A young woman pursues a masked killer on an otherwise-deserted ocean liner, only to discover that it’s her trapped in a twisted time loop (Triangle, 2009). An alien onboard a Russian research vessel converts its crew into cyborgs (Virus, 1999). British sailors on an expedition to the Arctic are stalked by a demonic bear (The Terror, 2018). Nautical horror is a genre that conjures up limitless terrifying possibilities, the latest addition to which is Bhoot — Part One: The Haunted Ship. Starring Vicky Kaushal, the film will release on November 15, 2019.
It’s far from the first film to feature a haunted ship. In Steve Beck’s Ghost Ship (2002), a demonic spirit, who collects the souls of sinners, uses a gold-laden ocean liner to lure greedy crewmen to their deaths. In Vernon Sewell’s 1952 film of the same name, the haunted vessel in question is a yacht instead. A recent purchase by a newlywed couple, it’s also the site of ghostly presences – the result of the yacht’s former owner killing his wife and her lover and stashing their bodies under the floorboards. New Zealand horror film The Ferryman (2007) features an evil spirit that uses his enchanted dagger to swap souls with unsuspecting sailboat passengers.
In John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), a ship carrying the vengeful animated corpses of its crew returns to the site where it was plundered and sunk a century ago. The film was remade in 2005.
In the more-mystery-than-horror film Below (2002), co-written by Darren Aronofsky, it’s left open to interpretation as to whether the crew of a submarine is being haunted by an entity called a ‘malediction’ or driven to hallucinations by their guilty consciences.
In Death Ship (1980), a shipwrecked captain and his family are rescued by a freighter. Plot twist: it’s a former Nazi Germany prison ship, haunted by the violent spirits of its former inmates. Nazis are also the primary antagonists of 1977 film Shock Waves, only this time they’re aquatic zombies called the ‘Death Corps’ who attack and drown shipwrecked tourists. Mummies, albeit eyeless ones who hunt via sound, kill two swimsuit models who board a sailboat ferrying their coffins in Spanish horror film El buque maldito (1974).
Haunted Boat (2005) sees six hard-partying teenagers on a sailboat each murdered by their greatest fears come to life. It’s a premise similar to the 1998 Samuel L. Jackson-starrer Sphere, where the titular object, found inside a spacecraft on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, manifests the crew’s worst fears, including giant squids and sea snakes.
Much of nautical horror revolves around such deadly creatures of the sea – whether real, fictional or genetically modified. In Leviathan (1989), an underwater mining crew drinks a mutagen-spiked vodka from a shipwreck they’ve discovered, transforming into a single sharp-toothed, tentacled beast.
Deep Sea Rising (1998) revolves around a group of hijackers who take over a luxury cruise ship, only to find a terrifying tentacled monster to contend with instead. A man possessed by a statue transforms into a reptilian monster after finding a ship containing an ancient Aztec treasure in The Haunted Sea (1977). Another Aztec curse in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) compels pirates who stole gold medallions from the Isla de Muerta to turn into immortal undead corpses, but only under moonlight.
Haunted objects are another recurring feature in stories about spooky ships. In The Bermuda Triangle (1978), a doll found by a family sailing to the lost city of Atlantis possesses their youngest daughter, eventually killing them all. The 1978 made-for-television film Cruise Into Terror depicts a crew spiraling into madness after they recover a sarcophagus that happens to contain…wait for it…the son of Satan.