The Greatest Opening Scenes in Horror History: 2002’s GHOST SHIP



An ongoing series looking at fantastic prologues from classic and contemporary horror movies.

We’re not going to go on record as saying Steve Beck’s 2002 chiller GHOST SHIP, the third theatrical offering from the Warner Bros. imprint Dark Castle and the first DC offering to not serve as a remake of a William Castle classic, is a great film.


GHOST SHIP is not a great film.

It’s a slow, stiff, silly and often rather dull affair.

Starting its life as a moody thriller called CHIMERA, the movie was reportedly gored-up and goosed with a supernatural thrust by producers Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, well after stars Julianna Margullies and Gabriel Byrne signed on to appear in the sea-faring, soon-to-be spook show.

The resulting film is a clunky hybrid of inert post-TITANIC sinking ship action/adventure flick and water-logged haunted house horrorshow.

But GHOST SHIP has its moments.

Its climactic, violent-heist reveal is excellent and almost a short film in and of itself, embedded in the body of a shrug of a feature.

And no matter what your thoughts on the film…there’s that opening.

And since this column trades exclusively in films with dynamic, arresting opening sequences, GHOST SHIP floats to the top.

The bloody, body-bit-strewn top.

Truly GHOST SHIP’s kick-starting sequence is, despite its use of questionable CGI, among the most shocking and horrific scenes seen in any horror movie, anywhere, ever.

When GHOST SHIP was released I was working in the marketing department at Warner Bros. Canada. I loved the GHOST SHIP poster (I still have a box of the original GHOST SHIP matchbooks!), had enjoyed the previous Dark Castle films, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THIR13EEN GHOSTS (also directed by Beck), and was excited to see if the film could match the low-grade thrills of those films and the ominous awesomeness of its marquee-made image.

When I attended the staff screening, I almost passed out.

We all did.

In the early 60’s-set opening of GHOST SHIP, we see the passengers aboard the luxurious Italian cruise ship the Antonio Graza, dressed to the nines and having a fine time dancing on the elegant deck. The band plays, a female singer croons and the kindly captain dances with a happy little girl.

It’s an opulent scene that is cross-cut with images of gloved hands up to no good. Said hands seem to be setting some sort of spooled-wire trap, pulling thin lines of metal whose aim is unknown.

The hands then release the spool.

The wire snaps and…

Well, if you haven’t seen it…look below.

Now, imagine the horror of the unsuspecting audience trapped in that theater.

It was palpable.

And the big problem with GHOST SHIP is that it starts with such a majestically horrifying bang, that the sluggish, aimless film that follows – which then shifts gears to track a salvage crew who board the “ghost ship” decades later and run afoul of ghouls AND a shady conspiracy – couldn’t catch up with it.

But man…that opening!