John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars

Stars:   Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier, Jason Statham, Joanna Cassidy
Director:   John Carpenter
Writers:   Larry Sulkis & John Carpenter

“Ghosts of Mars”? How about “Space Zombies From Mars” as a better title. This film plays like a lousy B-movie from another age featuring a bunch of bad guys who look like rejects from the band KISS or something akin to Marilyn Manson.

Certainly John Carpenter has had his hits – Big Trouble in Little China (fun), Escape From New York (daring), The Fog (downright spooky) to name a few, but Ghosts of Mars won’t be added to the list. It’s short on story and long on bad acting.

Mars in 2176 is red, dusty and is being slowly transformed to habitable, but in the meantime, the planet has trouble brewing in its nether regions where a strip mine is in full operation and big-time criminal James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube) is locked away and awaiting extradition. It seems communication with the town Shining Canyon has been terminated and the authorities are anxious to know what’s going on. Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier) and Lt. Melanie Bradford (Natasha Henstridge) head up a team of mining cartel cops who travel via a futuristic looking train to the town to seek an answer.

Once there, they discover it’s largely empty except for a bevy of headless corpses hanging upside down throughout the various buildings and a few strange ones, including Mr. Desolation himself, holed up in the town’s jailhouse. Obviously, Desolation couldn’t have created the havoc that befell the town. Obviously it’s some strange force we haven’t yet seen. But the clue comes early when a crazed miner trying to warn off the cops screams something like “it’s inside me” and then slits his own throat. Ghosts … ghosts of Mars. That’s what mining camp doctor Whitlock (Joanna Cassidy) says is causing the mayhem. She accidentally unleashed angry red spirits during a mining operation and now she’s convinced they will kill anyone who tries to take over their planet.

So now these spirits enter human bodies, turn them into space zombies who mutilate themselves and look uglier than you can imagine. Then they go about killing in the most disgusting fashion anyone else who hasn’t been turned into a zombie just like them.

Lotta says: The film becomes increasingly annoying because it’s told in flashback after flashback by sole survivor Lt. Bradford who reports the events to a tribunal set out to investigate the mysterious mishaps that resulted in the loss of the cops, the train crew and the prisoner. You get narrative upon narrative, interspersed with screaming loonies and tons of gunfire and explosions. The body count keeps going up as our interest keeps going down. This space zombie tale deserves to be buried in a mine shaft somewhere on mars.

Reviewed 12/5/01