A vital function of film critics in the straight-to-DVD-quick-cash-in world we now live in, one in which a once revered art form has been largely reduced to a time-wasting cash-grab is this: telling you if it's crap or not.
I'm happy to perform that function and pleased to say you really can't always judge a book by its cover. Witness Haunted Boat, by appearances a years-late knock-off of Ghost Ship, but no! While Haunted Boat is no masterpiece, its devil-may-care weirdness, solid performances and air of escalating psychological messed-up-ness makes it a pretty fun watch.
Think less of Ghost Ship and more like Blair Witch on a boat and you'll get the idea (and hopefully I'll get my first DVD jacket quote.) Haunted Boat follows the inevitable Group Of Teens (give or take a few years) as they head off on a booze-fueled pleasure cruise to Catalina Island. All is not tequila shots and strip poker, we soon learn, as it's revealed that their too-small craft was recently host to a slow to be discovered suicide.
"That's why it stinks so much," one remarks, but the smell of decay doesn't stop them from spying on each other shagging one another, etc. for far too long before things go sideways. In truth it's a good hour before things get really weird, but time spent with annoying youth acting appropriately, while inciting in the viewer a 'get on with it' reaction, it eventually starts working wonders in the believability department.
Much good use is made of the cramped sea-going quarters, as an air of dread and desperation permeates the dream-like horrors eventually encountered. One is never really sure if what's happening is real, hallucination, or worse, as phantoms both goofy and jolting shock what could have been a by-the-numbers hack job into something kind of special. What is certain is we actually care about the brunette bearing the brunt of bedevilment (and not just because she's hot in a Demi Moore kind of way) by the end of the movie.
Haunted Boat is presented in 16 x 9 widescreen format, but looks like it was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm before getting a shabby digital transfer. A few subtle yet unnecessary digital effects (similar to those used in the re-release of The Exorcist - The Version You've Never Seen) prove this is a modern DVD release, but otherwise this would feel much more at home coming out of one of those oversized VHS boxes. Film grain is nearly omnipresent and in your face, while some digital artifacting rears its ugly head when sun, sea and action combine just right. The graininess sort of helps the atmosphere (the Blair Witch docu-vibe) but all in all this is no cinephile's friend.
Ultra-sparing surround sound occasionally makes decent use of the available Dolby 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 audio tracks, while a few pop songs spring up to liven the mix, but you won't really need special equipment to enjoy the sparse audio treats you're given.
A small handful of trailers for other relatively enjoyable looking Lionsgate horror releases are the only true additions to the extra features pile, but English closed captioning and English and Spanish subtitles are there it you need them.
Maybe low expectations make Haunted Boat seem better than it actually is, or maybe some naturalistic performances, an air of Repulsion-lite nuttiness, and weird frights from left field are responsible for delivering an ultimately semi-chilling good time. Haunted Boat is actually worth renting, and maybe even watching twice.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com