Friday, 11 October 2013

The Ghost Galleon (Horror of the Zombies) - review

1974 (Spain)

Contains spoilers.

I'm starting to think Spanish horror film writer and director Amando de Ossorio was a bit of a misogynist. Twenty minutes into The Ghost Galleon, the third entry in his Blind Dead tetralogy we'd been privy to a bikini photo shoot, the idea two young pretty models could be persuaded to sail far off shore in the North Atlantic on a publicity stunt in, you guessed it, skimpy shorts and bikini tops and then had to endure one of his trademark obligatory and totally narratively unnecessary rapes. I may be a bit of a new man out of touch with my inner caveman, but I can still let the odd bit of masculine posturing slide, especially recognising the time some films were shot, but honestly with three rapes in three films now, all of which felt tacked on, it's getting a bit weary. Anyway... The Ghost Galleon or Horror of the Zombies as it's called in the US.

Amando de Ossorio was interviewed in 2001 for a documentary of his life entitled Amando de Ossorio: The Last Templar, which is included on the five disk Blind Dead collection released by Blue Underground. In it he bemoaned the pitiful budgets he was forced to work with and how the finished films never resembled his original vision and, three films in now, I'd argue The Ghost Galleon is the most indicative of all this. If anything Return of the Evil Dead was slightly too ambitious; the sets were expansive, the action large and the characters numerous and it suffered for biting off more than it could chew. There was a lack of attention to detail, sequences didn't flow and the effects and prosthetics were a total hodgepodge.

Everything about The Ghost Galleon feels tempered and restrained in comparison. In many ways it's a return to the tight and tense moody claustrophobic atmosphere of the first, and this was certainly not a bad move, though even against this it feels significantly reined in. From start to finish every scene is laboriously and painfully dragged out; whether it's climbing ladders, exploring the galleon or being dragged by the blind dead Templars to one's death, there's never any snappy editing, or skipping showing the excruciatingly obvious or ordinary. It wouldn't be all bad if there was a pay off at the end of each repetitious and long winded appetiser but more often than not it was simply followed by something equally as trite and bland. I'll admit the story is fairly coherent and the characters and acting competent, and it certainly never offended me the same way as Return of the Evil Dead did, but it all can't make up for the fact there's just a sheer lack of content.

Take the story. Noemi (Bárbara Rey) a swimsuit model confronts her boss Lillian (Maria Perschy) about her room-mate Kathy (Blanca Estrada) who's been missing for a few days. Threatening a missing person report Lillian takes Noemi to a disused quayside building to meet business man Howard Tucker (Jack Taylor) who tells her she's on a top secret publicity stunt out far out in the North Atlantic ocean where she, and actress want-to-be Lorena Kay (Margarita Merino) will pretend they're lost, get rescued and everyone will talk about his new sturdy boat. They do get lost, though it's in a swirl of hot mist and fog and they do get rescued though, again, it's not good as it's by our friends the 8th Century (I swear this changes every film) undead blind blood thirsty warlocks.

All this is really to get two girls in swim wear out in the water and another gang out to look for them. It doesn't really make much sense when you think about it, though with the idea of transdimensional 8th century zombie devil worshippers on a 16th Century galleon magically held together picking on stray small vessels in our dimension, I guess it doesn't matter too much. Howard Tucker and Lillian, concerned how the loss of the two girls will look on their resumes put together a rescue team including the now captive and raped Noemi (who's still happy to wear her bikini), Howard's dirty right hand man Sergio (Manuel de Blas) and meteorologist cum scribe of ancient Atlantic ghost vessels Professor Grüber (Carlos Lemos) and they set off and successfully find the galleon with surprising ease.

There's not a lot to add. The team board the boat, find signs the girls had been there and decide the best course of action is a long nap. The Knights appear, Noemi gets her head chopped off in the single scene of blood or gore (it really hasn't been her day), the knights disappear, the gang have another look around and find some material that tries to make sense of it all, the knights reappear again and people get chased ponderously about by an enemy that moves as slow as the narrative.

They're still the blind dead warlocks, excommunicated for devil worshipping occult practices they brought back from the East and they're still the same skeletal mummified lethargic hairy chinned cadavers. It's a boat though so this time there's no horses and there's only a handful of them to fend off. One thing is new though. Professor Grüber is the first character of the series to not only successfully identify them for what they are, but to have an idea of how to defeat them. The pact with the devil that granted them immortality, of a sort, he presumes also makes them susceptible to exorcism. He also notes as they only come out at night, perhaps they're harmless during the day and suggests they throw them overboard. I'll be honest I'd have thought in five hundred years someone else would have thought of this. Are they zombies? There's definitely a bit of cross vampire genre fusing going on with the flaming crucifix, sleeping in coffins during the day and Satan as the ever agreeable soul taking enabler, but the shuffling, flesh eating and out stretched arms paint another picture. The transdimensional gubbins, with the boat existing magically outside our reality is certainly new to the series but the whole thing's got so ludicrous by now I'm not going to argue.

The Ghost Galleon is, as Amando de Ossorio stated some odd twenty-six years later, a victim of its own devices. I believe him when he says the Blind Dead films could have been something quite special as despite all its flaws there's at times an quite exquisitely suspenseful unique yet pervasive atmosphere to the films, even here. The stories are also always reasonably coherent with touches of original vision and there's always an attempt to make the characters real and complicated with flaws and depth; even if it more often than not doesn't quite succeed. I can't gloss over the cracks though. The Ghost Galleon is not a good film; ponderous, cheap and severely lacking in action, content and good sense, 3/10.



  1. This was the low point of the series for me and I made the same observation about the unnecessary rapes when I looked at the four films at TMtV. I did like the final scene of this flick though... almost made sitting through the rest of it worthwhile.

    The fourth film I really rather enjoyed btw

    1. Yeah, I loved the final scene, even though it kind of went against the whole only coming out at night stuff they mention earlier; though by this point all the rules are so blurred it doesn't really matter. It's definitely the most vampie of the three as well though like you say, there's not enough there for it to be really be called one.

      For all the criticism I can't say I really hated it though and even now I perhaps regret giving it a mark as low as 3 even though I know it deserves it.

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