Torture Ship (1939)

Genres - Horror  |   Run Time - 57 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

If the plot of Torture Ship sounds bizarre, it should -- it was lifted from a Jack London story entitled A Thousand Deaths, published in 1899, that is even nastier, about a shipwreck survivor who drowns at sea and is revived by his own estranged father, as part of a series of experiments in which the young man is killed, and reanimated numerous times, until he takes steps to destroy his tormentor. Starting from that material, director/producer Victor Halperin, who had previously made two deeply atmospheric exercises in the macabre, White Zombie and Revolt of the Zombies, added the element of criminals on the run. The entire mix is unsettling more than horrific, lacking the dark, enveloping visuals and mood of White Zombie. There is horrific stuff happening here, and a tone of menace and doom throughout, and when Talbot's character is briefly "zombie-fied" it is very unsettling. There are also moments of humor that shouldn't fit in a Halperin movie, but here they make the action easier to take, as when one of the hoods accepts the offer of food from a woman captive, and then remembers that she was sent up for poisoning people. Additionally, the presence of several bizarre yet familiar faces among the criminals, including Skelton Knaggs, and Stanley Blystone as the first-mate, make this a strange and diverting (if not exactly "entertaining") thriller for old movie buffs.