Phantom Ship (also known as The Mystery of the Marie Celeste) was the first horror movie from Hammer Films, way back in 1935. Yes, 1935. OK, it’s perhaps more accurately a mystery/horror/thriller, but it still occupies an important place in movie history. It’s also the only Hammer movie to star Bela Lugosi.
As the alternative title would suggest it tells the story of the Marie Celeste, and attempts to account for that famous ship’s unfortunate fate and the even more unfortunate fate of its crew. It’s a story of jealousy and revenge, of shanghai’d sailors, cruelty and horror at sea, and two men who are deadly rivals for the love of the same woman.
It’s a little clunky at times, but the mystery and suspense are maintained fairly effectively. There are several possible motives that could explain the series of murders that starts soon after the ill-fated ship sets out on its last voyage, and it’s not clear until the end what the actual explanation is.
Lugosi has a reasonably rewarding role and makes the most of it. His performance, as so often, dominates the film. It’s not a great movie but it’s entertaining. The British horror movies of the 1930s are rather underrated in general. It’s worth a look to see where Hammer horror all began.