The Indicator limited edition blu-ray range adds John Carpenter’s cult classic Ghosts of Mars to its range. Martin Carr discusses why this much-maligned Carpenter film is worth seeing…
According to the IMDb website Ghosts From Mars ranks below Vampires in the John Carpenter canon. That the former was written by Carpenter, features stronger dialogue, better production values and a more engaged cast makes me wonder why. Having said that it’s not like Carpenter fails to lift liberally from films as diverse as Total Recall, Event Horizon, Aliens and his own stone cold classic Assault on Precinct 13. But whereas James Woods was moonwalking his way through the role of Jim Crow, Natasha Henstridges’ Melanie Ballard convinces throughout. Which is saying something when you have a fresh faced Jason Statham, still in Guy Ritchie mode doing London wide boy feet away.
Plot wise Pam Grier captains a ragtag team en route to pick up Ice Cube’s Desolation Williams locked down in a Martian colony. Cue shots of model miniatures, red tinted lens work and passable FX work, before that simple pick up deteriorates into search and rescue with lashings of claret. Spiritual possession, desecrated tombs and crazed miners soon become par for the course. Which means minor characters drop like flies, decapitation is metered out randomly and people morph into savages in moments.
Cube, Henstridge and Statham handle things with style as does Grier alongside all the self-mutilation, tribal branding and body piercing which plays a part in setting the mood of Ghosts of Mars. Meanwhile, Carpenter’s use of flashback and multiple perspective aid his choice of structure by making point of view all important, meaning that as an audience it’s never clear how true testimonials really are, giving these people more depth and emotional resonance. I understand that words like depth and resonance may seem out of place when referencing Carpenter, but it makes sense on this occasion.
With a back catalogue which includes two or more of the best horror slash thriller films of any genre, that he should try something new is no bad thing. So it is with Ghosts of Mars where Carpenter uses different camera effects to add mood, menace and atmosphere. But ultimately to what extent these experiments work is open to question.
What we have here is a high end B-movie science fiction horror executed by a master of his craft on an average day. For those who are happy to leave their brain at the door Ghosts of Mars is a good choice. Everyone is eminently watchable and as a movie it ticks along without feeling like hard work. But on the other hand it’s unlikely to be memorable and Carpenter has done much better work.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Larry Sulkis
Starring: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy
Top 10 Films reviewed Ghosts of Mars courtesy of Powerhouse Films’ Indicator Blu-ray. The film was released on Limited Edition Blu-ray Jan 30 in the UK featuring an array of extra features including a video diary detailing the making of the film and behind the scenes at a recording sessions as John Carpenter completes the score for the film. The release also includes an exclusive booklet with a new essay by Nick Pinkerton