I love John Carpenter. However, the last of his films that I can 100% say that I enjoy with no reservations is 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness. After that, well, it gets a bit difficult to enjoy his movies — maybe it’s the budgets, perhaps he was burned out, maybe the studio heads were too difficult to deal with. Ghosts of Mars may have the most essential of all Carpenter tropes — embattled group of outsiders battles against overwhelming odds in a cramped space — but it just feels unfinished. There’s something here, but we never quite get to it. Carpenter wouldn’t make another movie until 2010’s The Ward, which is his last movie to date.
The script for this movie originally started off as Escape from Mars, another Snaked Plissken sequel, but when Escape from L.A. failed, the main character was changed to Ice CUbe playing Desolation Williams. Courtney Love was going to be in this as well, but her boyfriend’s ex-wife ran over her foot. Really.
Carpenter has stated he was intentionally trying to make Ghosts Of Mars over-the-top and intentionally mindless, but I never get that feeling. He has said, “I have no power over what critics say, but when people complained about the movie being campy and not scary…the name of the movie is Ghosts Of Mars, I figured the campiness would be self-explanatory.” Even Ice Cube was very critical about this and he stars in it! He said, “I don’t like that movie. I’m a big fan of John Carpenter and the only reason I did it was because John Carpenter directed it but they really didn’t have the money to pull the special effects off.”
In the future, Mars has been 84% terraformed, which means that humans can walk the surface of the planet. And, because humans are there, it just means that crime comes with them. Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) is on her way to transport Mars’ most dangerous criminal,Desolation’Williams (Ice Cube). Yet when she and her team arrive there, everyone is missing.
There’s a simple explanation: the miners unearthed an ancient Martian civilization and when they opened a door, they let out the ghosts of the people who once lived there, who took over the miners. Now, the newcomers to Mars have become the natives, self-mutilating themselves and destroying any humans that come their way.
Team leader Helena Braddock (Pam Grier) — future Mars society puts women in charge, which is pretty cool — is killed, Ballard assumes command. The real problem is even if you kill a possessed person, the ghost just goes into someone else. Ballard’s crew and the criminals she was sent to take in team up against the miners. Luckily, Ballard is a drug addict, and the illegal narcotics in her system repel the ghosts so that she and Williams survive. Even though he double crosses her, he still comes back to save her at the end, which seems to set up another movie.
Jason Statham was in this before he became a big star. He was originally going to be Williams, but the studio wanted a bigger star. Clea DuVall (The Faculty), Joanna Cassidy (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and Robert Carradine (Revenge of the Nerds) are all in this as well.
Carpenter put together an all-star band for the soundtrack, with Anthrax, Steve Vai, Buckethead and Robin Finck all playing alongside the director’s synth. And yep — that’s Keith David narrating the film.
You can get this on blu ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.
DISCLAIMER: We were sent this blu ray by Mill Creek Entertainment, but that has no bearing on this review.