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Ghosts Of Mars (2001) Review

rsz_gom1GHOSTS OF MARS (Dir- John Carpenter, USA, 2001)

Starring- Natasha Hentsridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Richard Cetrone

Out now on Bluray/DVD Dual Format from Indicator

Probably the last time John Carpenter made a feature with a pretty significant budget and with studio backing GHOSTS OF MARS was not well received on release, particularly by Carpenter fans and didn’t play well at the box office and burning out the horror auteur in the process and it would be 5 years later, with his superb entry into the first season of MASTERS OF HORROR with CIGARETTE BURNS, that he would get behind the camera and another 9 until he went back to a full feature with the entertaining if uneven THE WARD. Since then Carpenter has gone to music releasing two albums and even performing live (the privilege I got to see last October) and a return to cinema is unlikely even though he recently sent out a post on social media putting his backing behind a brand new version of HALLOWEEN to be written by Danny McBride and David Gordon Green with Green also in the directors chair, even hinting he might do the music. But how about his later films or the last one he did before taking a long break? Powerhouse releasing have also put out versions of CHRISTINE and also VAMPIRES and have now gone onto to do GHOSTS OF MARS, a film that personally I’ve only seen parts of and since on its release I heard a lot of negative reaction and therefore kind of avoided a full watch of it. It’s like the later Argento films some I have avoided and some I’ve seen and there’s that semblance of a once great master now treading the boards and disappointing fans who expect another return to form (though I do like MOTHER OF TEARS though for its camp madness). So how about GHOSTS OF MARS on a full watch then and how does it hold up, should it be re-discovered and given a better chance?

rsz_gom2It’s the year 2176 and Mars has been colonized by pesky humans with 84% of it terraformed, as a helpful intro narrator tells us (sly hints at the opening of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK). A train arrives at a station unmanned and on auto pilot and the only passenger on board is a Mars Police Officer, Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) who is handcuffed to a bunk bed. She is then interrogated by a committee who want her to recall why her mission to pick up a dangerous prisoner, Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) failed and in flashback Ballard recounts the events which are the focus of the film. Belonging to a team led by Commander Braddock (Grier), along with a consistently flirty/sleazy Sgt Jericho (Statham) and a rookie Kincaid (DuVall) their mission was to arrive at a mining outpost to pick up Williams and transport him back for trial. Yet on arrival the town is deserted and the corpses they find hanging upside down, minus a head, in a bar is not a good sign. Only soon they realise that the townsfolk have turned into crazed savages brought about from disembodied spirits that where unleashed after a underground doorway was broken in another mining colony. The spirits the aforementioned Ghosts Of Mars are not too keen on the humans invading their planet and invoke a savage primal urge which result in a destruction of human civility. Naturally the cops and the thugs led by Williams and some other (expendable) townsfolk in the jail band together to take on the possessed savages and try and reach the train to get the hell out of dodge.

rsz_gom5After seeing the film in full I will admit that I enjoyed GHOSTS OF MARS and in all honesty its an entertaining slice of cheesy B-movie fun. But looking into it you can see both its flaws and its quality’s and most of all you can see a director reviving moments of his previous classic films and also tipping a hat to a genre he loves, the western which he already paid tribute to in his classic ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 which is a partial retread/re-imaging etc of RIO BRAVO. There’s even scenes that remind you of Carpenter’s clever use of widescreen frame in essentially highlighting foreground information to the audience that the character’s haven’t noticed, such as a scene of a doorknob being slowly turned unbeknownst to those in the background and we know from its movements that what will be on the other side of the door wont be nice. Essentially GHOSTS takes bits from PRECINCT 13 and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and updates it with a futuristic setting on another planet, accompanied by the directors slight use of synth which is mostly overdubbed with a pounding heavy metal soundtrack courtesy of Anthrax.

rsz_gom3It all plods along at a decent rate and whilst it does essentially break out into lots of turned-savaged humans being gunned down in mass numbers which tend to drag and stifle the action sequences Carpenter knows how to pace the film, to keep it basic. The dialogue and acting is ropey at best and character wise like the story is basic to a minimum with only Ballard being given a slight addiction to a narcotic which essentially becomes a saving grace for her not to be possessed by the Martian spirit and as the main bad guy, Ice Cube is just essentially Ice Cube and equips himself well in the bad ass role, plus has one of the best character names in the film, Desolation Williams, which is what people who are stuck for naming new born children should call their newborn or if they have a pet cat or dog to name them that instead! Whilst its nowhere near the quality of THE THING or ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or THEY LIVE or other carpenter classics (please insert name of John Carpenter classic here), GHOSTS is a wholly entertaining ride and whilst it wont hold a candle up to his previous works the film none-the-less deserves maybe a bit more revaluation in that whilst it has flaws throughout it still contains slight nods to Carpenter’s previous work and retains the B-movie style and grit of his early low budget flicks.

rsz_gom4As a thought maybe Carpenter knew that it was time to call it a day on making big budget films, that the demands of producers and studios would become too much for this film and even future projects so why not finish now on a entertaining slice of big budget B-movie inspired flick, cause at least now he has made some fantastic music and so in the end calling it a day could be seen as being beneficial for both himself and his fans.

6/10

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
Original stereo audio
Alternative 5.1 surround sound track
Audio commentary by director John Carpenter and actor Natasha Henstridge
Scoring ‘Ghosts of Mars’ (2001, 6 mins): behind the scenes at the recording sessions with John Carpenter and bands Anthrax and Buckethead as they record the score for Ghosts of Mars
Special Effects Deconstruction (2001, 7 mins)
Video Diary: Red Desert Nights – Making ‘Ghosts of Mars’ (2001, 17 mins)
Original theatrical trailer
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Nick Pinkerton
Limited Dual Format Edition of 5,000 copies
UK Blu-ray premiere

Voodoo (2017) Review

rsz_voodoo1Voodoo (2017)
Directed by: Tom Costabile.
Written by: Tom Costabile.
Starring: Samantha Stewart, Ruth Reynolds, Dominic Matteucci.

When Dani, an innocent southern girl, vacations to Los Angeles to evade her increasingly complicated life, she learns that escaping her past isn’t as easy as she hoped.”

One of the things I always find curious about horror movies is the way so many hateful characters are introduced in the first act. It’s as though those characters are deliberately written into the story so I can despise them and look forward to their eventual demise before the finale.

This is particularly obvious in classic slasher movies, such as Friday 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Nightmare on Elm Street, where the opening scenes introduce a rabble of boisterous American youths, many full of chemicals, most driven by libidinous desires, and each one spewing an excess of unmemorable dialogue. Some of these characters are so unlikeable, I imagine, if I’d fallen into their world (perhaps in a meta-moment such as that which forms the USP of Final Girls) I’d likely be pushing Vorhees, Leatherface or Krueger aside so I could personally take a shot at eviscerating one of these irritating characters.

Voodoo follows this trope of introducing us to characters who are difficult (if not impossible) to like. First is Dani (Samantha Stewart: Days of Our Lives, All About Lizzie and The Mystery of Casa Matusita). We meet Dani as she’s travelling in a taxi and boring the driver to distraction with her incessant and vacuous babble. Dani is visiting her friend Stacy (Ruth Reynolds: The Art of Storytelling, The Guest House and Kook) who seems slightly more likable but I think this suggestion of appeal is only in comparison to Dani. Stacy is hosting a modest pool party when we meet her. She is brash and daring and untidy to a point where we almost empathise with her. But, as the introduction progresses, we learn she is as Valley-Girl-vapid as Dani.

rsz_voodoo2The conceit of this movie is that we’re watching the story develop through the footage from Dani’s camcorder. I did think there were a handful of clever uses with this device, such as the beach scene, where the audience discovers something that the characters don’t know in a well-crafted example of dramatic irony. However, I also thought that the use of the camcorder meant that some of the shots looked stilted and contrived. More importantly, in the final forty minutes of the film, I spent way too long wondering who was holding the camera and filming events.

And, I think it was the final forty minutes that let the film down for me. Up to that point there had been an attractive cast, a mysterious backstory where we discover Dani has incurred the wrath of her ex-boyfriend’s voodoo-proficient wife, and a guest appearance from Ron Jeremy (Orgazmo, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and Justice League of Porn Star Heroes). In real terms, I don’t think you can ask for much more from any movie.

But, in the final forty minutes, the film falls into an orgiastic excess of underworld horror and unmotivated violence. There is rape, branding, demons and distress and a hell of a lot of screaming. In truth, there was so much screaming I began to wish Dani would start talking again because I was almost missing her uninteresting dialogue.

rsz_voodoo3Voodoo is a clever idea and the majority of the story is well-acted. The effects are convincing and the whole piece does have some genuinely unsettling moments. However, the final stretch of the movie was difficult to watch with too much screaming and not enough scope to connect with the characters. Ultimately, I think the script in this section could have been much tighter, which is a shame because, without this lapse in the film’s standards, I do think the finished product would have been a lot more enjoyable.

6/10