A useful means of purging one’s sins is to stick a finger down one’s throat, sending gouts of alcohol spurting from your gullyhole and preventing its nefarious effects from getting to you by making sure it never gets the opportunity to get into your bloodstream in the first place. Such a thing can be said of Hangover Theatre. Sometimes you need to recalibrate your “brownline” — the shittiest sublevel of the shit-o-meter of films you are willing to endure. Sometimes you just need to foist absolute crap upon yourself so you are cleansed and ready to enjoy a finer palette of films. A purgative colonic, if you will. And sometimes you watch a film that just gets you fuming out both ends.
Ghost Ship is like that one shot everyone keeps saying you just HAVE to try. You’ll love it! You love mint! Except it tastes like antifreeze distilled through Mary Todd Lincoln’s tampon, borrowed from the Smithsonian for just this occasion. The nice thing about Ghost Ship is you really only have to watch the first five minutes and the last five minutes to appreciate the movie. And in reality, you only need to watch the first five minutes, and then feel free to fall asleep, because you are missing nothing as the filmmakers play subgenre three-card-monte. But those first five minutes — oh, baby. They are glorious.
The commenter Snath was broadcasting a YouTube video on his Facebook page extolling the virtues of one of my favorite gore-riffic finishing movies: The Cut Slide. Oh, Glory Be Unto The Cut Slide! It’s the delicious moment in a gleeful horror or action movie where some sort of blade, razor, or sharpened device has just been quickly whisked through the air like a panther’s claw. Immediately followed by the most lusciously pregnant of pauses, so pregnant it makes Octomom appear as infertile as the Gobi. Everyone’s frozen in the moment, save one (or many, it could even be many, tee hee, tee hee!) who we’ll label The Mark. The Mark will often gape about, eyes goggled, fish mouth agape — what is it about the separation of girth and spate that causes one to resemble a flounder? — but The Mark is a-goggle before we get….THE SLIDE. This is when one appendage — the arm, the head, the face, a portion of the torso — delicately, moistly, squelchingly sliiiiiiiiiiddes away from the rest of The Mark. Through some sort of arcane blending of digital effects and mangled mannequinning, The Mark meets their end, in twos or twelvish as it were. While the simian, man-boy part of me often clapsturbates at spouts of anime grade viscera-geysers, the apex of cut slides are not bloody, save an elegant trickle or rustle of suddenly separated clothing. Maybe in the aftermath, there’ll be a spritz or two of celebratory crimson, but it’s mainly the glistening glamorama of a sliding split that does it every time.
By Godtopus’s Twittering Tentacle, a cut slide is so epically fantastic there are multiple movies where the only thing worth remembering is the scene in which a hapless mark becomes twain. I haven’t the fucking foggiest what in the seventh hole of hell Johnny Mnemonic was about and other than Keanu-speare belting a monologue about room service, all I can recall is Udo Kier in his kimono becoming once, twice, three times a lady as an Asian assassin lacerates him with some manner of beam-katana-laser-thumb-garrotte type device. And while the gunkatas are what made my brother purchase Equilibrium, it was Christian Bale’s two-step defacing of Taye Diggs that done it for me. That’s how you cut the pastrami, motherfucker! It is my ambition in life to become an actor of such a caliber as to merit cinematic demise at the hands of the cut slide. But Ghost Ship is the granddaddy of the Cut-Slide-and-Done theatrical selections.
We open on the Antonia Graza, a cruise ship monikered like a forgotten niece of Fredo Corleone. The Captain’s Ball is in full swing. A satiny chantreuse belts an Italian swing ditty as the tuxedoed and gowned passengers dance on the deck. A bored little girl (Emily Browning — Violet Baudelaire of Series of Unfortunate Events fame) takes the hand of the captain and goes onto the dance floor. Suddenly, a steward releases a poorly installed lever, sending a winch cable whistling to do the most vicious of splits across the dance floor. What makes it so effective is the whisper crack and then banjo-twang as the cable completes its passage. There are no screams, no gasps, just the corduroy-thigh rub of the cable slicing through everything. The crowded mass of passengers are silent, gazing in shock at one another, in a mass orgy of goggle face. Slowly, we see pieces start to fall, building in gore crescendo, as one woman clutches at her severed bottom half, another man crawls across the floor missing his lower parts. People falling to pieces, and then the captain gives us the coup de grace, sending Emily Browning shrieking in terror. It is unexplained, unexpected, and unbelievable. The shame is that the rest of the film is unable to keep up with that stellar opening.
What follows is about an hour and half of confused actors doing poor-man performances of better actors, and all of them in what appear to be completely different movies. Some of them think they’re in a bad modern-day pirate version of The Perfect Storm. Others think they’re in a dense, dark, atmospheric psychological ghost story. Even more believe they are in some kind of ultraviolent, splatterhouse yukfest. But they all decide to come to a head in a severely painful finale that is pretty sure it’s all Usual Suspects, but comes off like M. Night doing magic at a children’s birthday party. It doesn’t just defy logic; it’s as if two different screenwriters raced to write two different movies and only got paid if their scene got finished first. Considering one guy, Mark Hanlon, has one thriller to his name that nobody’s ever heard of, and the other, John Pogue, wrote The Skulls — and its TWO SUBSEQUENT SEQUELS — I wouldn’t be shocked if that was actually the case.
Gabriel Byrne, the poor-man’s Daniel Day Lewis, plays Murphy, the captain of a rag-tag bunch of salvage trawlers who find abandoned ships and bring them in for money. For a twist, they made him Irish and a drunk. They gave him Karl Urban, the poor-man’s Philip Seymour Hoffman, getting his Twister-worthy bro-man-dude-man role out of the way early by playing Guy-With-Beard, Munder. He’s paired up with Ron Eldard, the poor-man’s Tim Roth, as Dodge, whose job it is to be blond and young and angry. There’s a spanish guy Santos (Alex Dimitriades), who might as well have slapped on a Red Ensign shirt and ran up his credit card bills cause anyone who’s ever seen a movie knows he ain’t making it past the first two kills. They gave him a black guy sidekick, Greer, played by Isaiah Washington, the poor man’s Samuel L. Jackson. All of them exist merely to be cannon fodder to the boring kills the screenwriters come up with. There’s no rational to how they die or what kills them or why they suddenly die. Some of them are killed by invisible ghosts. Others are lured by nude specters, and some get ground into hamburger. But they all die. Could it be because of the mysterious benefactor who hires them, Ferriman, played by the poor man’s Sam Rockwell, Desmond Harrington?
They gave them a woman, Maureen, who goes from being the toughest badass toughington to the sensitive empath who needs to save the little girl like the writers lost the hormone balance knob on the vaginal manual. Poor Juliana Marguilies, who has made a career of late doing her poor-woman’s version of Famke Jansen. Now, lest I get attacked for maligning these fine actors, I too was baffled as to why they were forced to do these odd imitative performances rather than characters. They’ve all been better than this in other films. They may have been duped by the same Cut Scene that swayed all of us.
It certainly wasn’t the plot. Ferriman lures all of them aboard the boat with tales of secret hidden treasure. The treasure turns out to be boxes and boxes of gold. Everyone sits around excitedly talking about what they’ll do with their share of the gold like some sort of WWII flick with foxholers talking about their special gals back home — thus cementing their inevitable deaths. Except Maureen, who Ghost Whispers her way around the boat — spotting little Emily Browning everywhere. You think it might be delving into some sort of interesting territory here — creepy ghosts at every turn to claim the lives of the greedy pirates trying to rob them. In fact, since the little girl managed to avoid death by ropeburn, you wonder if maybe, just maybe she was the demonic siren sent to claim the souls of the living.
But, no. Instead, their boat explodes, smiting the minorities, and stranding them, only for them to spiral through a band of mystery killers like some sort of schizophrenic Scooby-Doo episode. Ghosts start appearing to everyone. The little girl warns Maureen and gives her a locket. The captain appears to the ol’ Irish drunk and tries to turn him into a slurring Shinning maniac (I don’t mean The Shining — do you want us to get sued?). And the songstress gets nude and lures sailors to a plummeting death. Are they trying to help them, fuck them up, or kill them? Oh, and Frick and Frack the wonder twins end up eating Lost Boys Grade grub from the galley, spewing mouthfuls of maggots and shit. So there are also apparently invisible ghostly powers fucking with them on top of that.
However, the mastermind is apparently a ghostly Soul Collector who is responsible for collecting a certain number of souls. I don’t know if he gets his devil wings and a chance to open for Dethklok or if he’s working to unlock the secret death metal devil messages on Beatles Rock Band if you play all their songs backwards or what, but that’s never explained. Also, the Soul Collector can take on different forms, leave the boat at will, and possibly has magic killing powers and immortality, but for some reason, he doesn’t actively start killing people once he strands them aboard the Norwegian Death Line. Sometimes he makes people start killing each other — thus we learn the dark secret of the ripcord ripping up the partygoers — and other times, he does the killing himself. One would think that he has to kill everybody aboard the Antonia Bologna, but according to Captain Stabbing, the boat went all killcrazy when they brought on passengers from a DIFFERENT boat. I kept scowling at my girlfriend who insisted I wait until the ending, because it was the best thing ever. So I’m waiting. Maybe a Leonardo DiCaprio zombie springs out of the frosty Bering Strait and drags Julie Margarine to a watery grave. Maybe Amelia Earhardt crashes out of a wormhole and smashes into the boat smiting them all. Maybe, just maybe, Willem Dafoe takes it over to go kill Keanu Reeves. But no, none of that happens, and when they go with final, ridiculous, dumber than a bag of hair ending, I looked over at her, and she laughed at me and then gave me a Redenbacher. (A punch in the butt — or a pop in the cornhole if you will.)
Oh, forget it. You don’t watch crap because you want to savor it. You get over it. You don’t spend the night after drinking thinking about all the times you burped up in your mouth a little. You remember the dancing and singing and shouting! Let us put behind us the awkward pacing and stupid set-ups and dim assembly of bad performances and instead, choose to remember the glorious demise of multiple extras.