John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, 2001, ½ star

Dread planet

From The Orlando Weekly, August 24, 2001

In Ghosts of Mars, John Carpenter fuses the genres of sci-fi, action and horror into a laughable gorefest and a leading contender for worst film of the year.

Natasha Henstridge and Jason Statham star as cops on Mars in 2176. They are part of a mismatched crew, including Pam Grier, assigned to travel to a rural outpost and transport back to the big city a dangerous criminal, Desolation Williams (Ice Cube).  But after arriving, they find the citizens of the outpost have been possessed by an evil presence apparently descended from an ancient race of Martians that look more like satan-worshippers than ghosts.

After joining forces with Desolation and his fellow criminals in a bid to escape the settlement, Melanie (Henstridge) and the other cops spend the rest of the movie shooting or stabbing as many bad guys as they can. So if you’re looking for a movie with a high body count, you’ve found it.  Speaking of high, in a bizarre plot twist, Melanie must get stoned on 22nd century Martian drugs to stand any chance against the evil power. She inexplicably vomits up the invading force after taking the drugs. But wait, it gets worse.

The film wouldn’t be complete without a shot of Henstridge in her underwear, and we also get the obligatory kiss, even though, until the romantic moment, Melanie had been rebuffing the ridiculous advances of Jericho (Statham) for most of the movie. Marilyn Manson look-alikes banging down her door must put her in the mood.

Particularly embarrassing is the lead ghoul’s reaction to being set on fire by Melanie. In a scene designed to elicit fright on the scale of Halloween II, we see “Big Daddy Mars” burning to death, or so we think. But then he reemerges a moment later, slightly charred. With a not-so-scary snarl thrown in for good measure, he shrugs off his fiery setback and continues his bloody rampage. He’s apparently a master of the drop and roll.

The script, too, is a source of amusement, mostly because it takes itself so seriously. Inconsistencies also abound, mistakes Carpenter either did not notice or thought the audience wouldn’t. For example, when Melanie returns to the city to explain her gruesome ordeal, she refers to a moment just seen in flashback. But her explanation is totally different from what we have just seen. And after witnessing hundreds of murderous freaks dancing around a fire next to decapitated heads on spikes, Jericho’s reaction is simply, “We have a situation here.” It’s difficult to get excited about a story when the characters themselves are so blasé.

Carpenter is not known for his consistent high-quality work, especially recently, but in Halloween, The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, he at least showed that he understood suspense. In Ghosts, he uses one ill-conceived flashback after another, and the few frights he throws in are so poorly timed that you laugh out loud at their absurdity.