Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy
Plot: A squad of trained police officers on Mars travel to a mining colony to pick up a wanted fugitive, only to discover the locals have become infected with a psychotic disease.
The worse thing about Ghost of Mars is the bucket of ice water that comes with the realisation that John Carpenter directed it. This is the director who came out with some horror greats, such as Halloween, The Thing, The Fog… Ghost of Mars is so far from that level of quality that it feels like an impossibility that Carpenter could be behind it. There was a nine year gap between this and Carpenter’s next film, suggesting that this movie really did connote a loss in perspective from the once-great horror director.
In essence, it is B Movie tosh. The names on the cast roster cement this line of thought. Jason Statham, Henstridge, Foxy Brown’s Pam Grier. It is the kind of action horror that a B Movie studio behind something like Sharknado would throw together to cash in on the Martian zombie trend. The script is a blatant mess. The team of cops charged with extracting a dangerous criminal from a remote town on Mars end up being attacked by a swarm of possessed citizens. The monster is the ghost of an ancient Mars race, unstoppably savage. Their ghosts possess living bodies and turn them into brutes, self-harming, violence obsessed and fearless. In essence, zombies that can wield basic weapons and fight. It becomes clear that their main purpose is to bring a load of disposable villains that can create mass punch-ups on a movie set. The interesting difference between them and the rest of the zombie canon is the fact that they are being infected by an invisible entity, a spirit. When a host dies, the spirit finds the next body, meaning that the biggest threat is the fact that when one of the heroes kills a zombie, there is nothing stopping the spirit from hijacking their body next. It is a terrifying notion. A horde of monsters that you cannot kill. However, the script mostly breezes over this nugget of information in favour for some slaughter. There is no rhyme or reason to when the ghosts can take over a body, working on a plot convenient system. The cast will butcher thousands of zombies without harm, only for one of the cast to turn into a monster when the story starts slowing down. A lot of the movie is flawed by that lack of thinking things through. All of the interesting ideas are stamped down on, before they can grow. Why are the majority of humanity’s leaders female, for instance? There is a strong feminist debate there, but it is never brought up. Again, it feels like a B Movie director handing in a first draft, aware of the limitations the budget has. It is impossible to believe that seasoned professionals were behind making this movie. It was filmed in 2001, but could have been a mid-80s affair.
The cast are also sub-par. Statham was still learning how to act as he went through his movies, meaning he can’t really bring anything but tough English bastard to the table at the moment. Henstridge has been better, asked to keep a bemused expression slapped across her face, delivering dialogue with a wooden efficiency. Ice Cube is pretty poor here, also. He is meant to be a ruthless killer, but softens because he is technically the male lead and is obliged to save the day to redeem his character arc. He spouts rubbish like: “this planet has always had it out for me,” even though he blatantly commits crimes in the flashback sequences of the film. What the hell did he expect to happen? When he isn’t snapping insults, something Ice Cube is naturally good at, his dialogue is a little monotone and soft. It feels like he was the last minute replacement for an actor who was more comfortable with this character. Not that you can imagine the script doing anyone favours here. Frustratingly the story is told through the use of flashback after flashback. Henstridge reports her account of what happened to a tribunal. That flashback often splinters into several other flashbacks. At one point, the story flashbacks to a scene we just saw. It is an attempt to make a simple plot, more confusing. It is more frustrating than anything. All in all, this is a waste of time for anyone who wants to watch a movie. If you do fancy a group of hardened soldiers trekking to a space colony and dealing with a horde of creatures, pay more attention to Doom. It is still B Movie territory with horror that gets bored and turns into action before too long, but it is intelligently told and feels like an indulgent treat rather than embarrassing. The worst thing Ghost of Mars does to the audience is put an unforgiveable black mark on Carpenter’s record.
Final Verdict: An ugly film. Lazily written, poorly told, with performances that needed more encouragement. A failure in most departments.
Pingback: Top 20 Mars Movies, or 99 Years of Mars in Cinema
Hi Luke. I’ve just published a giant article ”Top 20 Mars Movies, or 99 Years of Mars in Cinema” and it links to this review too. You wrote often about sci-fi, so I’d like to hear what you think of it…