Ghost Ship is a 2002 Australian-American horror film that takes place on an abandon ocean liner called the Antonia Graza. The movie itself never met with huge critical approval, but is well known for a few particularly well done scenes, specifically the first scene. While watching a perky pink font introduce the movie, viewers are then treated with a cable snapping through dozens of dancing and laughing people. This results in the largest, goriest bisection of people in film history. The movie never quite regains that momentum, but it continues to be a bloody good time, and that’s why it’s in the cross-hairs of this week’s Five Facts.
The original script for Ghost Ship was called Chimera, and it focused on four characters being trapped on a ship they are salvaging. As the night went on the crew member’s paranoia, cabin fever, and panic led to them murdering each other and trying to escape with gold treasure. In this version, the gore was minimal and the only supernatural element came from voices that the crew members would hear in the darkness. You can see that the backbone of this script and characters made it in, but the movie is vastly different from the original.
Mark Hanlon’s original script was changed after the actors had signed on for their roles. Most of the changes were demanded by producer Joe Silver before shooting began.
2. The Antonia Graza was based on a real ship.
The SS Andrea Doria was a 1,200 person capacity cruise liner from Genoa, Italy. Ghost Ship’s Antonia Graza was modeled after this ship, both in style and size. In 1956 it set sail from Italy on a nine day cruise to the United States. One foggy morning off of the northeastern United States sea board the ship crashed into a Swedish American vessel called the MS Stockholm. The ships tore into each other, ripping open the gas tanks on the Andrea Doria, and the cabins of the MS Stockholm. The Andrea Doria started to list to the starboard side, immediately making half of its lifeboats unreachable. It took 11 hours for the ship to sink, and 46 lives were lost.
People still dive to the wreckage of the Andrea Doria seeking salvage and treasures left behind. The dive is perilous though and has already claimed the lives of 16 divers, with the most recent casualty coming in 2015.
The most notorious scene of Ghost Ship happens in the first two minutes. It starts by showing sixties style love boat credits, and immediately shifts to a brutal calamity that slices dozens of people in half. Intestines spill. People try to reunite their severed halves. It’s an incredible scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Unfortunately it isn’t possible. While a cable snapping can definitely kill a person if the impact is to the skull, it simply will not cut through. The Mythbusters tried to replicate it without being able to, and their researchers could not find a single sequence of someone being bisected by cable failure. Even cables that catch F-18 jets on aircraft carriers snapping only caused blunt trauma injuries, not death or the severing of limbs.
Maybe it worked because the sorta-maybe devil did it? You can’t fact-check magic!
4. Director Steve Beck is more experienced in commercial making than movie making.
Steve Beck directed commercials for GMC, McDonalds, and Gatorade before taking on Ghost Ship and Thir13en Ghosts. This commercial style becomes apparent in several scenes, both in musical choice and tone. There is a heist scene that has an entirely different feel than the rest of the movie. The color saturation, tone, and action are completely separate. It moves like a music video while showing what caused the ships downfall.
This isn’t necessarily a negative, but when you understand Beck’s origins as a film maker the short expository style makes a lot more sense. It’s a shot of MTV thrown in for chaos, kind of like parts of the new Suicide Squad movie. (BTW you can check out our review of Suicide Squad here.)
5. Someone forgot about the captain.
Gabriel Byrne plays the salvage crew’s captain in Ghost Ship. After the Ferriman’s glamour / magic takes hold of him, he attacks his own crew and is thrown into a drained fish tank. The audience never sees him again and he is never mentioned. It is isn’t known if this is a script mistake or an intentional casualty of the film.
Ghost Ship is a fascinating and flawed movie. It’s a mix of early 2000s style and music with practical effects that still hold up very well. It worked as a launching board for people like Karl Urban, as well as helping Emily Browning move from TV to film. Ghost Ship has earned a cult following as a movie that you can’t skip if it’s on TV, but the critical rating is dismal with Metacritic giving it a 28. It contains sequences of brilliance followed by campy one liners and clichéd tropes. Ghost Ship a hard movie to peg down, and is best summed up by Roger Ebert who said, “It’s better than you expect but not as good as you would hope.” Either way, it is still essential viewing for horror fans.
Tony Southcotte: Tony hails from the Rocky Mountains somewhere around the state of Colorado. Possibly raised by grizzly bears, this gritty denizen of the arena now spends most of his time grappling with Java updates and dysfunctional RAM. With not much fiction under his belt, it might seem tempting to bet against Mister Southcotte, but an impressive knowledge of everything from PVC pipe to psychedelic drugs makes Tony a storehouse of fiction waiting to hit the paper. Plus, you know, there’s the possibility of him ripping you apart like a grizzly bear.