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What a Load of Ship This Is

"Simultaneous development" hits Hollywood again, this time with the upcoming thriller GHOST SHIP

By John Thonen     September 03, 2002

There's nothing new about movies with very similar plot concepts being made. For all its ballyhoo about being "A new kind of spy movie," XXX really only offers a new kind of spy, since the plot is virtually interchangeable with any number of Bond movies. ANACONDA was not all that different from earlier big snake movie like SPASMS, and the host of direct-to-video snake movies of recent years are pretty similar as well. So doing a lot of grousing about what the film industry likes to call "simultaneous development" is probably pointless. But a line has to be drawn somewhere and copying a movie's poster art from the poster art of a film with a very similar storyline would seem to be crossing that line. Yet, that seems to be the case with the recently unveiled artwork for the upcoming thriller GHOST SHIP.


GHOST SHIP comes from Dark Castle Productions, the genre oriented production house established by Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver. The company's first releases were THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and 13 GHOSTS, both freely adapted from films of the same names which were produced by master cinematic showman William Castle. GHOST SHIP, however, is not a remake of a Castle film, marking it as the first Dark Castle film based on an "original" concept. At least, it would be if you never saw 1980's DEATH SHIP.

In the '70s and '80s, producer Sandy Howard churned out a number of mediocre (or worse) horror titles, such as THE DEVIL'S RAIN and NEPTUNE FACTOR. Most of these films featured former "name" actors who were at a stage in their careers where they weren't all that fussy about what they worked on, just as long as they were working. DEATH SHIP was a tale of a boatload of survivors from a sunken ship who find an abandoned vessel which turns out to have been a former Nazi prison/torture ship. Producer Howard brought in a down on his luck former Academy Award winner, George Kennedy, and fading TV name Richard Crenna. Needless to say, the boat the castaways think is their salvation turns out to be haunted and starts killing them off, one by one.


While one wouldn't normally think of Joel Silver or Robert Zemeckis as having much in common with a schlock-meister like Sandy Howard, their Dark Castle productions have used similar casting methods to Mr. Howard's. Thus, GHOST SHIP stars Julianna Margulies, who quit the hit TV show ER and also made a movie with Sylvester Stallone... so, needless to say, her career is fading fast. Also on board is Gabriel Byrne who, after a rather illustrious career, has most recently had a cancelled TV series and made a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger... so he's about on a par with Margulies, career-wise, and both are at about the same point as Kennedy and Crenna were in 1980.

There are some differences in the plot lines of the two films; instead of the shipwreck survivors who find the missing-since-WWII DEATH SHIP, the characters of GHOST SHIP are a salvage crew who stumble on an abandoned passenger ship that has been missing since 1953. And, instead of the haunted ship of the 1980 film, the recent Dark Castle production has... well... it's got a haunted ship too. But if the plot similarities in the two films are starting to bother you, then compare the poster art for DEATH SHIP to that of GHOST SHIP.


Had enough? But wait, the "originality" isn't over yet. Hitting video stores next month, after premiering on the Sci-Fi Channel a couple of months back, is LOST VOYAGE, a movie starring down-on-his-luck former star Judd Nelson and fading "B" movie and TV name Lance Henriksen. This one is about a salvage crew who go after an abandoned vessel which is actually a passenger ship missing since the 1960s. Yep, it's cinematic déjŕ vu happening all over again. But wait, there is some artistic originality at work here. Just check out the video box art for LOST VOYAGE. That's right. They moved the skeleton head seen in the posters for DEATH SHIP and GHOST SHIP into the stormy sky above the bow of the ship. Well, there may be nothing new on Heaven and Earth dear Horatio, but when it comes to the plots and promotional artwork of maritime based horror movies... well, it's pretty much the same, ain't it?

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at feedback@cinescape.com.


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