Written by Jack Hill and directed by Alvin Rakoff, Death Ship follows a mysterious deserted black freighter that sails through the night. As the film opens the ship detects a cruise ship and changes course to meet it. Scary voices announce “Battle stations! Enemy in sight!” in German!
Meanwhile on the cruise ship Captain Ashland (George Kennedy) is making his final voyage, attended by his replacement, Captain Trevor Marshall (Richard Crenna), who has brought along his family. The freighter heads right for them, blasting its horn. Despite Ashland’s best efforts, the charging freighter collides with the cruise ship, sinking it.
The next morning, a handful of survivors—Marshall, his wife Margaret (Sally Ann Howes), and their children Robin (Jennifer McKinney) and Ben (Danny Higham); a young officer named Nick (Nick Mancuso) and his girlfriend Lori (Victoria Burgoyne); the ship’s comic Jackie (Saul Rubinek); and a passenger, Mrs. Morgan (Kate Reid) —are adrift on a large piece of wreckage. Ashland surfaces nearby and he’s brought aboard, barely conscious.
Later, the survivors come upon the black freighter, unaware it’s the ship that attacked them. Finding a boarding ladder slung from the stern, they climb aboard, but not before the ladder plunges into the sea as the officers try to climb it with the injured Ashland. When all are finally aboard, Jackie tries to rally the survivors with humour, but a cable seizes him by the ankle, and he is swung outboard by one of the ship’s cranes, which lowers him into the water before cutting him loose, to be swept astern and lost…