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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.39%
Worth A Look: 21.05%
Average: 8.77%
Pretty Bad: 12.28%
Total Crap53.51%

6 reviews, 78 user ratings

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Ghosts of Mars
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by Jack Sommersby

"Ghastly 'Ghosts'"
1 stars

One of those John Carpenter efforts that comes off like very little in the way of effort went into the damn thing. It's smug and lazy and inept and downright disreputable.

In John Carpenter's asinine Ghosts of Mars, what we woefully have here is a filmmaker who obviously couldn't come up with a viable idea for a film on his own, didn't find anyone else's screenplays appealing, had an uncontrollable itch to make a film no matter whether the material was any damn good or not, and, knowing that his recognizable name still carries some weight around Hollywood campfires, carelessly dashed off the kind of lackluster, incoherent screenplay that could have easily been scribbled on the back of a matchbook, which, sadly enough, some idiotic studio exec saw fit to give the green-light to. No doubt the mind-set going in: the blonde and busty Natasha Henstridge would appeal to libidinous males; Ice Cube is a favorable screen presence for African-Americans; and a sci-fi thriller would initially captivate those who made the two Mars-based films of that year -- Mission to Mars and Red Planet -- semi-box office successes. Alas, not only did Carpenter and his reputation take a considerable beating over Ghosts of Mars, but so did the studio that financed and released it, because this sucker tanked big-time.

For those who care, the story takes place in the year 2176 on the planet Mars where colonized humans have wasted no time in depleting their new world's natural resources by turning the planet into one big mining operation, which seems more than a bit lifted from Peter Hyams' classic 1981 Outland which found marshal Sean Connery fighting drug runners and assassins on a similar operation on the third moon of Jupiter. There, evil corporate swine were at the root of the trouble; here, the trouble arises harmlessly enough as the company's archeologist (Joanna Cassidy) unwittingly unleashes a horde of Martian ghosts from a long-buried tunnel. Predictably, they're of a quite hostile nature, infiltrating the miners through their body orifices, and, in turn, transforming them into blood-thirsty maniacs. Actually, we're informed of this later on down the line, for the story events are relayed to us through numerous flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks as the main heroine of the piece, Lt. Melanie Ballard (Henstridge), details the previous day's events to a police panel, who want to know why she was the sole survivor from her unit. You see, the cops were sent to Shining Canyon to bring back a prisoner, Desolation Williams (Ice Cube), a reputed savage murderer. But when the outpost is discovered to be apparently deserted, and slaughtered corpses are found shortly thereafter, it becomes more and more clear that one man couldn't possibly be responsible for it all. In typical Hollywood fashion, of course, both sides of the law team up together to survive.

Sure, all of this thus far is awfully cliched stuff, but a decent-enough film could have been made from it -- that is, if Carpenter had managed to put some welcome, nifty spins on the various familiarities. But it hasn't turned out that way. Instead of re-imagining and breathing fresh life into these stale story components, Carpenter foolishly revels in them, assuming they're viable and entrancing enough to stand on their own, when in fact the audience is starved for something else altogether, something that doesn't elicit moans and groans at the mere thought of. Rather than spinning his creative wheels, Carpenter has simply twiddled his thinker's thumbs, trotting out one lazy and uninspired tidbit after another, and the result is listless and lethargic because we're simply unable to summon up the necessary mental energy to keep us "in" the film, to even remotely care or have a stake in what's happening. As if it isn't bad enough that Ghosts of Mars plays itself out like the ultimate cinematic retread for non-Carpenter fans, die-hard fans are likely to be totally disappointed not only by the lack of ingenuity throughout but due to the overreliance on components from his past films, some of which weren't that hot in the first place. The heroes barricading themselves inside the mining camp's police station is too reminiscent of Assault on Precinct 13, the isolated Mars compound echoes that of The Thing's Antarctica research camp, the ghosts' taking over their human hosts isn't any different from either the shape-shifting alien in The Thing or that Satan-personified jello-like substance in Prince of Darkness, the psychotic array of resulting unpleasants might as well have jumped the next screen over from either Escape From New York or L.A., and, worst of all, the second-rate shoot-outs and fight scenes bring back memories of the grating Big Trouble in Little China.

Maybe if Carpenter had been able to instill some velocity into the action sequences, some definition to the individual scenes in general, and, gosh forbid, some mounting tension and suspense for, oh, just half the film's running time, Ghosts of Mars could have existed on an undemandingly enjoyable level. Yet there's nary an exciting moment to be had because we couldn't care less about the heroes -- their plights never even remotely manage to engage us on a purely responsive level -- and the villains simply aren't imposing or frightening enough to elicit genuine menace. A cross between both the zombies and bikers from Romero's Dawn of the Dead, they're certainly more lithe and quicker than zombies but aren't even remotely convincing as out-of-this-world monstrosities -- they come as nothing more than stuntmen orchestrated by a second-unit director. They employ axes and spears and knives and even circular saw blades to inflict bodily damage, so, in essence, they're not all that different from others of their villainous types to be found in numerous post-apocalyptic flicks like in the Mad Max series. As for the action, it's considerably lame-brained and shockingly bad in execution. When the armed-to-the-teeth heroes take on the villains by the hundreds in an outside open area, their initial survival is whoppingly implausible, and the haphazard editing doesn't enable us to keep coherent track of things. When a successful escape on a train occurs at the halfway mark, Ballard convinces everybody to go back and detonate a nuclear power plant to wipe out the evil for good, yet, instead of altruism acting as the motivating factor, it reeks of contrivance, paving the way for the rest of the secondary characters to get killed off and the running time extended another half-hour. And the final confrontation onboard that speeding train is so awfully staged you wish it were anti-climactic just so the film wouldn't end with such a disquieting whimper. (As for Ballard not using her gun to shoot off the chain to the handcuffs she's secured to a metal post with, I'll leave that one for the Idiot Police to contemplate.)

And why not let the planet Mars off the hook for a long time in future sci-fi productions? For every time around it's quite clear the filming was done somewhere in the American Southwest (here, Carpenter returned to New Mexico, where he also shot the underpraised Vampires), so instead of the audience experiencing the joy of being aesthetically transported to a wondrous new world, they're brought up short and reminded of their last family vacation to the Grand Canyon. Carpenter's usual cinematographer, Gary B. Kibbe, hasn't come up with anything new this time around -- the rust-red-colored atmosphere practically screams "Color gels!" -- while the production design by William A. Elliott is equally bland, though not as ridiculous as Robin Michel Bush's costuming -- these futuristic police uniforms are amongst the worst I've ever laid eyes on, and the ragged clothing of the savage villains is equally unimaginative. Because the planet isn't really used as an organic centerpiece that's relied upon to offer up anything really new to the central conflict, Ghosts of Mars could have been re-titled Ghosts of Central Park or Ghostkilling in Seattle without too much in the way of story alterations. (If anything, it could have been called The Warriors 2: Gangs in Space.)

Not too surprisingly, the cast has a tough time of it. Natasha Henstridge made a fanciful debut in the fine Species and portrayed a more convincing and alluring futuristic cop in Albert Pyun's crackerjack entertainment Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (which, too, took place in an isolated setting -- an abandoned underground Gothic-stylized prison -- but was directed with a lot more style and panache than you get here), but here she comes down too hard on her line readings, and her stone-face stare-downs are more wooden than stoic. Ice Cube, possessive of more innate talent than both Chris Rock and Chris Tucker combined, is disappointingly sullen and one-note in a performance only a mother could love. Pam Grier is her usual underwhelming self, while the game Joanna Cassidy (one of the renegade replicants in Blade Runner) is ultimately done in by the ultra-bad writing. The only performer who manages to come through is Jason Statham, who's so charismatic and appealing as Ballard's sexist second-in-command that we can't help but applaud when Ballard, eventually giving into the thought that they're all doomed, succumbs to his crass offer for a last-minute quickie.

Truth be told, excepting The Thing, John Carpenter has never really made a great film (and, yes, I'm taking into account the original Halloween, which was considerably better directed than written). Still, as flawed as his development and execution of his past nifty ideas has been, an unmistakable passion and love for filmmaking has shown through every time, so much so that even a bottom-basement feeder like 1988's They Live played out better than it had any right to. But he's turned into his own worst enemy when directing from his own screenplays; he inevitably writes himself into countless tedious corners. Carpenter proved in The Thing and Vampires (both of which he didn't write) that he's capable of getting those creative juices flowing and improving on someone else's work, putting an intelligent and expressive interpretation onto material that would justify big-screen cinematic treatment. With Ghosts of Mars, he's simply spinning his wheels and going about things in the most perfunctory manner on the way to an easy paycheck, and it's the unfortunate audience, rather than the human characters here, who feel bludgeoned throughout.

Seek out the neat made-for-cable-TV horror anthology "Body Bags" instead, which has two enjoyable segments that Carpenter directed.

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originally posted: 01/03/12 02:27:47
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User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell more carpenter crap 1 stars
9/01/12 Sean Harrison It's hard to believe this drivel came from one of the all-time masters of horror. 2 stars
7/21/12 Sean Harrison Disappointing from John Carpenter, one of the horror greats. 2 stars
1/26/12 Devin Sabas fun, but pretty terrible. 2 stars
12/16/11 Johnny Come-Lately nice B-movie and underrated 4 stars
12/05/09 Chris F not a bad film at all worth watching 4 stars
9/14/09 Jeff Wilder Great special effects undercut by bad writing and weak acting. 1 stars
2/16/09 belike I thought the movie looked cool, the story just kinda kinda sucked. 3 stars
1/15/09 FrankNFurter Like a high school performance of "Alien."And by a really bad drama club. 2 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner The only thing i remember bout this one is Ice Cube biting his lower lip. 1 stars
2/17/07 Vip Ebriega Nothin' really new. 2 stars
2/03/07 AJ Muller It ain't meant to be Asimov, folks. A fun 'n bloody time, don't take it too seriously. 4 stars
6/23/06 TempLoop Underated. If you expected 2001, or Starship Troopers look elsewhere 4 stars
4/03/06 Rocky This movie was totally entertaining and a lot of fun. 4 stars
3/15/06 Tom bla? 3 stars
8/12/05 ES After 'The Thing' and 'Big Trouble ILC' Why? Why? Why?!? 1 stars
6/08/05 JD No oscar winner but, entertaining and worth a look. 4 stars
6/06/05 ultrazone I enjoyed it, the score and the editing in particular 4 stars
5/15/05 Indrid Cold One of many barely watchable Carpenter movies, this one looks like it was made for TV. 2 stars
10/16/04 Don Eckert I can't believe this is the same director of "The Thing". I hope he can get his magic back 1 stars
10/08/04 X Thats it! Im through with Carpenter! 1 stars
9/17/04 Jillian Wood interesting, futuristic, inventive 4 stars
9/04/04 Vince WTF happened to the Carpenter who made THE THING ???? 1 stars
7/15/04 Daveman Has the general aesthetics of a b-movie but without the fun. 1 stars
6/12/04 Raymond Lee average movie, nothing special 3 stars
6/03/04 Shaun Worth a look, I actually enjoyed it somewhat. 4 stars
5/16/04 John should be playing in a drive in theatre - 3 stars
4/11/04 American Slasher Goddess Awful,Carpenter has lost it,indefinitely. 1 stars
2/10/04 Whatevr A 2-hour version of a sleeping pill 1 stars
1/26/04 Eric Great Cast!!!Horrible movie.....Really Horrible 1 stars
12/04/03 Charles Tatum I officially give up on John Carpenter 1 stars
11/25/03 josex sucks as hell, don't watch it 1 stars
11/22/03 jack Ice cube doenst make anything worth watching. if anything he makes me want to screw a sheep 3 stars
11/18/03 he a good film 4 stars
10/24/03 Josh Standlee Ice Cube made the movie worth watching. 4 stars
9/25/03 jimmy d this movie was so scary, i went home and when the pizza guy came i shot at him by accident. 4 stars
8/23/03 nr great 5 stars
8/07/03 P.Rodriguez This is the WORST movie ever 1 stars
6/30/03 Dave Hopman John Carpenter has lost his touch a long time ago....... 1 stars
5/14/03 Kyle A fun movie, I guess... 3 stars
4/28/03 Jack Bourbon I'm very pleased to give this movie a "SUCKS." My good deed for the day. 1 stars
3/13/03 me A AWESOME FILM 5 stars
2/16/03 Vince Stay far away from this POS. You've been warned! 1 stars
1/15/03 othree a worth while attempt, solid casting, a sci fi chan movie filler need for editing 3 stars
12/31/02 Jack Sommersby A very entertaining b-movie parody. So much fun! 4 stars
10/27/02 Mr. Hat Jason Stathom tried his best to save it, but bad music & hilariously bad aliens overcome... 2 stars
10/21/02 Jim Watchable only for Statham, who hits on Henstridge at a crucial moment and she GOES FOR IT? 2 stars
10/14/02 JesseL Not bad for its type. Cinematography is good. 4 stars
10/07/02 P.Rodriguez Worst Movie Ever, and I've seen ALOT of movies 1 stars
9/25/02 jessica A GREAT FILM 5 stars
9/09/02 Ben Wasden Natasha Henstrige and Ice Cube are great. Unfortunately, the movie isn't that great. 3 stars
8/23/02 Fish Eye I seriously enjoy movies with Ice Cube...but the script for this one is dog shit 1 stars
6/26/02 Film Guy OK. not John Carpenters best effort 3 stars
6/24/02 Rog Stay the hell away from this movie, I cant believe i spent 10 bucks in my hotel for this 1 stars
6/01/02 monica Sweet 5 stars
5/18/02 Phoenix An absolutely terrible movie. This what John Carpenter has been reduced to. 1 stars
5/15/02 Blake This movie was great but had to much profanity 4 stars
4/13/02 Spencer Lent Sucked. 1 stars
2/28/02 Alan Smithee My lord was this movie terrible. What in the hell has happened to John Carpenter?!!!!! 1 stars
1/21/02 Soap Lando I viewed it drunk in a theater full of bad guys applauding each time a cop was killed 3 stars
1/21/02 Spencer Lent Natasha can't act. Best line: "I'm going to rip your titties off" and "Who are you calling 1 stars
1/19/02 Rego Allegro To be seen as a parody of B-movies - call it C or D-movie (to be seen by Kiss' ex-fans 4 stars
1/08/02 Spyguy2 Satisfying as Cheetos if you don't mind the orange crap staining your hands and mouth 4 stars
12/31/01 Jake This movie is better than it's reviews. It was worth viewing. Solid all around. 4 stars
12/30/01 Sthenno Not a bad film at all.Carpenter mixed many old themes from his past films. Well directed. 4 stars
12/23/01 Shane Robert Myers!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is worth a look & i couldnt either rate it a good or bad movie! so its both!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
12/06/01 DubStar I feel stupider for renting this movie. Worst directing, acting, story, special fx EVER. 1 stars
11/07/01 P.Rodriguez Seriously the shittiest acting I ever encountered in any movie, and I've seen LOTS ofmovies 1 stars
10/10/01 Andrew Carden I Love Joanna Cassidy. Anything With Her Must Be Worth A Look. 4 stars
10/09/01 marzio arigoni it's not that bad! venice loved it (1200 people à la première, with great partecipation) 4 stars
9/06/01 even Red Planet was better. 1 stars
9/05/01 E-Funk It's Carpenter folks...cheesier than most, but still a hell of a ride. 4 stars
9/05/01 ron20003 What the hell was that?? 1 stars
9/02/01 Rampage almost as bad as Escape From L.A. 1 stars
9/02/01 Bill Clinton I liked the scene with the nude intern, I would like to get up on her and ride her! Whohah 5 stars
8/29/01 Daphne Aguilera when there's only you and 3 other people in the theather something's wrong 1 stars
8/28/01 wintermute 2 words: Chrome MAC-10's 4 stars
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  24-Aug-2001 (R)


  25-Oct-2001 (M)

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