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John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars


Ice Cube, Jason Statham (Snatch) and Natasha Henstridge (Species) star in this sci-fi horror from the director of Halloween and The Thing.

In a plot that bares more than a passing resemblance to his own revered 1979 film Assault on Precinct 13 (which itself was a modernised remake of Rio Bravo), Henstridge plays Officer Melanie Ballard, a cop in 2176 who comes to Mars to transport dangerous criminal Desolation Williams (!?), played by a typically sneering Ice Cube.

But when she arrives at the isolated mining outpost, she finds it deserted and littered with headless corpses. They look to Williams for answers, but he is locked up alone in his cell, unwilling (or unable) to explain what has happened.

Ballard and her team (including Statham's randy Jericho, Clea DuVall's green Bashara and, um, Pam Grier) are besieged by hordes of reanimated miners (looking like wannabe metal-heads with bad make-up and piercings) who have been possessed by the spirits of long-dead Mars locals. A lengthy stand-off ensues in which the cops are forced to team up with Williams and another inmate, the mysterious Dr. Whitlock (Joanna Cassidy - Brenda's mum in Six Feet Under).

It says a lot about Carpenter that he's willing to put his own name in the title of his movies - his good reputation garnered from his earlier, better films exceeds a lot of his recent output.

Carpenter broke onto the scene with his inventive low-budget sci-fi comedy Dark Star in 1974. He followed that up with the critically acclaimed, but decidedly off-beat siege drama Assault on Precinct 13, which established his affinity for the westerns of Howard Hawks.

But it would be Carpenter's next film that would define his career, 1978's massive horror hit Halloween. Carpenter's career kicked into full gear and throughout the 80s he made such classics as Escape from New York, The Thing, Christine, Starman and Big Trouble in Little China.

But the 90s weren't kind to Carpenter, and although he got some plum directing jobs, none of his films were met with any real critical or commercial success - Memoirs of an Invisible Man, In The Mouth of Madness and Village of the Damned.

Many thought Carpenter would bounce back with his big-budget sequel Escape from LA, but the film was not well-received. He fared a little better with Vampires, which seemed to please his fans.

Ghosts of Mars is his most recent film and pretty much embodies the modern Carpenter film - it's formulaic, but it's a formula specific to Carpenter, i.e. a western transposed to another setting. Carpenter fans, and less discriminating horror fans, should be happy.

 


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