If you trawl through the archives on IMDB, you’ll see that there is a list under the tag “Ship Horror”. It contains 131 titles. But after reading through the entire list, you’ll feel none the wiser about ship horror. Is it actually a subgenre of horror movies? Movies like Jaws, the Poseidon Adventure, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon make the list, and they don’t necessarily feel like ship horror (some don’t feel like horror, for that matter).
Nonetheless, we might consider – as the internet seems to – that a ship horror movie is effectively any horror film with a nautical link. That gives a wide range of movies to choose from, and it also allows listicle writer to beef up their content with movies that don’t necessarily fit. But it’s interesting to note that very few pirate horror movies make the list, with the exception of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which we aren’t really going to deem horror films.
Most pirate films are aesthetically horror
One might argue that all pirate movies are horror films, at least aesthetically so. You can often see this in the design of pirate games like Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (Obsidian) or Dead Man’s Trail from Relax Gaming. And yet, the vast majority of mainstream pirate movies fall under the category of family, adventure, or both. There are, of course, plenty of pirate movies that fall under the horror category, but very few hit the mainstream. Why? Well, because most are terrible.
Horror is, of course, unique in movie genres in that many of us embrace so-bad-they-are-actually-good films, but pirate horror can even stretch some of that goodwill. Yet, some are passable. The Asylum – the movie studio famous for its horror “mockbusters” – released Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter’s Cove in 2005, and it is, well, not awful. The plot tracks the antics of pirate Roger LaForge (Jolly Roger), who comes back to haunt the descendants of his mutinous crew 300 years later. It is a fun, gore-filled slasher that echoes some of the best 1980s slasher movies. But it is badly let down by the script.
A year later, Brain Damage Films released Curse of Pirate Death, a messy film but one that gains extra points for not taking itself too seriously. We’d argue that this is a totally subjective film, and you’ll either love the comedy and gore or find it exhausting. The plot is not unlike Jolly Roger above, i.e., a pirate out of time terrorizes modern-day victims. But the cheese levels are up to 11 in this one.
Pirates of Ghost Island should probably be avoided
In 2007, we got Pirates of Ghost Island from director Mitch Toles, who actually played the titular role in Curse of Pirate Death. Toles is an everyman of cinema, doubling up as an actor, producer, stuntman, and just about every other job in movie production. His sole director’s gig leaves a lot to be desired, even if he was hampered by an ultra-low budget. Still, there are some redeeming elements to the movie, if you can leave aside the messy plot and poor acting, which is admittedly difficult.
None of the above is critically acclaimed, of course. So can we find any that are? Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter might just fit the bill. Animated in the comic book style, it is based on the story-within-the-story from Alan Moore’s iconic Watchmen series. While it might be more considered dark action than straight-up horror, there are enough gory elements to satisfy its inclusion. The 2009 release is beautifully animated and has great narration. It’s top-class stuff, although you may need to be a die-hard Watchmen fan to truly enjoy it.
Let’s finish, though, with a classic – Night Creatures/Captain Clegg. Starring the inimitable Peter Cushing as Captain Clegg, this 1962 B-movie is plenty of fun with some surprisingly scary moments. It’s not the greatest horror ever made, nor is it the best pirate film ever made, but it honors both genres and has enough going on to keep you glued to the screen for 82 minutes. Sure, it’s slim pickings when it comes to pirate horror films, but this is arguably the best of the bunch.