I dig horror flicks set aboard abandoned and adrift ships. The real stories of the Mary Celeste and other vessels, found at sea with no one aboard, make for fascinating mysteries. Add in the supernatural, and abandoned ships become excellent locations for horror. Ships are creepy and claustrophobic. There are countless nooks and crannies where characters can get lost, or in which baddies can hide. They make more noise than a shack in a winter wind. They’re basically oceangoing haunted houses. Blood Vessel, the 2019 horror film from writers Justin Dix and Jordan Prosser, and directed by Dix, doesn’t involve ghosts. Rather, the menace in this film is a family of vampires.
The film opens, Lifeboat-style, with a small group of people in a lifeboat in the North Atlantic. The Allied invasion of France is underway, and the poor folks in the lifeboat are survivors of a German submarine attack. It’s night, and somewhere in the darkness they can hear the clanking and moaning of a ship. It comes out of the gloom and the survivors are dismayed to see a Nazi flag flying prominently on the mysterious vessel (the ship is played by the HMAS Castlemaine, which is moored as a museum ship in Australia).
After some reluctance, Captain Malone (Robert Taylor) hails the ship, but there is no response. From what the survivors in the lifeboat can see, there isn’t anyone on deck. The navy folks among the survivors know this is very odd, as a ship of war is never without someone on watch.
They decide to board the ship regardless, and after quick action to snag a cable by one of the survivors, Soviet sniper Teplov (Alex Cooke), they are able to climb the railing. Only the meek Faraday (John Lloyd Fillingham) hesitates, as he works for British Intelligence, and doesn’t look forward to the Gestapo’s ministrations. Faraday has a bum arm, and is being looked after, and prodded by, English nurse Jane Prescott (Alyssa Sutherland).
One of the first stops for a few of the survivors is the bridge, where navy cooks Bigelow and Jackson (Mark Diaco and Christopher Kirby) find the first German crewman. He’s dead, and it doesn’t look like he went painlessly. Aussie infantryman Sinclair (Nathan Phillips), wants to keep the discovery of these grisly remains under wraps, as if ignorance would make the others somehow feel better about their situation.
The survivors then make their way belowdecks, into the dark interior of the ship, and they piece together what went on.
They find a projector and film, showing the Nazis discovering some ancient treasure and packing it up in crates. One item appears to be a very ornate carved sarcophagus. They then find all this loot down in the cargo hold, leading to one of the better vampire reveals a viewer will see in a flick like this.
The vampire, dubbed The Patriarch (Troy Larkin) in the credits, rises from its coffin like an old Universal flick — swinging up stiff as a board, like its feet are on hinges. The makeup crew did a great job, as The Patriarch looks like a gigantic bat. Its face is just as pug-ugly as the most aesthetically-challenged of chiropterans, with huge, veined ears to match. It speaks in guttural Romanian, and has a laugh that echoes throughout the ship. Now, it’s up to the survivors to, well, survive this new menace, and find some way to escape the ship alive.
The setup is nothing new for horror flicks, with a somewhat above average execution. It’s rote, but with compelling flashes of creativity. The Patriarch, and other vampires which potential viewers will have to see for themselves, are done well, but feel somewhat underused. It’s hard to imagine that happening in a vampire flick, but it’s not like there’s an entire country or city for these creatures to prey upon. There are only a handful of protagonists, and only a handful of set pieces where the vampires have to be dealt with.
There’s also the matter of the German crew. Did they all jump overboard? They did not, but Dix and company had an opportunity to add Nazis to their menagerie, always reliable bad guys, and they chose not to do so. It’s like passing up the stuffing on Thanksgiving. Vampire and Nazis? Come on. But, it didn’t look like there was a lot of budget to spread around. If that was the case, choosing to focus solely on the vampires was the right choice.
There were some interesting choices in cinematography, as well. Sky Davies shot the film, and her photography is very dark. The entire film takes place at night in a ship largely without power, so that makes sense. It’s just a touch too far on the dark side, making it somewhat difficult for a viewer to see what is happening on screen sometimes.
Blood Vessel is a competent horror film. Everything it does, is done well enough to keep viewers engaged. The ideas behind the plot also keep the wheels turning after the credits roll, which is not as common in film as one might think. There are no failings in the cast, and many decent frights. In fact, there are times in the film where I felt genuine stress. Yet, it all seems so familiar. There is not much difference in how things work in this film compared to many of the best horror films, but therein lies the contrast between a neat film and something profound. There are levels of storytelling that this film did not reach, making this a fine distraction for the Halloween season, but not much else.