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JOHN CARPENTER'S
GHOSTS OF MARS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Clea Duvall, Pam Grier, Joanna Cassidy
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: December 4, 2001

“That’s the second time I’ve saved your life!”

“Yeah, run a tab!”

Film ***

Ghosts of Mars, like many of the movies from John Carpenter, is reminiscent of a good old drive-in movie, high on the gore, suspense, and high-wire action. Carpenter is and has long been my favorite horror movie director. If you ask me, there’s a huge difference in a traditional horror flick, and one that carries the name John Carpenter. What Carpenter applies to his movies is a superior level of exhibition and build up that makes for a most exciting payoff. His last several pictures weren’t necessarily hits with audiences or critics, but from my point of view, he is still the cinema’s reigning master of terror, and Ghosts of Mars is in the traditional Carpenter form, blending together moments of eye-gazing terror and suspense with injections of dark humor, resulting in a fun B movie kind of ride.

The movie is set on Mars in the year 2176. The plot is told mostly in flashback during a testimony from Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), who is giving a full deposition of a recent prisoner transfer that turned very disastrous. Ballard and her team journey to a remote area to make a prisoner transfer. The prisoner at hand is James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube), who’s been convicted of slaying several railway workers in a graphic manner.

When they arrive at their destination, they find it strangely deserted of any humans. They soon find there numerous questions answered when multiple decapitated bodies are discovered. It is soon revealed that a deadly army of Martian zombies have been slaying humans, and threaten to wipe out Ballard and her team, who the ghosts see as invaders. In a desperate move, Ballard asks for Desolation’s help in kicking some serious monster butt.

Fans of Carpenter’s movies are guaranteed to get their share of enjoyment in the blood and guts department. Ghosts of Mars delights in the graphic violence department, including such extended scenes as possessed humans slicing their throats and zombies gleefully decapitating human heads. A nice kick from Carpenter is the use of a metal rockin’ score to the movie that accompanies many of the movies stellar action scenes and shootouts. 

Ghosts of Mars is truly one of the year’s best B movie offerings. John Carpenter blends together a perfect mix of action and dark humor against a uniquely gothic-like set design, and nice performed by leads Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge as the ultimate bad ass convict and the tough as nails, take no prisoners female cop. The movie adds up to fun escapist fare that is certain to entertain on one level or another.

Video ***1/2

A quite fair and high quality presentation from Columbia Tri Star, who also did a terrific job with the disc for John Carpenter’s Vampires more than two years ago. The movie is filmed mostly against a red landscape, and with the exception of a few scenes in the opening, which appear somewhat dark and a little soft here and there, the rest of the presentation is that of a sharp and clear one, with image quality coming off at a pure 100%.

Audio ***1/2

It takes a while for superior sound to kick in, but when it does, the sound quality is of sheer knockout perfection. Like many Carpenter movies, Ghosts of Mars includes scenes that consist of spontaneous, out of the blue scares, which is captured nicely in the transfer. The movie’s frequent action sequences are another plus, too, which accompanied by the thunderous score by Mr. Carpenter himself, comes through with blazingly quality. Not completely perfect, but a close, good enough job from CTS.

Features ***1/2

2001 has been good to John Carpenter. In the wake of the superbly loaded disc for his cult fave Big Trouble in Little China, Columbia Tri Star has thoughtfully acquired their beloved Special Edition logo for a list of very neat extras. The highlight is definitely the commentary track by John Carpenter and Natasha Henstridge, which like many Carpenter commentaries, is thoroughly insightful and consistently humorous. Also featured are three informative documentaries; a Video Diary of the production, Special Effects Deconstructions, and an intriguing one titled “Scoring Ghosts of Mars”.

Summary:

Ghosts of Mars is another worthy entry in a long list of hugely entertaining movies by one movie director who is the reigning master of terror. Fans of sci-fi, action, and horror alike are likely to get their money’s worth, as I did here.