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Ship of the Damned (2024) Review

Ship of the Damned opens with a brief prologue set on board a pirate ship in 1622. As the ship sails through a storm, the crew prepare for dinner. Which for them means rather tamely hacking a bound woman to death and eating her raw flesh. In the present, Elena (Hannaj Bang Bendz, Wrath of Dracula, I Am Rage) has her martial arts training interrupted by a phone call from her ex, Michael (Jacob Anderton, I Am Vengeance: Retaliation, Lore). He hasn’t taken the breakup well and keeps finding reasons to call her, but this time it’s legit, even if it doesn’t sound like it.

The coast guard have found what appears to be a seventeenth century sailing ship drifting off the coast and towed it into port. Since she’s an expert in such things, he’d like her to come down and be part of the investigation. It’s supposed to be a desk job, just checking and signing off on what is found. But when Marcus (Martyn Luke, Death Web, Dune Drifter) and Tony (Sean Tizzard, Three Day Millionaire, 97 Minutes) go on board but don’t come back, she and Michael board the vessel to look for them.

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Ship of the Damned was written and directed by Steve Lawson, who made the delightfully trashy Hellriser before embarking on what seems like an infinite number of increasingly cheap period pieces, such as The Fourth Musketeer and The Highwayman. These tend to be composed mostly of interiors, shot on obvious sets, and despite their source material, almost entirely devoid of action. I was hoping this time around he’d at least rented a replica sailing vessel to use as a location. And since it was set on board the vessel, there might be a bit more action as well.

But the prologue, with its CGI pirate ship and set bound interiors, ended that hope in a hurry. There is however a bit more going on in Ship of the Damned than in many of Lawson’s other films once Elena and Michael run across Jacob (Ben Manning, Hollow, The Snarling) and his crew. Like the Flying Dutchman, he and his crew have been cursed to sail forever, but with the added curse of cannibalism.

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They also want some womenfolk, fit and healthy, to breed the next generation of cursed cannibal pirates. They do have a woman on board, Sayyida (Vicki Glover, The Manson Family Massacre, Demons at Dawn) but being cursed she can’t bear children. By the same logic, you would think the men couldn’t get someone pregnant, but they’re willing to try with Elena. Lucky for her, she knows how to fight.

Now if this sounds somewhat familiar, that may be because back in 1974 Amando de Ossorio gave us the third film in The Blind Dead series, Ghost Galleon, aka Horror of the Zombies. An ancient Spanish sailing ship reappears with a flesh eating crew of zombie Knights Templar. Something a photographer and his models find out the hard way.

Despite being fifty years old, it’s superior to Ship of the Damned in every way. Ossorio knew how to create a literal boatload of atmosphere and punctuate it with scares, blood and skin from a cast that included Eurosleaze vets Maria Perschy (Hunchback of the Morgue, House of Psychotic Women) and Jack Taylor (Pieces, The Vampires Night Orgy).

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Lawson on the other hand serves up a talk heavy film with little atmosphere, a small cast and smaller body count. The effects are mostly limited to blood and the occasional piece of meat of dubious origin sitting on the table. Needless to say, despite the whole bit about breeding a new crew, there’s no skin either. Ship of the Damned does feature a couple of decent performances, including an energetic turn by Bendz as the feisty heroine who may be a bit too fit and healthy for her captors. The script tries to humanize Jacob somewhat, and Manning gamely tries to make it work. But there’s really no way to really make this crew seem deserving of any sympathy.

In the end, while Ship of the Damned is better than much of the director’s recent output, it’s still not particularly good. It might be worth your time when and if it turns up on Tubi or some other free with ads service, but there’s no reason to go out of your way to see it, there are much better options for horror on the high seas.

Ship of the Damned is available on Digital Platforms via High Fliers Films.

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