The Death Ship ploughs through the waves of the Atlantic, endlessly seeking victims, and tonight it will be a good night - but not for the passengers and crew of a cruise ship that is making its way across the ocean. The Captain, Ashland (George Kennedy), is on his last voyage and will hand over the running of the ship to his second-in-command, Marshall (Richard Crenna), in three days. At least that's the idea, but as they settle down for the evening meal at the dance, along with Marshall's family who happen to be aboard, they have no idea of what they will soon face. On the bridge, however, they're all too aware: the Death Ship bearing down on them, refusing to get out of the way, and eventually ramming the cruise ship - for the survivors it will be even more of a nightmare...
Ghost ships, or death ships as they are called here, have been sighted since mankind took to the seas, with famous examples such as the Mary Celeste, the Joyita and more recently the Jian Seng conjuring up unsolvable mysteries and capturing the imagination. However, none of those vessels have gone out of their way to kill anyone (as far as we know, anyway), as the premise in this film has it. Scripted by cult director Jack Hill and David P. Lewis, but attributed to John Robins for Canadian movie business reasons, it's an all too obviously cheap affair, as we see from the first sighting of the Death Ship which consists of the same few day-for-night shots of the villainous transport repeated ad nauseam.
And "ad nauseam" is a good description, because the filmmakers are keen on disgusting the audience in lieu of scaring them. After a load of stock footage to offer the impression of the cruise ship being sunk - I told you this was cheap - our survivors, including the Captain, Marshall and his family, are left floating on a raft out in the middle of nowhere, but as luck would have it, there's another craft approaching. Bad luck, that is, for it's the Death Ship, although they aren't aware of that and manage to clamber aboard, but not before the borderline delirious Ashland gets covered with leaking oil. They set about making themselves at home, forced to shrug off the cruise's chief entertainer being dumped in the sea to drown by a rogue rope (the Death Ship must have heard his act), but there is no peace to be had there.
Basically, after its Poseidon Adventure beginning, this is very much in the tradition of the slasher movies popular at the time, only instead of a marauding killer in a mask, you get, erm, a marauding ship that kills off its victims with bits and pieces it finds around the place. The comic relief is left to Marshall's children, such as it is, but mainly the film relies on unpleasant business to keep you watching. It turns out that this is a Nazi torture ship (if there ever was such a thing) they're on, and Ashland embraces the notion by dressing up in a Nazi uniform and making pronouncements on the subject of the ship running on blood. So he's no help. Marshall realises quickly that they have to get off the ship ASAP, but that is easier said than done as the lifeboats have been set adrift overboard. The Nazi connection could have been the jumping off point for musing on how such evil is difficult to banish, but here it's simply a cardboard bogeyman, and the whole production has a thrown together air that is responsible for its creepy moments despite itself. Music by Ivor Slaney.
[Nucleus have gone to town on the Region 2 DVD, the standout an excellent featurette on the making of the film, with most of the participants expressing surprise that the film has any cult status at all. Also included are trailers, script pages, and an audio commentary, among other things.]