The disillusioned Captain Ashland stands at the helm of his cruise ship for the last time before his successor Trevor Marshall takes command. The disaster lurks in the form of a ghost ship, which heads straight for the ship, rams it and finally causes it to sink. A small group of shipwrecked people manage to save themselves on board of the ghost ship. As it turns out, it is a former Nazi ship on which prisoners were interrogated and tortured to death. Ashland hears voices from an eerie force that cloud his mind and appoint him as the new captain. Meanwhile, the remaining survivors try to leave the murderous ship.
Death Ship is based on a screenplay with the title Blood Star by Jack Hill. In Hill's version, the survivors were supposed to be possessed by the ghosts and thus take revenge for the terrible things that happened on the ship in the role of the undead. But it was not to stay that way. Hill's script was revised in the sense that the ship is responsible for the murders and only the character of the possessed Ashland remained from Hill's original idea. When the slasher genre really took off in the 80's, there didn't seem to be much room for an old-fashioned horror around a murderous ship.
Both the film and the box-office results fell short of expectations. Except for the bloody shower scene, the movie lacks any exploitation elements. The introduction of the characters on the cruise ship is boring and culminates in a disappointing disaster scene, for which some shots were taken from the movie The Last Voyage. Even when the shipwrecked people finally land on the Nazi ship, the plot progresses only slowly. The most interesting aspect of the plot is the grim-faced George Kennedy, who has been given a close-up too often, as Captain Ashland, with his calls from the realm of the spirits. Thus, Death Ship unfortunately falls short of expectations.
On 18.12.2012, the movie was released for the first time in the US on Blu-ray by Scorpion Releasing. On May 30, 2018, Scorpion Releasing put out a second Blu-ray with an elaborately restored version of the film. On the back of the cover, there is a note that over 40 hours were spent on color correction. This Blu-ray was limited and only available in the online shop Ronin Flix. Finally, on 11.12.2018, an edition for regular retail sale followed, which differs only in the cover from the limited edition. The restored version is much better in quality as the following picture comparison shows. Besides the better image quality, the second Blu-ray edition also offers an extended version of the film.
The extended version contains an additional scene in which Ashland and Trevor talk to each other, which, however, contributes little to the film. Ashland underlines once again that he is under the control of the ship, which should be clear to the viewer anyway, while Trevor thinks the ship is evil. The scene was already in the bonus material of the first Blu-ray edition in lower quality. It is unclear where this extended scene comes from. On the one hand, it is possible that it was re-incorporated for a TV version of the movie, more likely is the theory that it was included in the Canadian cut and removed for the US release.
The second edition by Scorpion Releasing is worthwhile especially because of the better picture quality and the more extensive bonus material. The additional scene only adds little to the plot. If you already have the old US Blu-ray or the German Blu-ray and you are not a die-hard fan of the movie, you don't necessarily need to switch. But if you don't know the movie yet and are interested, you should go for the second edition by Scorpion Releasing.
Theatrical version: 90:44 minutes.
The theatrical version was compared to the extended version.
The theatrical version continues to show Trevor, who slowly lifts his head.
In the extended version, a new scene follows instead in which Ashland talks to Trevor. He reads from a logbook in which a US captain talks about terrible things that happened on board of the ship. Ashland sits down at the table with Trevor. He apparently offers him something to eat and drink and makes it clear that he has now become an instrument of the ship. Trevor thinks that the ship is an instrument of the devil.
Ashland: "I therefore order the ship be taken to deep water and sunk. May God forgive those who committed such atrocities against mankind and may the sea destroy the evil manifestations of their work. Signed, D.W. Forrester. Captain, United States Navy. April 19th, 1925. Would you care to try the red wine, Marshall? But God works in mysterious ways. I'm being towed to its final destination. The tow line broke. And the ship was free. The cheese is delicious. You and I are men of the sea, Marshall. We know that ships we sail are living creations with a soul of their own. Not just a collection of steel rivets. I sometimes wonder if we are in command of this ships of the ships are in command of us. What do you think, Marshall? I am the instrument of this ship. I fulfil its wishes. I am its servant. And its master. Do I make myself clear?"
Trevor: "How can a person command this ship? And black as the angel of hell. He steers the course, changing life into agonies, laughter into misery, blessed love into hatred! It's a devil ship, Ashland! And it's tainted with blood!"
Ashland: "As I am."
Theatrical: 3 sec.
Extended: 2:33 min.