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10 Remarkable Things About John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars
Ghosts Of Mars may have been one of John Carpenter's lesser works, but that doesn't mean there aren't lots of remarkable things about it...
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Filmmaker John Carpenter isn’t just a respected genre director. He’s the screenwriter, producer, director and musician behind some of the greatest science fiction, horror and action films ever made, including Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing and Escape From New York. Even his films that weren’t big hits at the time, such as Starman, Big Trouble In Little China and They Liv e, have since been embraced as cult gems.
Ghosts Of Mars, meanwhile, came out in 2001, a point in Carpenter’s career where he admitted that he’d “burned out” creatively. A sci-fi horror mash-up about cops and criminals under siege from an army of Martian-possessed people, it sounded on paper like it should have everything going for it – which we’ll cover very soon – but somehow, none of it gelled into a satisfying whole. The movie made only half of its $14million budget back at the box office, and it marked Carpenter’s temporary retirement from feature filmmaking.
But while Ghosts Of Mars is one of Carpenter’s lesser films, critically and financially (its aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes is 21%, if that’s any indication), that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of remarkable things to write about this oft-maligned film.
10. The cast is full of geektastic actors
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The star of the movie, though, is Natasha Henstridge ( Species, Maximum Risk ) as Lieutenant Melanie Ballard. She leads an expedition to a remote mining outpost called Shining Canyon to take captured criminal Desolation Williams from a jail and back to justice. Unfortunately, Ballard, flanked by Grier’s Braddock and Statham’s Jericho, discovers the once bustling outpost has become a silent ghost town. And on closer inspection, they also find out that Desolation might not be the most deadly entity still waiting for them there…
If the roster of actors above sounds eclectic, then bear in mind that it could have been even more unusual if the casting had gone to plan. Carpenter had originally intended rock musician Courtney Love to star as Ballard, but she had to bow out when her foot was run over by the ex-wife of her then-boyfriend.
Love probably would have been quite good in the role, given that she’d turned in some great performances at the time in films like The People Vs Larry Flint and Man On The Moon; certainly, her rock-and-roll image would have been a logical fit with Ghosts Of Mars’ rough, heavy-metal aesthetic. Unfortunately, an interfering Volvo made that impossible, and so Henstridge it was.
9. It was shot in a New Mexico quarry
Like so many science fiction films and TV shows, Ghosts Of Mars resorted to some rather lo-fi means of recreating the look of an alien planet. In this case, a gypsum mine on the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico were pressed into service as Mars. The problem, though, was that the natural cover of the mine’s rocks didn’t look especially Martian, so gallons of food colouring had to be used to stain them red.
Although some of the efforts to convince us that we’re looking at a settlement on Mars aren’t bad – some of the interior sets are quite good, as are the miniature effects used to create an armoured Martian train – it has to be said that the exterior shots really do look like they’ve been shot in the middle of a terrestrial colony at night. Fortunately, the landscape will soon be covered in far too many severed limbs to notice too much.
8. It’s a compendium of John Carpenter’s favourite things
When you analyse Ghosts Of Mars element by element, it’s a bit of a shame it didn’t come off as a better enterprise than it did. For one thing, it’s full of all the pet things that Carpenter appeared to enjoy exploring in his other movies – in fact, it almost reads like a compression of all his earlier films into a single story.
Its Western underpinnings and siege finale are straight out of Assault On Precinct 13, as are its wise-talking convicts and tough cops. Its themes of bodily invasion and possession bear echoes of The Thing. Even its army of demon-possessed miners has a precedent somewhere else, since they look vaguely like the creepy marauders in Prince Of Darkness, right down to their leader, whose long hair, pale skin and black eye make-up recall the look of Alice Cooper’s cameo in that earlier film.
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Somehow, though, Carpenter never quite gets a rein on all of this stuff in the way he did in those earlier movies. The numerous scenes of gunplay lack the intensity and impact of Assault , and the sense of horror is undercut by a distractingly noisy metal soundtrack, which includes wailing guitar contributions from such fret-worrying gods as Steve Vai, and Robin Finck.
7. Loads and loads of people are decapitated
We later learn that scientific prodding at some ancient burial sites have disturbed the spirits of long-dead Martians, and that they’re now using human bodies as hosts. These demon-possessed humans are now hell-bent on exterminating the rest of the settlers on Mars, who they see as invaders. For some reason, they seem to take great pleasure in decapitating and lopping the arms and legs off everyone they see, either with improvised swords or these patented frisbee-type things they’ve invaded.
Poor old Pam Grier’s barely given a chance to utter two lines before her head’s mounted on a spike – though she does get to proclaim her undying love for Natasha Henstridge – and before the final credits have rolled, just about every cult actor listed in that first entry above has lost their head in some way or another. Ghosts Of Mars isn’t the best film of the 2000s, but it’s certainly the most head-choppy.
6. Statham spends much of the film unlocking doors and describing rooms
Back in 2001, Jason Statham was still fresh from his early turns in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch , and Ghosts Of Mars was his second US acting gig after the hip-hopping drama, Turn It Up. Statham was originally set to play Desolation Williams, the convict role occupied by the pouting Ice Cube in the finished film, but he was nudged over into the slightly smaller role of Sergeant Jericho instead.
Coming at a time before we knew him as the oiled-up martial arts star of things like Crank and The Transporter, Statham’s given an awkward sort of role here. It’s established early in the film that Mars is a matriarchal society in the 22nd century, but this doesn’t stop Jericho from flirting and making suggestive comments to Henstridge’s Melanie Ballard throughout, and the fighting he does get to do is the semi-improvised, Adam-West-as-Batman sort of fighting, rather than the more technical stuff he’d do with Jet Li in The One later that year.
Jericho’s also the undisputed master of the understatement. Having discovered Pam Grier’s head on a spike, and looking over the edge of the quarry and seeing hundreds of demon-possessed people baying at the moon for blood, he mumbles into his radio, “Lieutenant, I think we’ve got a situation here…”
5. It’s another John Carpenter film with a tough guy in a black sleeveless shirt
One of the motifs that show up now and again in Carpenter’s films is the tough guy in a black sleeveless shirt. Assault On Precinct had one, and he was a thoroughly nasty individual who shot a little girl and got blood on her ice-cream.
Snake Plissken wore one in the marvellous Escape From New York, and you could tell he was tough, because he was played by Kurt Russell.
In fact, it’s possible that someone wears a black sleeveless shirt in every John Carpenter film, it’s just that you can’t see them because they’re covered up by a cardigan or cagoule. At any rate, the lucky man who gets to wear one this time is Ice Cube, and he’s certainly tough in this film, with all his swearing, pouting and gun firing. It’s possible that Carpenter awarded Mr Cube with the shirt to make up for saddling him with the name Desolation Williams.
4. People keep shooting demons even though they shouldn’t
Unless we’re severely mistaken (and it’s possible we are – it’s happened before), there’s a bit of a plot fault in Ghosts Of Mars. It’s established quite quickly that if a possessed human’s shot, the ghost inside it will leave that body and immediately go in search of another. In other words, gunning down these ghouls leaves the shooter more open to being possessed than if they’d left their firearm in its holster.
None of this perturbs the good guys in Ghosts Of Mars too much, who merrily run around blasting long-haired miners as though bullets are on sale at Walmart. Wouldn’t they be better off just shooting the monsters in the arms and legs instead, so they can’t run around throwing deadly frisbees at everyone?
Ice Cube’s character even tries to address this plot point directly in the final act. “You know when we kill one of them,” Desolation asks Ballard, “whatever’s inside’s gonna come after us?”
“I know,” Ballard agrees, “so if one of us gets possessed…”
Here, the scene sort of trails off; Ice Cube mumbles something in response, but it’s entirely inaudible. Within a few seconds, they’re cheerfully shooting ghouls in the head again.
3. Drugs repel demons
Tough lawman though she is, Ballard isn’t entirely squeaky-clean. Around her neck, in a little silver box marked with a Celtic knot, she carries a few unidentified pills, which she pops now and again when she’s feeling a bit low. They obviously have some kind of shamanic, trippy effect, because pictures of the sea are superimposed over her ecstatic face when she takes one.
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Although this seems like a throwaway plot point at first, it circles back around later. When Ballard is suddenly possessed by a demon (because someone shot a nearby Martian ghoul, obviously), all seems lost until Jericho has the bright idea of sticking a pill in her mouth to see what happens.
Ballard has another drug trip, in which she sees the ancient Martians in their ugly, John Carter -like original form, and then the demon is suddenly expelled from her mouth like a blast of bad breath. Now, this discovery seems so miraculous that we thought the rest of the cast would immediately start popping Ballard’s pills, and then merrily gunning down monsters in a chemical-fuelled haze, now immune from demon possession.
Instead, the whole matter’s quietly dropped, which, when you consider the events that take place later in the film, is a bit weird…
2. There’s a flashback within a flashback within a flashback
When Ghosts Of Mars begins, Ballard’s found alone on the train, and the rest of the film’s violent events are a flashback, as Ballard recounts her sorry tale to some sort of tribunal. But in a nod to the narrative complexity of the gothic novel Wuthering Heights, Ghosts Of Mars doesn’t stop there.
During the bit where we see the demonic events unfold at Shining Canyon – that is, the main bulk of the film – Statham’s Sergeant Jericho shows up at the colony’s main building with three extra survivors. “Where the hell did you find these?” Ballard asks.
As Jericho explains, he gets a flashback of his own, where we see him exploring a shed shortly after finding Pam Grier’s head on a spike, and discovers the three survivors within it. He then has a bit of a conversation with them, in which he asks them what happened to the colony. This then triggers a further flashback from the survivor’s perspective, as he describes seeing the demons possess the bodies of miners, and all the bloody things that happened next.
What we have here, then, is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Inception, eat your heart out.
1. It constantly spoils its own surprises
Flashbacks are nothing new in movies, and if they’re used carefully, they can be quite effective. The original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers has one, largely to avoid an originally intended bleak ending, but it’s inconspicuous enough that you almost forget that it exists. The same’s true of Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way.
In Ghosts Of Mars, though, you’re constantly being reminded that what you’re seeing is a flashback, because the story keeps cutting back to Ballard recounting her tale to the tribunal after all that’s happened. This makes Carpenter’s film relatively unusual, in that it’s essentially providing spoilers for itself before every major event.
Even towards the end, where Ballard and her crew have a chance to escape on their armoured train but decide to set off an explosion to get rid of the demons, the film cuts back to Ballard sitting in a chair and saying, “It was a simple plan. The only problem was it didn’t work how it was supposed to.”
Well, thanks for spoiling the surprise, Henstridge. Unfortunately, the gigantic explosion didn’t kill the demons, and the end of the film hints at a potential sequel: a gigantic demonic invasion hits Mars’ main city, and we see Desolation Williams and Ballard head off to war with their shiny machine guns.
Had Ghosts Of Mars been a hit, the sequel probably would have seen Desolation and Ballard high on anti-demon pills, and furthering the spread of possession by cheerfully shooting every human in their way.
John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars Is a Messy Melting Pot of the Director’s Greatest Hits
By Neil Bolt
In 2001, I just beginning to discover the wonderful world of John Carpenter beyond Halloween and his underseen Elvis biopic with Kurt Russell . Carpenter would go on to become one of my favorite directors. Had I known he would make just two more feature-length movies, I’d have made a greater effort to watch Ghosts of Mars in cinemas. It’s the last of his movies that feels like a true Carpenter production — even if it doesn’t sit at the top table.
If you take a gander at IMDb or Letterboxd, you’ll see Ghosts of Mars is the lowest-rated of Carpenter’s 21 major directorial credits. Hell, it’s the lowest-ranked of anything he’s directed. Sure, a large part of that is due to the fact that Carpenter has directed a Mack Truckload of certified classics. Even so, Ghosts of Mars isn’t close to being one of them. You could definitely argue that technically it’s poorer than something like Vampires , The Ward , or even his super low-budget debut Dark Star . But on a John Carpenter vibe scale? It’s unfairly kicked about.
Ghosts of Mars is set in the year 2176. Humanity has — despite the existence of Elon Musk — managed to actually get its ass to Mars and inhabit it. There’s a police force, rural towns, and even criminals!
The story involves all three of those things. A Martian police unit (featuring Jason Statham , Pam Grier, and Natasha Henstridge) is sent to retrieve a dangerous criminal Desolation Williams ( Ice Cube ) from a remote Martian village. It may be remote, but it shouldn’t be as empty as the unit finds it.
By some dumb fortune, a mining team has unearthed an ancient device left by Mars’ original inhabitants. By activating it, a swarm of warrior ghosts is unleashed who subsequently possess the townsfolk. Hard lesson learned: conservation is important, even on Mars.
Our unlikely group bands together with the remaining townsfolk to survive a Martian onslaught.
Big Trouble in Little Mars Town
You can practically smell the Carpenter beats coming off that. The crook and cop union of Assault on Precinct 13 , the ancient unearthed threat of The Thing , the B-Movie charms of They Live and Big Trouble in Little China , the spiritual body horror of Prince of Darkness , and cursed ghosts of The Fog to name but a few.
Ghosts of Mars is a melting pot of John Carpenter’s greatest hits. That alone would be enough to endear it to me as a Carpenter fan. But the execution — ropey as it can be — actually feels like a throwback. A movie out of time in much the same way Escape From L.A. appeared to be.
Carpenter had stated that Ghosts of Mars was meant to be a silly throwback, not only to some of his own filmography but other action hits such as Commando and Predator . The message was largely lost, and it caused the director to walk away from Hollywood through disillusionment.
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That is an unfortunate outcome, but it makes Carpenter’s refusal to make a film like he used to all the more understandable.
But watch Ghosts of Mars with that goofy intent in your mind and I’m sure you’ll get something out of it. At the very least, it has the best soundtrack for a John Carpenter film that he didn’t solely create himself. Music Producer Bruce Robb brought in the likes of Anthrax, Steve Vai, Buckethead, and Robin Finck from Guns & Roses, and former The Cars guitarist Elliot Easton to create what is essentially the blueprint for Mick Gordon’s score for the 2016 DOOM game. Now that’s a legacy.aa
Neil became a horror fan from just a nightmare-inducing glimpse of the Ghoulies VHS cover and a book on how to draw ghosts. It escalated from there and now that's almost all he writes and talks about.
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[15th Anniversary] 60 Thoughts I Had While Watching John Carpenter’s ‘Ghosts of Mars’
Today marks the 15th anniversary of what is arguably legendary horror filmmaker John Carpenter’s worst film: Ghosts of Mars . In the film, a Martian police force is sent to a remote mining facility to transport a dangerous criminal named Desolation Williams back to the city. Upon arriving, they discover that all members of the facility have become possessed by the titular Martian ghosts and are now waging a war agains the humans.
Originally planned to be the third installment in the Escape From … franchise, the studio cancelled plans for a sequel when Escape From L.A. failed to make much of an impression at the box office in 1996. Carpenter then created the character of Desolation Williams for Kurt Russell. Unfortunately, the studio then decided that he was no longer a bankable star, and insisted that Ice Cube be cast in the role.
The role of female lead Lieutenant Melanie Ballard was originally going to Courtney Love, but she had to pull out at the last minute when her then-boyfriend’s ex-wife ran over her foot. Natasha Henstridge was brought in at the last minute, rounding out the cast that included Pam Grier, Clea DuVall and Jason Statham (who was also considered for the role of Williams, but the studio didn’t think he had a career as a bankable movie star in his future). With all of the behind the scenes drama, it’s no wonder John Carpenter has only made two movies in the last 16 years (the last of which being 2010’s The Ward ). His disinterest shows in Ghosts of Mars , as everyone involved seems to just want the thing to end.
Even though I write for a horror site, I confess that I am not exactly up to date on my Carpenter. Yes, I’ve seen the big ones like Halloween , The Thing , Christine , The Fog and even Village of the Damned , but I haven’t watched most of his remaining filmography ( Assault on Precinct 13, the Escape From…. films, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, etc.). So I thought I would remedy that by starting with Ghosts of Mars just in time for its 15th anniversary. Was it as bad as I had heard? Or did I find an underrated gem in the film? What follows below are 60 thoughts I had while watching the film. Read them and find out!
- Here we go. This can’t be that bad, can it?
- I didn’t know Screen Gems produced this.
- Oh God. This voiceover is terrible. And so it begins.
- There sure is a lot of expository text happening on screen right now.
- Interesting choice of music for these opening credits.
- Joanna Cassidy is in this??? Right on top of that Rose !
- The freight train that went missing is called Transmarinara and now I want pasta.
- Whatever happened to Natasha Henstridge?
- The sexual chemistry between Henstridge and Grier is pretty intense. Were they meant to be lovers?
- Hey it’s Lizzie McGuire’s dad !
- These sets look like they were made for a stage play.
- You see a bunch of flashing lights in a deserted mining town that should be filled with residents and you’re first thought it “It’s probably nothing”???
- This is sort of like if the Resident Evil movie had a baby with Pitch Black .
- These wide shots of the Martian landscape are Syfy levels of bad.
- Joanna Cassidy does not look upset enough for realizing that her hot air balloon is about to crash.
- Wait, why is there a hot air balloon in this movie?
- Clea DuVall is a really underrated actress. I mean, not in this movie, but just in general.
- The editing in this movie is not the best.
- Henstridge sounds so uninterested in everything she is saying. Example: “He said something like ‘Stay away. Don’t open the door. Stay away.'” No emotion whatsoever in that ominous warning.
- “Drop the weapon before I cut this dyke bitch’s head off!” -Was that meant to be funny? It must have.
- So these glasses are supposed to help them do what, exactly?
- The ghosts can’t go through solid objects when they’re outside of a host? Sort of defeats the purpose of being a ghost, doesn’t it?
- Oooooh a flashback within a flashback!
- Bye, Pam Grier. You were too good for that role anyway. And you certainly deserve better than an off-screen death.
- I don’t know what Carpenter was doing when he was directing Joanna Cassidy, but I like it.
- That ghost wasn’t very smart. It had its choice to possess anyone in that room and it went for the person in the prison cell.
- A flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Jesus Christ. This movie is the matryoshka doll of flashbacks.
- Ahhhhh piercing the face! That was a pretty nifty effect.
- That face mask, however, was not.
- “I’ll cut your fuckin’ titties off!” – This made me laugh out loud. That had to be intentional humor.
- Why is this guy getting so high before going into battle?
- 50 minutes have gone by and there hasn’t been a Martian battle.
- “Hey bro, I don’t see no muthafuckin’ train.” “Hey lady, we don’t see no train.” Seems like that second line wasn’t exactly necessary.
- The energy in front of and behind the camera is so low. Did anyone have a good time making this movie?
- “Second time I’ve saved your life.” “Yeah, run a tab!” – Cringe.
- Damn, those ghosts aren’t fucking around with those circular saws!
- Another flashback within a flashback…..
- Wait, so now they can see the ghosts when they leave a body? Why couldn’t they see them before?
- Ohhhh that’s why he was doing drugs. Ghosts don’t want to possess someone who’s high.
- I just spent a full 30 seconds watching Natasha Henstridge look constipated as she tried to push a ghost out of herself.
- Yay! She got the ghost out of her!
- How a character in this movie would have delivered that line: “Yay. She got the ghost out of her.”
- I feel like Clea DuVall is about to bite it.
- These vehicles look faker than the APC’s in Aliens .
- Oh no! Joanna Cassidy done got a ghost in her!
- I repeat: The ghosts do not . Fuck around. With those circular saws.
- Oh shit. Bye Clea DuVall. You bit it.
- Bye Jason Statham.
- Bye Lizzie McGuire’s dad. They just killed the whole cast in the span of two minutes. It’s like that plane scene from Jurassic Park III (which coincidentally came out one month before Ghosts of Mars ). That plane scene was pretty cool though. What movie am I watching again?
- I’m still confused as to why the ghosts can’t go through solid objects.
- Oof. That green screen effect on top of the train is not good.
- The whole climax is set on a train. I feel like Paul W.S. Anderson borrowed from this movie a lot when he was writing the script for Resident Evil .
- “I didn’t know you was cut this deep. Should have taken care of this hours ago.” – Didn’t she just get that cut in the battle before they got on the train?
- “That’s all you have to tell us?” -Are you fucking kidding me? That was a long story!
- The Big Bad is credited as “Big Daddy Mars.” That is hilarious.
- HOLY SHIT this thing had a budget of $28 million. WHERE DID IT GO?
- Well, that was about as bad as I heard it was. Poor Carpenter. His heart just wasn’t in that one. On the plus side, my dog seemed to enjoy it:
Happy anniversary Ghosts of Mars ! I wish you were better.
A journalist for Bloody Disgusting since 2015, Trace writes film reviews and editorials, as well as co-hosts Bloody Disgusting's Horror Queers podcast, which looks at horror films through a queer lens. He has since become dedicated to amplifying queer voices in the horror community, while also injecting his own personal flair into film discourse. Trace lives in Austin, TX with his husband and their two dogs. Find him on Twitter @TracedThurman
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Italian horror classic ‘demons’ resurrected with a live performance from claudio simonetti’s goblin [event report].
“Tonight we have special news for you: we closed all the exits. You can’t escape,” Claudio Simonetti deadpanned in his Italian accent to the enthusiastic crowd at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Massachusetts on October 3. Clad in something like a ringmaster jacket over a Deadpool T-shirt, a smile beamed across the maestro’s face.
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Hearing Simonetti and his bandmates — guitarist Daniele Amador , bassist Cecilia Nappo , and drummer Federico Maragoni — accompany the film live added to the high-octane experience. While the live Suspiria score they toured last year was tweaked with a more modern sound, Demons remained largely faithful to Simonetti’s original score, albeit with a fuller sound from transposing the electronics to real instruments.
Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin also played along to some of the heavy metal songs featured on the soundtrack. They extracted Biff Byford’s vocals to accompany them on their rendition of Saxon’s “Everybody Up,” and they replaced Accept’s “Fast as a Shark” with a cover of Iron Maiden’s “Flash of the Blade” featuring Bruce Dickinson’s vocals; a curious substitution, but it sounded good and the song appears in Argento’s Phenomena , so it fit the theme.
The live score alone was worth the price of admission, but the group followed it up with a 75-minute set of classic Goblin and Simonetti material along with some surprises. They opened with a few deep cuts — themes from Cut and Run and The Card Player as well as Goblin non-soundtrack song “E suono rock” — before launching into three tracks from Dawn of the Dead in tribute to George A. Romero.
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Simonetti informed me that, unlike Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead , and Deep Red , there are no plans to re-record the Demons score. That means the only way to get the full-band experience is by attending the tour , so don’t miss Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin turning cities into tombs across the country.
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Is subpar John Carpenter better than no John Carpenter? 2001’s Ghosts of Mars is arguably the weakest effort from the master of horror who gave us such classics as Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York, and The Fog; but, nearly a decade removed from his last film (2010’s The Ward), fans - myself included - are clamoring to see Carpenter return to the director’s chair. When it comes to Ghosts of Mars, does absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the old adage goes?
While I hesitate to use the word “bad,” Ghosts of Mars remains a disenchanting viewing experience. Despite working with one of the biggest budgets of his career ($28 million), Carpenter is unable to deliver much of interest. The horror and science fiction elements are minimal, largely used as a conduit for an action plot, yet the few and far between action set pieces are largely underwhelming; standard gun and hand-to-hand combat. That just leaves a lot of exposition.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the story was compelling, but it’s told in too maladroit a manner to get invested in. Set in 2176, Ghosts of Mars follows a police unit led by Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge, Species ), Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier, Jackie Brown), and Sargent Jericho Butler (Jason Statham, The Meg) as they transport a prisoner, Desolation Williams (Ice Cube, Anaconda ), across the red planet, which is 84% terraformed with an Earth-like atmosphere for its 640,000 colonists.
The ghosts in question are a breed of airborne spirits that possess people, forcing the hosts to mutilate themselves and then others. It begins with the group of miners who unwittingly unearth them and rapidly spreads in numbers until there’s a seemingly unstoppable horde of haunted meat puppets. With special effects makeup by KNB EFX Group (Kill Bill, Scream), they look like a cross between Hellraiser’s cenobites and Mad Max 2 cyberpunks, with a leader, Big Daddy Mars (stuntman Richard Cetrone), who too closely resembles Marilyn Manson.
The film is book-ended by a courtroom hearing in which Ballard tells the story of how she’s the lone survivor of what was supposed to be a routine prisoner transfer. I suspect it was Carpenter and co-writer Larry Sulkis’s (who previously did uncredited work on Carpenter’s Village of the Damned) attempt to build intrigue with a misdirect, but it only impedes the pacing. Then, within the story Ballard tells, there’s an abundance of additional flashbacks. Rather than just experience the story as it unfolds, any time one character questions another about what has occurred, viewers are subjected to a recollection of the events.
Henstridge feels a bit miscast in the lead. The model-turned-actress excelled in Species because the role almost exclusively relied on physical expression, but she stumbles when faced with Ghost of Mars’ abundance of exposition; a challenge for any actor. The fun supporting cast bolsters her up, though. A pre-shaved head Statham is shoehorned in as a would-be love interest, but he still carries his own. Cube utilizes his arrogant, tough-guy persona along with a touch of humor. Grier, although underutilized, is a treat to watch in her militant part. Clea DuVall (The Faculty) is typecast as the stereotypical lesbian, while Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner) pops up as a scientist.
Carpenter reteams with Gary B. Kibbe (They Live, Escape from L.A.) - his regular cinematographer for the latter part of his career - so at least the film looks good. Carpenter also composed the score, but don’t expect his traditional, atmospheric synthesizer work. A small portion of that is present, but Carpenter collaborated with heavy metal luminaries Anthrax, Buckethead, and Steve Vai to record the soundtrack. It’s an interesting experiment on its own, but the screeching guitars often sound out of place in the context of the movie.
Ghosts of Mars received a Region B Blu-ray with a few more bells and whistles from Indicator not too long ago, but Mill Creek’s new release is available for a fraction of the cost. The transfer itself looks sharp, although some slight compression is noticeable. It also features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack not available on Sony’s previous domestic release. Archival special features are ported over, including an audio commentary with Carpenter and Hendstridge, a 17-minute making-of piece, a featurette on the score, and special effects deconstructions.
Carpenter occasionally sounds like he’s being forced to record commentaries against his will, but being joined by an actor seems to bring out his chattiness (see his tracks with Kurt Russell or Jamie Lee Curtis). His commentary with Henstridge is no exception; it’s more entertaining than the film itself. They have a fun and friendly rapport with plenty of good-natured ribbing back and forth between stories from the making of the film. Henstridge even points out the film’s many flashback sequences and comments on Big Daddy’s resemblance to Marilyn Manson, which Carpenter shrugs off.
Ghosts of Mars has shades of Escape from New York, the Western conventions he explored in vampires, and hints of The Fog’s mystique and The Thing’s paranoia. Add to that an eclectic cast and then-modern production values, and it could have been another classic in the John Carpenter canon. Instead, however, it’s more lifeless than the titular ghosts. Not only does it lack the style and atmosphere that made Carpenter’s early work so effective, but it’s also overwrought with exposition, an egregious amount of flashbacks, and clunky pacing.
Ghosts of Mars is available now on Blu-ray via Mill Creek Entertainment.
How john carpenter's assault on precinct 13 remade john wayne's rio bravo.
John Wayne Western Rio Bravo is one of John Carpenter's favorites, and here's how his movie Assault On Precinct 13 was something of a remake.
Here's how John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 remade John Wayne Western classic Rio Bravo . Carpenter grew up during the '50s and came to fall in love with both Westerns and horror movies. In fact, he stated his urge to become a filmmaker largely stemmed from wanting to direct Westerns.
Unfortunately, the genre had declined to the point where few Westerns were being produced by major studios by the time his career began. His breakthrough Halloween - which he co-wrote, scored and helmed - was a landmark that also somewhat left him typecast in horror. While he branched out with the occasional comedy ( Memoirs Of An Invisible Man ) or love story ( Starman ), even they contained some sci-fi or horror elements to them.
Related: Rob Zombie Remade Another John Carpenter Movie BEFORE Halloween
John Carpenter's movies always managed to sneak his love for Westerns into them. Vampires is arguably the closest he came to the genre, with its amoral anti-heroes and dusty desert locales, while They Live begins with Roddy Piper's nameless drifter wandering into L.A. to clean it up. One of Carpenter's personal favorites is Rio Bravo , a 1959 Western starring John Wayne, Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson. The story sees Wayne's sheriff holding onto a dangerous prisoner, with the latter's rich brother Burdette paying gunmen to try and break him out of an isolated jail and kill whoever gets in their way. Wayne made Rio Bravo as a rebuke to 1952 classic High Noon , and with 1976's Assault On Precinct 13 , Carpenter sought to tell a similiar story his own way.
Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 & Ghosts Of Mars Riff On Rio Bravo
The film sees a near-supernatural street gang lay siege to an isolated, nearly closed down police station. Of course, on the surface Rio Bravo and Assault On Precinct 13 don't share much in common. The latter is set in the '70s and is much darker and grittier than Wayne's film. Instead of being a straight siege movie, Rio Bravo is oddly leisurely in its pacing. Much of the story is Wayne's sheriff hanging out with his oddball assortment of allies or awkwardly romancing Dickinson's Feathers, with the occasional action scene thrown in. One of the most important elements of Assault On Precinct 13 - where the cops and criminals are forced to work together - is completely absent from Rio Bravo (a favorite of Quentin Tarantino too) .
That said, the two films share DNA. Assault On Precinct 13 took its central conceit of protecting a jail from Rio Bravo , with Carpenter using the pseudonym "John T. Chance" - the name of Wayne's sheriff - for his editing credit. Laurie Zimmer's Leigh is named after Rio Bravo screenwriter Leigh Brackett, who also fits into the strong "Hawksian" woman archetype of director Howard Hawks. The scene where blood drips on a police car is another Rio Bravo nod, where a wounded killer accidentally reveals his position to Dean Martin's deputy when his blood drips down from the ceiling.
Even the finale where Wayne's sheriff uses some dynamite to root out the rest of the outlaws is remixed in Assault On Precinct 13 , where an oxygen tank is used during a desperate last stand. Rio Bravo got a trilogy of sorts, as it was essentially remade twice with El Dorado and Rio Lobo , which offered slight variations on the same story beats. Carpenter did the same with Ghosts Of Mars , which could be dubbed "Assault On Precinct 13 In Space!" It sees a remote outpost under siege by Martian-possessed miners, with a cop and criminal having to work together to survive the night. The latter also offered Jason Statham his first action role, but despite rumors, it was never supposed to be a third Snake Plissken movie.