Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Ghost Galleon

The Ghost Galleon (1974) aka Horror of the Zombies
Dir. and written by Amando de Ossorio
Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Barbara Rey, Blanca Estrada

Once upon a time there was this bitchy blonde model, who notices that her roommate (also a model) is mysteriously missing. She questions her even more bitchy boss (who offers the movie’s opening line: “lean back and stick them out”) about it, but instead of openly mocking her for asking such asinine questions to someone who could not possibly answer questions on this topic, boss lady gets all shifty and evasive. So our (at this point) hero follows her to a mysterious warehouse and learns the horrible truth: under the nifty code name “Operation Atlantic,” a mustachioed businessman has hired roommate and another girl to take a speedboat out to sea and intentionally become lost in order to create a media sensation, craftily resulting in more sportsware being sold by his fashion company. This makes sense, because it follows the classic, unassailably logical business strategy laid out in WALL STREET and its wacky sequel:*

1: Quasi-kidnap two models and toss them in a speedboat out to sea.
2: Intentionally get them lost, creating a media sensation
3: ??????
4: Profit.

So anyway, Blondie discovers evidence of this nefarious plan, and so Mustache-guy and bitchy boss lady do the only obvious, commonsensical thing that anyone would do in this situation: they kidnap her and keep her locked up unsupervised in a windowless basement room in an abandoned industrial building (which mysteriously already has a bed in it) with the rapey guy who seems to be some kind of technical assistant, inasmuch as he appears to be the only person who knows how to work the radio to keep in touch with the salty sea kittens. Cruel, but inherently logical: if Blondie blabs about the plan, how the hell are they going to sell sportswear next year, it would be impossible. So now they’ve added kidnapping and rape to the litany of crimes being perpetrated in the name of fashion (boy, and I thought the lady from THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA was mean!), but thank God the plan is still intact, the shareholders are still safe.

Not exactly the A-team.

But then, just when everything is going perfectly, something totally unforeseeable goes wrong, in this plot to sell sportswear by abandoning two models in a speedboat somewhere in the Atlantic ocean. A mysterious fog rolls in, and out of nowhere the two bikini-clad bimbos run their boat into a sinister anachronistic galleon, which looks to be worrisomely ghostly. That they are able to run their ship into literally the only other visible object for hundreds of miles in every direction probably says more than anything else could about how well-thought-out this plan was, but it presents a problem because it means they’ll have to climb aboard and investigate. Buh-buh BAAAAAAAH. You know what that means. Fuckin’ TEMPLARS.

Oh right, it’s possible that you don’t know what that means. I should take a moment to explain that this plot about kidnapping and fashion models and sinister plans to sell high fashion clothing is in fact the third movie in Spanish Templarsploitation maestro Amando de Ossorio’s BLIND DEAD series. You’d be forgiven for not realizing that so far, because for fully a third of the movie’s runtime, there is a noticeable lack of Templars. You’d figure once the seabound models climb aboard the titular galleon we’d get our first taste of that sweet sweet undead Templar action that keeps bringing us back to these movies, but nope. One of them clambers out onto the mystery ship and we don’t see what happens to her. Many hours later, after a long and satisfying nap, the other model realizes that her companion is gone (seriously, this is a real plot point) and climbs aboard herself. We also don’t see what happened to her. Boy, whoever directed this thing is a master of suspense!

gripping, just gripping.

So, back to the landlubbers. With both the seabound models now incommunicado, Mustache guy and bitchy boss lady start to get worried. They could go to the coast guard, but then they’d have to admit their plan and doom their company and possibly the entire Spanish economy to financial disaster. So they do the only sane thing they can think of: they go visit an eccentric meteorologist who looks like Walter Koenig circa 2005, who tells them nope, there definitely is no way there could be fog on the ocean anywhere near the two missing girls. That’s not especially helpful, but it turns out to be a good thing they approached this guy because unrelated to his meteorological expertise he’s also an undead Templar aficionado and is just full of theories about interdimensional ghost galleons. Even though he predicts the lost girls will never be found and that anyone who searches for the mystery galleon is doomed, he agrees to come along with them anyway because let’s face it, getting a look at some undead Templars would be hella sweet. I think lots of folks in the audience can relate to that. (then for some reason the camera zooms across the room and focuses on two tape relays for what feels like an hour or so. Not sure what to make of that so I’m assuming it’s gotta be a metaphor or something.)

And so it happens that finally, finally, well in excess of a 40 mibutes into the film, we finally get to the main plot, which finds our five intrepid heroes -- Blonde girl, Mustache guy, rapey dude, bitchy boss, and Spanish Walter Koenig -- making their way out to the open water to be menaced by ghost Templars.

Did you catch that? The whole plot about the two models on a speedboat, the kidnapping, the roommate, the rapey guy, the grumpy scientist, the extended underwear model fashion shoot, was all in the service of setting up the real story, which is that five vaguely defined characters climb onto a boat where there are Templars. As you know, I watch a lot of movies, and so I’m not one to casually throw around unearned hyperbole. So when I say this may be the single most hilariously labored and unnecessarily convoluted setup I’ve ever seen in a motion picture, it really means something. None of the elements from the first 30 minutes pay off or are even referenced ever again. None of them. Apparently the whole thing was just the only explanation Ossorio could think of as to why five people might be out on the ocean in a yacht where they might encounter a ghost galleon. I mean, that’s so outrageous you can’t even really get mad about it. It’s so cheerfully unnecessary that it stops being dull and you start to actually root for it -- geez, how long are they gonna keep this up? Do they dare make an undead Templar movie which actually contains no undead Templars whatsoever?

The majestic galleon of the title. This is the clearest image I could find of it. 
Alas no; once people end up on the boat, it eventually gets to our beloved Templar characters, who do exactly what they always do: slowly crawl out of their coffins and bumble around menacingly while people scream and somehow fail to outrun them. In fairness, Spanish Walter Koenig is correct, they look pretty fucking badass. I mean, they look the same as the last two BLIND DEAD movies, but hey, it’s a fun design, surprisingly unique. And if they must content themselves to haltingly shuffle around in the general direction of screaming women, a ghost galleon is a pretty good place for it. For one thing it’s always foggy and blue there (courtesy of what looks to be every fog machine in Spain) and for another it’s a nicely confined, claustrophobic space. Can’t run from shuffling zombie templars when there’s nowhere to run except miles of open ocean. I still think these people do a lamentable job of avoiding these semi-ambulatory scarecrows, but I guess you can hardly blame them: they’re really, really sleepy.

Yes, one of the oddest motifs in this edge-of-your-seat thrill ride about the dessicated corpses of a blind, slowly walking religious sect from the 11th century is that everyone keeps fucking falling asleep. They’ve barely set foot on the deck of this mysterious, overtly sinister ghost ship where their friends mysteriously vanished not 24 hours ago, and they just go, ‘fuck it, it’s past 6, let’s all go to separate parts of the boat, get a little shut eye and search the thing tomorrow.’ Man, suddenly I have a feeling I understand the Spanish economy’s recent underperformance. Blondie wants to look for the missing girls, but for reasons unknown to anyone but him, mean Mr. Mustache insists that before they do anything they have to sit around, have long meandering nonsensical conversations about how science can’t explain anything, catch up on their sleep (for what we later learn is 14 hours, which everyone seems to accept is reasonable), listlessly sit around some more, etc. Nobody else seems to find this an odd strategy, they seem to accept Mustache’s assertion that he’s in charge of this expedition because, let’s face it, he is “Howard Tucker, as you no doubt know, the sporting goods magnate,” (as he introduces himself).** You’d think that while everyone was sleeping would be a good time for a Templar surprise attack, but actually they seem to have the same idea. Lesson learned: in times of crisis, let a sporting goods magnate lead the way.

Fire bad! Fire BAD!

The idea that there are undead Templars on this particular ghost galleon seems pretty self explanatory, but you know how Ossorio is; he never met a simple concept that he couldn’t make convoluted and inexplicable. So the movie keeps insisting there’s some kind of mystery that needs to be solved. No one is more insistent on this point than Spanish Walter Koenig, who finds the ship’s log and will not fucking shut up about it until everyone hears him out. They’re all about to finally begin their exhaustive search of this 40-foot-long ship after having spent approximately nine hundred years sitting around sleeping and chit-chatting, but they figure, what the hell, let’s hear what this old dude found in a book. After all, he keeps insisting it’s “the key to the whole mystery!” and “it’s quite clear!”

Here is the key to whatever mystery there may be, verbatim:

The professor suggests that “We haven’t found the girls because they’re no longer on the boat!” (I would think the more likely explanation is that they haven’t yet spent any time looking for them, but go on.) “...And it so happened that [the ship's Captain] was named Hollander, and he was coming back from the Orient with militants, men of Calvary or perhaps friends of the Templars, who were excommunicated by the Pope and banished for the celebrations of Satan.”

Bitchy boss lady, apparently something of a history buff, immediately finds a problem with this theory: “that would place it in the 18th century. But this galleon is from the 16th century!”

“Yes, yes. Brilliant observation my dear,” prattles the professor, “but the book goes on to say: “these sectarians with their sacrifices to appease the forces of evil, succeeded in dominating mortality. So, they embarked two centuries afterward!”

OK that explains that, I guess. Leave it to Ossorio to go out of his way to create a random, unnecessary incongruence and then unsatisfactorily half-resolve it, all in the same sentence.

“Now wait, there’s more. On this boat, besides a great treasure, exists these cases [sic], all of them forming sarcophaguses, each containing the mummified corpse of a cursed sectarian. All of them come to life nightly by renewal of their [order? orgy?] to Satan.”

In other words: get this! Ghost Templars! Exactly what we already knew! Man, it’s a good thing Captain Hollander thought to write all this down, otherwise how the fuck were we going to accept that this 16th-century galleon has a cargo hold full of Templar Zombies, I mean, it would seem totally hard to believe. But the irony is that it still doesn’t explain where the girls are or why professor know-it-all thinks they’re not on the boat anymore! Or why nobody seems curious about why they haven’t seen Blondie in the last 14 hours (spoiler alert: she gets Marion Crane’d about halfway through, and no one ever mentions her again. She does get to have a flashback about wearing her underwear and discouraging her now ex-roommate from pursuing her dreams, though, so it’s not a total loss).

This crosses the line.
I need to be honest with you now, for a minute. This movie is not as great as I’m making it sound. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. It’s not just convoluted and incompetent, which would be expected from a 70’s Spanish zombie movie. It’s not just that the acting beggars belief, or that the dialogue appears to have been made up on the spot, mostly by actors who don’t seem to possess any understanding of the plot, or even a passing familiarity with the English language. It’s not just that the majestic 16h-century galleon is a foot-long cardboard model floating in a foggy bathtub (when it finally sinks, it’s nothing short of adorable). It’s just that the whole thing is so damned uneventful that it barely even remembers to get around to some Templars every once in a while. Seriously, there are only three Templar scenes in the entire thing; we get Templars at 33 minutes, then again at 57 minutes, and, briefly, at 72 minutes. And that’s it. The rest of the movie is dialogue scenes, and they’re all even less comprehensible and relevant than the ones I quoted above. Although in the most technical sense this endeavour does comprise a series of still images rapidly projected to create the illusion of movement in the brain, this is still just barely a film even by the standards of Spain, the country that gave Jesus Franco a film career that lasted half of a century.


That said, I dunno, there’s still something I sort of like about these stupid movies. Whatever else you can say about Ossorio the Templaruteur,*** he does have kind of a nifty idea here, and you gotta be kinda impressed that he managed to make this film with virtually no budget and even less talent. I think he really wanted to make something good, and there are the germs of a decent, atmospheric thriller in the air. The Templars themselves look cool when you can actually see them, and the idea to put them on a ghost galleon was an inspired one even if the film doesn’t really get a lot of milage out of the enclosed environment. And it does have a pretty badass ending --complete with the best images in the whole movie-- to let you leave on a cheerier note. I dunno man, I could never legitimately call these movies good, or even acceptable, even by the low standards usually set by horror films. But they got something, some kind of weird combination of cool concept and Ed Wood incompetent enthusiasm which makes them (moderately) more watchable than is really justified by the actual facts of the case.

On last thing, though: continuing the trend from RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD, these guys still don’t seem all that blind anymore. If I’m really gonna have to see the last film, the terrifyingly named NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS, I’m going to have to demand we get a little more out of this gimmick. You never see them bonking their heads on doors or slowly lurching in the wrong direction or anything, and they don’t even have their horse sidekicks to help them out this time, totally missing a rare perfect chance to pay visual tribute to that Lyle Lovett song about riding ponies on a boat. These fuckers are supposed to be piloting a ghost galleon for fucks sake, how are they gonna do that with no eyes? I think we can all agree that just flat out makes no sense. Where’s your precious science now, professor Koenig?

**Weirdly, this guy Jack Taylor would go on to an unexpectedly successful career, appearing in CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE NINTH GATE, GRAND PIANO, GOYA’S GHOSTS, and other high-profile films, along with hundreds of z-grade Spanish horror and porn movies with names like VICIOUS AND NAKED. Maria Perschy, who inexplicably gets top billing for playing the bitchy boss, was also in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, not exactly TITANIC but definitely a step up from this. Oh, and rapey guy Manuel de Blas plays the mayor in SLUGS.

***Apparently this is a real word? Google Doc seems to think so.


The Hunt For Dread October
  • REMAKE: No
  • FOREIGNER: Spanish
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: None, absolutely none.
  • BOOBIES: A lot of underwear modelling, but no actual nudity.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: Yes, in an early scene which is never referenced again.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Yes, the only person killed on-screen gets dismembered.
  • MONSTER: None
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: Absolutely!
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: You should always sell high-fashion sportswear by hiring models to get lost in the high seas. Granted, it didn't work out so well here, but the concept is sound.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: There is a Ghost Galleon, confirmed.

Blondie and roommate have a boring conversation about roomie's career while wearing underwear. You know, like you do. Also Blondie and Bitchy Boss talk about rommie.

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