The Ghost Galleon. 1974. Directed & Written by Amando de Ossorio.
Starring Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Bárbara Rey, Carlos Lemos, Manuel de Blas, & Blanca Estrada.
Ancia Century Films/Belén Films
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Amando de Ossorio‘s Blind Dead series is one of the more unique of the horror genre, specifically in the zombies/undead category. We’ve seen lots of variations on people risen from the dead, whether it’s George A. Romero and his own Dead series, Haitian voodoo from Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, or the Umberto Lenzi classic which brought the fast moving zombie to the mainstream, Nightmare City.
What’s so enjoyable about de Ossorio is that he took zombies and mixed them with pseudohistory, using the very real Templar Knights and transforming them into Satan worshipping mad men (in real life they did dissolve after charges of heresy) who crawl from their tombs at night to stalk the Spanish countryside, searching for victims to quell their blood lust.
Although The Ghost Galleon isn’t one of the best films out of the series, it’s still a weird, eerie trip through a fog-laden landscape, going from land to the desperate darkness of the sea. The Knights themselves are always great, but in this instalment of de Ossorio’s series there isn’t a whole lot else to enjoy. With a couple lofty themes floating around, the film could’ve been better. But it’s still probably good enough for a Halloween Horrorthon.
De Ossorio works up plenty of eerie atmosphere, as usual. The mood’s established early on, as we’re drawn into the Old World feel of Spain, an unsettling fogginess surrounding everything, particularly the titular galleon. Part of the fog is also more than just atmosphere, it helps get across the otherworldly feel of the Templar Knights, like their world beyond the grave is literally a whole other world, an entire dimension unto itself.
Moreover, the score does a fantastic job at elevating the atmosphere. Once on the ship, things get impressively spooky with a hypnotic swirl of synthesizers taking us through to that other realm, guiding us, with buoying timpani notes discombobulating us; the feeling of heading into a dream is palpable, the fog like that barrier between sleep and rest. The score, from start to finish, is one of the biggest reasons the atmosphere ultimately works.
Apart from the technical side of the production, there are lost themes that could’ve been used to de Ossorio’s advantage. For instance, there’s a setup of the Old World v. the New World, starting with the capitalist businessmen exploiting women and their bodies – i.e. New World – only concerned with their money than with human safety. They walk themselves right into the hands of the Knights Templar – i.e. Old World – and this is their undoing. That’s what you get, capitalist scum! The concern of the businessmen solely for economics and image (view in the media, et cetera) leads them towards a dangerous resolution. This is all present underneath, it just isn’t used any further than surface level optics. Too bad, because a zombie film of any sort can always become more than the sum of its parts when there’s an additional plot/story/thematic level.
My favourite part of the film is when the cross is used against the Knights Templar. A clever subversion of Christian iconography for which the knights originally stood. In their turn to Satan, they expelled Christ from themselves, which is then used against them as a repellent. Neat little moment.
The Bad & the Ugly
A major aspect of why The Ghost Galleon doesn’t hold up to the other, better entries in the series is the acting. Not everyone is awful; most are, sadly. This doesn’t need a Laurence Olivier, nor does it need a Vincent Price. But it could’ve used much better performances. Think of Dawn of the Dead with Ken Foree, beloved to the genre, Gaylen Ross, and even the rest of the cast who were fantastic. A couple decent performances could’ve turned this into a good zombie film.
The pacing is slow, and that’s fine; if it weren’t for the fact the plot feels boring. All these Blind Dead films are similar, there’s no reinventing of the wheel here as far as writing goes, not in any of them. However, de Ossorio’s other undead Templar films – particularly the first, Tombs of the Blind Dead – have a great pace, keeping you engaged, waiting for the next scare or the next kill or whatever weird follows.
It’s the pacing, above all, which makes this a hard film to sit through without wanting to fast forward. I watched it all, and until the finale, there’s really nothing special to talk about outside the general atmosphere, plus the zombie Templars themselves. Sure, there’s a couple gnarly deaths, a decapitation, it just never amounts to anything better than that.
It’d be hard to argue de Ossorio had no influence on the zombie sub-genre of horror. Certainly not as deep as Romero, probably not even close to Lucio Fulci, either. But there’s no doubt certain elements in the Blind Dead lingered on, inspiring other filmmakers along the line in subtle ways.
Such as the iconic scene later in this film where the zombie Templars emerge from the ocean waters, relentlessly chasing their intended prey from the galleon to land. This watery rise precedes Shock Waves, Land of the Dead, and others (in fairness Luci’s Zombi had some good water zombie action; this one has a horde of them instead of just one). Just great to see this kind of thing, knowing de Ossorio’s films aren’t lost to time or relegated to the realm of admiration only amongst the most ardent genre fans. They’ve certainly influenced a few horror filmmakers out there.
This isn’t one of the best Blind Dead films, not even close. It’s barely a mediocre bit of cinema, honestly. A two out of five star affair. Yet, as previously mentioned, it has some enjoyable moments in between the languid pacing and a lot of bad acting, some good practical effects and weird images. And for a near Halloween, this is a nice addition to any zombie movie night.