John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars

Directed by John Carpenter
Starring: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence/gore, language and some drug content.

Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <>
September 13, 2001

John Carpenter likes to put his name in front of movies. Perhaps he does this to seem like an auteur, a director of vision, an innovator. He has directed some of my favorite low-brow films (Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York). These films have a vision, a style, a sort of mindless glee. Ghosts of Mars has nothing. It leaves no mark. It has no effect. It isn't even really bad; it's just there. John Carpenter's name may be in front of the title but it could have been directed by any sub-par creator of sci-fi/horror.

The movie has a relatively interesting setting: a human colony on Mars ruled by martial law and a matriarchal society. This should provide Carpenter with fodder for some dynamic power struggles and interactions between the characters, but he does nothing with his matriarchal setting. It's just an excuse to make Natasha Henstridge the lead character instead of Jason Statham.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks as Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) gives her report to the "Matronage" about a routine prisoner pick-up gone wrong. Ballard and her crew (Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, and Jason Statham) take a train to a mining colony to pick up multiple murderer James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube), and find the inhabitants of the mining colony either decapitated or possessed by evil red space dust that turns its victims into jabbering, slobbering, metal-wearing killing machines. Ballard, her crew, Williams and a few other "tough characters" must escape the colony and get back on the train. Interesting complications could arise from the fact that you can't kill the evil red dust. You can only kill the people possessed by the dust and once the dust's host is killed, it just moves onto another victim. Interesting complications could arise, but they don't.

The red dust isn't particularly scary, nor are the hordes of possessed miners since they just look like poorly dressed Goths and speak in tongues that sound like "Shalalalalalalalalalalalal." Real scary stuff. The industrial dance music that accompanies every scene removes all tension. The whole movie sounds like a dance club on Goth/Industrial night. The ending half of the movie is just dumb and completely unjustified. Having escaped the possessed miners, Ballard and her crew return to the mine to blow up the space dust even though it has already been established that you can't kill the stuff. WHY?

Why go back to the mine, why make this movie and why oh why did Ice Cube and Clea DuVall bother to give solid performances? No one else including the director bothered to put any effort into this film, so why did they? If Ghosts of Mars comes on cable, it might be worth watching for Cube and DuVall but for no other reason. Henstridge's clothes never even come off. Sorry, Species fans.

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Ghosts of Mars (2001)

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