Multi-channel TV is frustrating, isn’t it? Half the channels aren’t in listings magazines, and the ones that are seem to show the same thing day in and day out. Then you go channel hopping and find something you want to watch on a channel you can’t normally find listings for – only you find out the programme or film is half finished and is the only thing on any channel that is not going to be repeated again! But occasionally, you find something unexpected, and so it was when I happened upon the Horror Channel showing Ghost Ship – no, not the Val Lewton film from the 1940s, or the dire special-effects laden concoction from a few years ago, but a perky little British B-movie from 1952.
Outside of the well-known British films of the period, we rarely see on our TV screens these little B-movie gems that move along at such a quick pace that all plot holes and questionable acting is forgotten. The film tells the story of a couple played by Dermot Walsh and Hazel Court who go to look at an old yacht with a view to buying it to use as a houseboat. However, they are warned off from doing so because of the rumours that the boat is haunted after a mysterious accident a few years earlier. Needless to say, they buy the yacht anyway, and start to carry out repairs, but before long various strange events start to occur.
The film is an oddity in many ways. The acting in the film is unusual. The two leads are played by relatively well by Walsh and Court (despite dodgy accents) and yet I had to look up on IMDB to see if most of the supporting actors were professionals or amateurs. The film was written and directed by Vernon Sewell, whose perhaps best film was the Second World War drama The Silver Fleet from a decade earlier, and starring Ralph Richardson. Sewell’s script is unusual for a B-movie potboiler in that it includes not one but two flashbacks, one of which takes place during a seance! But it also moves at a relatively leisurely pace too – which is rather difficult in a film lasting only seventy minutes or so! Five minutes is taken halfway through during a party scene for a painful-to-watch comedy sequence involving a drunk guest (Ian Carmichael), and in another section a psychic investigator also takes the time to carry out demonstrations using tuning forks!
So why am I writing about this rather mediocre effort? Well, because, despite its flaws, it’s all rather fun and amusing – from the Marie Celeste-type mystery element, to the hokey seance sequence, to the twist at the end (that you may have to watch twice to actually understand!). Like the best B-movies, it doesn’t take itself seriously, and the viewer feels as if much of the time the whole thing is being played with a wink and a nudge. The plot is simple but intriguing and the lead players attractive and sympathetic. In other words, should you come across this while channel-hopping, there are worse ways to spend 75 minutes.
It has to be said that the print on the Horror Channel left a little bit to be desired, with some rather odd framing in places that resulted in people literally losing their heads – perhaps it added to the charm! But the film is also (rather surprisingly) available on DVD from Optimum whose reputation would suggest has no such issues.