Ghost ships may be a staple of maritime folklore, but they’re something of a rarity in film. The two best-known examples would probably be Ghost Ship, which features one of the most incredibly jaw-dropping opening sequences in film history. The 80s cult film Death Ship which featured a leftover Nazi warship menacing modern-day shipwreck survivors being the other notable example. Now effects man turned director Justin Dix and co-writer Jordan Prosser gives us an Australian twist on the theme, Blood Vessel. And while it also features shipwreck survivors and a menacing Nazi warship, it’s very much its own beast.
1945, the survivors of a torpedoed hospital ship drift helplessly at sea, low on supplies and hope. They spot a ship. It’s German minesweeper but deciding being shot is a better than starvation and board the strangely quiet vessel. Once onboard they find the crew dead, the only trace of life being Maya (Ruby Hall) a little girl who speaks Romanian. But it soon becomes apparent that who, or whatever killed the Germans is still on board. And hungry.
Blood Vessel initially annoyed me by having a cliched and unlikely mix of Allied nations all floating around the North Atlantic together. We have Australians Malone (Robert Taylor, Kong: Skull Island, The Meg) and Sinclair (Nathan Philips, Wolf Creek, Chernobyl Diaries). Americans Jackson (Christopher Kirby, Iron Sky, Upgrade) and Bigelow (Mark Diaco). Brits Prescott (Alyssa Sutherland, Vikings, The Mist) and Faraday (John Lloyd Fillingham). There’s even a Russian sniper Teplov (Alex Cooke) to complete the mix.
The first half of Blood Vessel is heavy on the atmosphere and tension. And it does look menacing, dark except for red emergency lights, as the survivors explore it. The dead bodies, obvious victims of violence, that they discover add to the feeling of menace. It was shot on the HMAS Castlemaine, a WWII corvette that was restored and used as a floating museum. That gives the film an authentic look and adds a feeling of claustrophobia as well.
The constant and annoying bickering among the leads brings these scenes down though. I get the idea of building internal conflict but this is overkill. Thankfully the external threat soon reveals itself and the squabbling gets put aside in favour of fighting for survival.
Unfortunately, the poster and the film’s publicity give away just what is lurking on board, vampires that look like they’re literally part bat. Once they turn up the film shifts into a more action-oriented mode. In a nice twist, the vampires have a kind of psychic power over their victims, This means we get a bit of a change from the usual vampiric stalking and biting.
Dix’s effects credits include The Babadook, The Loved Ones and Dying Breed. And as you might expect, he made sure the effects for Blood Vessel were top notch. From the creature design to the dead bodies everything is very well done. It’s also, with the possible exception of one scene, all done without CGI. And that’s what a creature feature like this needs to make its action believable.
Blood Vessel is available via The Horror Collective. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more info.