Reviews

Nightmare Voyage

Frank Mitchell

USA, 1976

Credits

Review by Eva Holland

Posted on 25 October 2008

Source After Hours VHS

Categories 31 Days of Horror V

Blood Voyage doesn’t waste any time plunging the viewer into the – pardon the pun – high seas of horror. Less than two minutes in, we hear the fateful words: “She’s perfectly harmless. She’s off the drugs.” After five minutes, we know that a small group of people (including the perfectly harmless “she”) will be sailing a yacht to Hawaii, for a wedding. By the 10-minute mark, director Frank Mitchell has managed, with remarkable efficiency, to let us know that nearly everyone on the boat has a motive to kill nearly everyone else. And from there, it’s only a matter of time before the crew is whittled down one by one. But…who will be left standing?

The film has almost all the crucial elements of a classic campy horror. It’s got the perfect set-up (confined yet isolated circumstances), a motley cast of one-dimensional characters (the embittered stepdaughter, the damaged war vet, the sailor-cook who always seems to be holding a cleaver), plenty of gratuitously bare breasts, and that ham-fisted dialogue, delivered by comically bad actors, designed to balance fear with laughter (“Does Carol know you’re changing your will as soon as we get to Hawaii?”). The only horror element that Blood Voyage lacks is, well, the horror.

The death scenes are predictable and frequent. As each character dies in a burst of fake blood and delayed-reaction shrieking, the suspense factor is zero. The murders don’t raise so much as a flinch, even in this notoriously jittery reviewer. Sure, everyone loves a little ’70s camp, but the fun in these movies is the way they have you mocking them one second, and then jumping or gasping, in spite of yourself, a moment later. Without that tingling element of fear, without at least the possibility of surprise, the film loses some of the guilty pleasure it seemed to promise.

But while the individual killings hardly had me on the edge of my seat, Mitchell did manage to keep me guessing about the identity of the killer. The plot is well-constructed, as these things go, and key bits of information are delivered to the viewer promptly, without excessive chitchat, keeping the story humming forward. We learn quickly that Andy is just back from Vietnam, that Carol likes to walk around naked, and that Amy is a mental patient of the doctor, Jules, who is himself about to become a groom for what seems to be the umpteenth time.

There’s a bluntness about the delivery of the characters’ backgrounds and motives that I appreciated. Instead of attempting a subtle construction of hints and half-revelations, Mitchell puts it all out there: Carol baldly asks Andy to kill Jules for her, hardly bothering to lower her voice as they lean on deck and watch the ocean; Amy asks every sailor on board for a fix, and responds with barely-suppressed rage each time she is refused. It’s this willingness to make every character a genuinely viable suspect, to make it seem that they might in fact all be killers, that kept me unsure of the murderer’s identity, even as I correctly predicted the order and timing of the murders.

And yet… Despite a grudging respect for the plotting, I can’t forgive that missing element: fright. It’s not only the killings themselves that lack the ability to instill fear; the build-up, too, misses that aura of anticipation, of dark possibility. Maybe it’s the rush to mow down the characters that does it: the killer doesn’t linger in the dark, contemplating the upcoming crime, and the victims are never given a few moments to realize their fate. Looking back on other horror movies I’ve seen, I realize it’s often those moments of morbid knowledge, of fruitless efforts to escape, that produce the most memorable scenes.

The viewer’s lack of fear may stem, as well, from these characters’ lack of fear. As their number dwindles, and it becomes clear that a killer is in their midst, the gang retains a bizarre level of calm. They sunbathe. They eat sandwiches. They make sweet, sweet love in the middle of the afternoon. It’s only in the final hours of the voyage that anyone begins to scream or thrash or panic—and it was only in those final minutes of the movie that my heart rate got going a little faster, too.

Is a horror movie – even of the campy, silly, rock-bottom-budget variety – still a horror movie if it’s not even a little bit scary? If it lacks any gloomy or foreboding atmosphere, any sense of grim anticipation? Or, if all it manages to do is make the viewer laugh, does it lose that designation? I’m not sure. But I did laugh. In fact, I smiled through most of the film’s 80 minutes. I suppose, scary or no, that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Information from VHS Sleeve

Year
1976

Run Time
80 minutes

Director
Frank Mitchell

VHS Distributor
After Hours

Relevant Cast
[none]

Relevant Crew
[none]

Tag Line
One Is a Killer…The Rest Are Going to Die!

Rating
R

Clamshell?
No

Quote
[none]

Masterpiece?
No

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