GHOSTS 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?
It’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.
After 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.
It 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.
As 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.
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