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Ghost Ship Is The Critical Disaster That's Finding New Life On HBO Max

Warner Bros. sea-going gore-fest "Ghost Ship" sank into something of a critical abyss as soon as it debuted in 2002. While the BBC's Jamie Russell actually enjoyed the film's spectacularly gruesome opening sequence, he quickly went on to note that soon after it begins, "'Ghost Ship' gets thrown off balance and never returns to an even keel." He then added insult to review-injury by tying his sentiments about the movie to another famously tragic excursion that ended in catastrophe, quipping, "Where are all the icebergs when you need one?" Now that's cold.

And while it featured a cast including Karl Urban, Gabriel Byrne, and other well-known names, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw complained that "Ghost Ship" basically had nothing new to offer to audiences, saying that the movie simply served up "the same old tired stuff we've seen a hundred times before in various permutations."

But as if to prove the old adage that you can't keep a badly critiqued ocean-liner-with-a-demonic-secret down, the film has resurfaced as a streaming sensation that just refuses to remain submerged. The truth is, the formerly maligned movie has bobbed up on HBO Max to lure more than a few horror-seeking viewers on board in recent weeks. So, just how successful has this re-launch of "Ghost Ship" been?

Torpedoed by critics, Ghost Ship is riding high on HBO Max

As noted above, the storyline of "Ghost Ship" doesn't offer much in the way of fresh, new horror tropes. It begins with a derelict ocean liner found drifting with what at first seems to be no one aboard. But, uh oh, the long-dead passengers actually aren't all that dead. Or at least they don't stay that way and (surprise, surprise) grisly pandemonium results. But, as the Austin Chronicle lamented in their review, the would-be thriller is just a "meandering, sub-aquatic mess: It's so bad it's good, but only if you slide in on a freebie."

As it turns out, however, all the critical drubbings haven't kept the movie from rising from the depths to redeem itself with current audiences — "Ghost Ship" steamed to viewing glory by ranking ninth out of the Rotten Tomatoes Top 10 Best Horror Movies at Home on HBO Max in March of 2023. Likewise, it cruised to the number five position in the Top 10 Movies on HBO the same month. This just goes to show that viewers hunting for frights on streaming services like HBO Max are ever ready to re-float a rusting hulk like "Ghost Ship," despite critics sending it straight to the bottom on its maiden theatrical voyage.

Ghost Ship's opening sequence is a treat for fans of gruesome splatter

"Ghost Ship" might be a critically lambasted disaster that sailed into the forgotten oceans of time — at least until it resurfaced on HBO Max. However, anyone who's seen the movie will remember its goretastic opening scene, which depicts the passengers of a luxury cruise ship being dismembered en masse. As Redditor u/Emperor_Zug noted, "[the] whole sequence is just one of the most ludicrous and gratuitous things I've seen in horror in a long time."

It all starts out innocent enough. The ship's denizens are shown dressed to the nines, enjoying a night of dancing while classy and awe-inspiring music plays in the background. Then, out of the blue, a wire sweeps across the room and shreds everyone to pieces, ultimately decorating the room with blood and chopped-up body parts.

There's an argument to be made that "Ghost Ship" peaks too early, but most horror movies would struggle to live up to an opening sequence that's as strong as this one. That said, the movie is much better than its reputation suggests, which is why it's being rediscovered by a new generation of fright fans on HBO Max.