Steve Beck came from ILM — where he did effects on The Abyss, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Hunt for Red October — before he directed 2001’s Thir13en Ghosts. The follow-up, Ghost Ship, starts with one of the most audacious openings I’ve ever seen in a horror film.
That first scene, set in May of 1962 aboard the Italian ocean liner SS Antonia Graza, features a crowd of wealthy passengers dancing to Francesca singing “Senza Fine.” Katie Harwood, a young girl, is all alone until the ship’s captain offers to dance with her. Just then, a hand unleashes hell: a spool of wire snaps across the dance floor, slicing every single person in half except for Katie, whose height spares her.
Fast forward forty years and the crew of the Arctic Warrior — Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne), Maureen Epps (Julianna Margulies), Greer (Isaiah Washington), Munder (Karl Urban), Santos and Dodge — join a Canadian pilot to salvage what’s left of the Antonia Graza.
One by one, a series of supernatural events wipe the crew out, slasher movie style. This is a movie unafraid to wipe characters out left and right, leaving behind chunks of them in its wake. Seriously. Don’t get attached to anyone.
The real tale is that one of these characters is a salvager of souls, a job earned thanks to a lifetime of sin. The gold on board the Antonia Graza is just a trap to collect more and more souls, keeping it afloat until enough souls are collected and management is happy.
Ghost Ship started as Chimera, a spec script by Mark Hanlon, which was a bloodless psychological thriller with nothing supernatural or all that gory in it. A crew of four scavengers goes mad and each one plots to kill the other three. Yet by the time the film hit the big screen, the script had already undergone extensive rewrites. The actors and crew didn’t know that, having signed on for one movie and ending up in a slasher, thanks to those aforementioned radical changes by Joel Silver and his associates.
That said — Photon FX did a great job here. They had a lot of pride on the line, as this was the largest FX shoot in Australia to date. So they went overboard and the results still hold up 17 years later, as both the open and close feature incredible visuals.
This was the first Dark Castle Entertainment horror film released based on an original concept, as the company was originally intended to only remake William Castle films.