John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars



USA 2001
director : John Carpenter
script : Larry Sulkis, Carpenter
cinematography : Gary B Kibbe
editing : Paul Warschilka
music : Carpenter
lead actors : Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Ice Cube, Pam Grier
97 minutes

Carpenter fans should make the most of Ghosts of Mars which stiffed so badly at the US box office it might actually end his once-glorious feature-film career. But while he may not have released anything really exceptional since 1989’s terrific Prince of Darkness, neither has Carpenter made a dull movie – even if Vampires admittedly came pretty close. Ghosts may be a ramshackle throwback of a sci-fi western, but if you’re in the mood for an entertaining, undemanding slice of undemanding B-movie nonsense, look no further.

Mars, 2176. Shapely cop Ballard (Henstridge) is quizzed by her superiors after she returns to base, apparently the sole survivor of a mission to retrieve dangerous criminal ‘Desolation’ Williams (Cube) from a distant mining outpost. A series of flashbacks shows Ballard’s team arriving at the camp to discover a scene of slaughter, the colonists having been taken over by a mysterious ancient force and turned into cannibal-zombie psychopaths …

The movie is itself possessed by some powerful older spirits – the spectres of Carpenter’s own back catalogue. Buffs will have a field day ticking off the self-homages, starting with the film’s setting, exactly 200 years after Carpenter’s 1976 breakthrough Assault on Precinct 13 which also featured besieged cops, faceless villains, and a bad-ass who finally turns hero. It’s easy to knock the hole-ridden plot, the Blakes’ 7 FX, and the dated racket that is Carpenter’s own synth-metal score. But to take things at all seriously would be to miss the point: the crazily complicated flashback structure and hilarious hardboiled dialogue are all the more amusing for being played so dead-on straight. Movie of the year for teenage Marilyn Manson devotees, a guilty pleasure for the rest of us.

9th November, 2001
(seen Oct-29-01, Sony Screening Room, London)

by Neil Young
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