I have a soft spot in my heart for John Carpenter. He made a name for himself with horror movies in the ’70s and ’80s (Halloween being his great contribution to American cinema). Since then he’s worked in and out of Hollywood, moving away from the horror genre for a picture or two (Starman, Memoirs of an Invisible Man), then drifting back into his old familiar territory.
Carpenter’s independence is what draws me to his movies, which often lack big-budget muscle. But Carpenter isn’t embarrassed by that. He doesn’t let budgetary constraints hold him back. He boldly tells his story using whatever resources he has. If the sets and lighting look cheap, that doesn’t mean the actors or the costumers get to do a half-assed job.
R for gore, violence, drugs
Ghosts of Mars stars Natasha Henstridge and Ice Cube as a cop and a crook, respectively. Lieutenant Ballard (Henstridge) was sent from the Martian city of Chryse to a remote mining colony to transport a prisoner, “Desolation” Williams (Cube), back to the city. When Ballard and her small force arrive, they find the town ominously deserted.
One of Ballard’s soldiers stumbles on a gathering of Marilyn Manson lookalikes. These Martian Mansons aren’t rock stars, they’re miners possessed by native spirits; humans driven to self-mutilation and violence by an inhabiting xenophobic presence. Much as they hate each other, Ballard and Desolation may have to cooperate to survive.
A Carpenter’s Craft
At this point in Carpenter’s career, one expects some canon-wide themes to emerge, and in fact, they do. There are hints of The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, and Village of the Damned in Ghosts of Mars. To scare and thrill his audiences Carpenter presents societal collapse, powerlessness, and impending doom, a genuinely frightening combination. Ghosts of Mars isn’t Carpenter’s best work, but it does start to solidify his style.
In a way, John Carpenter is like Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer behind The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Both men’s work seems unpolished, almost amateur at first glance. It’s almost as if both men were self-taught; as if Carpenter didn’t know the rules for filmmaking or Morricone for composing; as if each man just acted according to some Jungian idea of what their art should be. Their work is recognizable as human art, but art untarnished by the sheen and polish of a global popular culture.
On the other hand, my friend who’s an expert on horror films says Carpenter “hacked up a hairball” with Ghosts of Mars, so you probably shouldn’t see it on my recommendation. But for the handful of us with a soft spot for Carpenter, catch this one on the big screen.