Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Ghost Galleon

1975, Spain, Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Colour, Running Time: 90 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R1, Blue Underground; Video: Anamorphic 1.82:1, Audio: Dolby Digital Mono

As part of a weird marketing strategy for a new boat two helpless young ladies are sent off to float around the middle of the ocean in the hope that they will be ‘accidentally’ found, the anticipated consequential publicity doubling for a sneaky advertisement for the boat which helped them through their ordeal by simply staying afloat. Of course the whole plan goes to sh… bits when the two models drift through a dense patch of fog and discover an old abandoned galleon adrift at sea. Despite warnings from base one of them foolishly decides to board the ship to have a look around: she’s never seen again. Deciding they’d better help out, the marketing guys get together with a crazy meteorologist and a couple of the girls’ acquaintances and set off on a voyage to bring back the lost females before their misjudged marketing campaign attracts attention for the wrong reasons. Passing through the same sphere of mist they too locate the medieval galleon. But soon, after boarding the ship, their own boat disappears leaving them stranded and the meteorologist surmises that they’ve actually passed into another dimension, a place where the dead are able to walk again…
The third film in Amando de Ossorio’s infamous Blind Dead series, this has a different feel compared to the preceding entries. All four films utilised different characters and settings (much in an equivalent way to what Romero has done for his Dead films) with the principle threat sourced from the same thing: the rotting, eyeless corpses of the Knights Templar returning to transient life to reap havoc on the living. Most of the action (and I use that term lightly) in The Ghost Galleon (AKA El Buque Maldito or Horror of the Zombies) takes place on the eponymous transportation unit and I think it was quite a stroke of imagination to have the Blind Dead discovered floating around on a supernatural vessel in the ocean as opposed to their usual terrestrial circumstances. Little exposition is offered for this and it lends a touch of mystique to the proceedings. As they do in the other three films, the dead awaken periodically to claim anything human that happens to be roaming within the vicinity but where it’s a nocturnal activity in the other parts, here it simply seems governed by some unspoken time lapse because the boundaries of night and day are blurred within the odd Twilight Zone that the ship inhabits. This was a difficult film to obtain for years and I’d always read that it was the most inferior of the series, but being a fan of the first two movies I was anxious to check out the final chapters when Blue Underground released the fanboy’s dream that was the complete DVD set years ago. Whilst I could understand some of the complaints people levelled at this film I found it to be quite a spooky little chiller once the flaws were acknowledged and pushed aside. The most obvious flaws are some of the special effects: the ship from a distance looks downright awful, almost inexcusably bad. Second to this is the setting up of the story, which is improbable to say the least. But given the central premise I think minor improbabilities can be overlooked (we do after all watch films as a means of escapism do we not?). The characters themselves are bad-movie caricatures in some respects but they bring some amusement to the screen, inadvertently. The meteorologist is perhaps my favourite of these, dropping his office status at the slightest manipulation to head out on a real mission and managing to arrive at scientifically perplexing conclusions concerning their alleged switch between dimensions. Regardless of the incredible delivery, this theory fits in with the director’s ideas about the Blind Dead generally who, he has said in interviews, exist in state of spatial/temporal distortion rather than being conventional walking cadavers. Back to the ship itself: whereas the longer distance shots of the vessel are terribly realised, the situation on board is very different; the place is a rotten, dilapidated, creaking entity that’s satisfyingly creepy - very much the ultimate haunted house albeit on a boat. The Blind Dead sleep below deck in boxes that resemble the coffins that would make a more natural home and the homicidal knights appear to be oblivious to their change of locale. Very often stated as the least favourite of fans, The Ghost Galleon does the trick for my idiosyncratic tastes and creates a strange and eerie world that makes for comfortably inebriated viewing on cold nights.

As previously mentioned the film was not easy to come by until a few years ago. Redemption had released the first two in the series on video cassette here in the UK but stopped there so it was quite an anticipated event when BU announced they’d managed to acquire the rights to remaster and release all four of them uncut. This third entry then made it across to the UK on DVD (with the other three) thanks to Anchor Bay, albeit missing the Spanish language soundtrack, which was a real shame. The BU DVD contains Spanish and English audio with optional subtitles. I’ve listened to both tracks in their entirety and they’re both very good, clear representations of how the original might have sounded without any intrusive hiss. The English track in fact is dubbed fairly well and, given the sometimes less than sane nature of the material, it doesn’t suit the film badly at all. Image is presented in a roughly accurate ratio with nice levels of detail and an apparently appropriate colour scheme, overall looking better than the final entry in the series (which suffered from grain and extremely soft focus nocturnal shots), although there is a murkiness to the onboard scenes due to the omnipresent fog. This presentation of a once obscure but charmingly uncanny film is appreciated and I’ve already had my money’s worth out of the disc along with the rest of the amazing and comprehensive set.

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