. Nope, because now other crew members start dying in all kinds of weird ways. Francesca, the sexy singer, reappears to one of the crewmen, and when she shows him her boobs we know he’ll follow her anywhere—including off the edge of a deep drop to his death. Others unwittingly chow down on… Uh-uh, you don’t want to know.
Murphy, the captain, has an interesting encounter with the ghost of his counterpart, the ocean liner’s captain. His head intact, the spirit tells Murphy that forty years ago the Antonia Graza had recovered all of the gold, along with one survivor, from a sinking cruise ship, the Lorelei. He shows Murphy a photo of the survivor, and Murphy freaks—he knows who the guy is. When he tries to warn the others, the “something” takes over; he is subdued, then killed.
Katie’s ghost has revealed herself a few times to Epps, and now, in her stateroom, she tells Epps the whole gory story, which we see via flashbacks. SPOILER ALERT: the survivor from the Lorelei—no big surprise—is Jack Ferriman, the guy that brought the salvagers there in the first place. Having lived a life of sin and evil, he is now burdened with the endless task of collecting souls and ferrying them to his master (Ferriman; get it?), ostensibly the Devil himself. Using the gold as a lure, he convinced the crew of the Antonia Graza to murder all of the passengers. (Katie’s corpse is the one hanging in the closet.) One crew member, who has the hots for Francesca, kills his counterparts for a larger share, and is in turn shot in the head by her. Now it’s only Francesca and Ferriman, and as they embrace, Ferriman causes a huge hook to swing into her face, impaling her. All gone. He has made his quota of souls—for the time being. (He just can’t have Katie’s soul, given her purity.) But he needs to keep the Antonia Graza afloat to keep those souls a’comin’.
Now it’s Epps, the last one standing, against the demonic Ferriman. So he needs a ship to collect his souls? Screw that; Epps manages to sink the derelict vessel, seemingly taking Ferriman down with it. Her action releases all of the trapped spirits, who rise up to…heaven or wherever. Katie stops for a moment to thank her.
Epps, adrift at sea atop some debris, is picked up by another cruise ship and taken to the nearest port. In the final scene she is in back of an ambulance, awaiting transport, when she sees—gasp!—her former crew members loading the crates of gold onto the ship, followed by—double gasp!—Jack Ferriman, who gives her the evil eye as he continues up the ramp. Epps screams, the ambulance doors are closed—end of story.
As with most horror films, you have to leave reality on the back burner for full enjoyment. In the case of Ghost Ship, you’ll also need a strong stomach. But if that isn’t a problem, this creepy, at times atmospheric movie’s ninety-one minutes will just fly (cruise?) by.