Sunday, October 12, 2014


GHOSTS OF MARS is a great John Carpenter film.  I say that in protest to the many critics who truly love the director's previous work but can't seem to love this film as well.  The critics are not entirely wrong.  GHOSTS has its problems but the movie is strong with Carpenter's style.  The story is familiar territory with a small group of protagonists grossly outnumbered and surrounded by a vicious army of killers.  The only difference is that this time instead of the setting taking place on Earth we are transported to Mars in the future.  It is an action/sci-fi/western film with a good dose of supernatural horror mixed in for good measure.  Carpenter can't go wrong with that combination and in my humble opinion he delivers.

GHOSTS is a story about a few cops and local survivors who find themselves trapped in a police station on an small outpost town on Mars surrounded by an army of people who have become possessed by the ghosts of the ancient alien race that once ruled the land.  Back from the dead these ghosts want to retake the planet from the now occupying humans.

Visually everything works together to create a futuristic world that maintains traces of our past.  Carpenter's camera picks up every moody detail presented on screen.  The costuming is elaborate whether it be the police uniforms, civilian attire or the tribal mutilation make-up effects.  The sets look authentic.  Despite being about ghost aliens the movie feels down to Earth.  Imagine if this movie was made today.  Half the people, props and sets would be cartooned in with computers.  Remember how fake everything looked in ESCAPE FROM L.A?  That mistake is not repeated here.  The realism of the world helps us get more involved with the story and less distracted with visual hiccups.

Actionwise GHOSTS kicks a lot of butt.  This is an R rated film for sure with blood and severed limbs strung about when necessary.  People have a tendency to lose their heads in this one.  Things get pretty exciting when the ancient warriors in their new meat suits storm the police station.  The survivors band together and organize a tactical defensive to keep the native alien race at bay just enough to find a way to survive.  It is nice to be able to tell what is going on in the action scenes.  That is always my biggest complaint for modern action films with the shaky camera work and heavy use of quick edits.

I only have one complaint about the film and that involves the leader of the alien ghost people, Big Daddy Mars.  He looks like a total badass.  He is big, looks like Marylin Manson from Hell and definitely an imposing figure.  But he doesn't do much besides scream and get caught on fire.  He never really does anything to strike fear into the audience.  I think that is because the character isn't given enough screen time.  We already know where he comes from and what they are but his character is no different than the other possessed people that surround him.  He just looks more badass but doesn't do anything to stand out.  At least he isn't C.G.I.'d over and made a cartoon like they did to that one orc in THE HOBBIT 2.  Nowadays they would do that so Big Daddy Mars can jump around and do crazy acrobatics and stuff to be more thrilling to the kiddies that watch these movies.

I take that back I have another complaint to make about GHOSTS.  I don't like the fact that when you kill a possessed guy the ghost leaves and is free to roam about and posses anyone they want.  This does two things that are bad.  It creates a big plot hole because why are all the survivors not possessed when they kill hundreds of ghost people?  You would figure the newly freed spirits would just float into the prison and possess them all.  Also it makes the idea of shooting the bad guys a bad one because that releases the ghosts.  That kind of ruins the action element of GHOSTS because every time a ghost person goes down you wonder why the survivor who shot them didn't just become immediately possessed after.

I think why people who grew up loving Carpenter do not like this film so much is because they fall into the same trap that older critics did when Carpenter films first came out.  They don't get his style and focus too much on what could be a too simple story for them.  Maybe they want his stories to have some political statement like so many other horror films out there.  John Carpenter is a storyteller and that is what he wants to do.  Tell stories.  You can pull out some political or social statement out of GHOSTS OF MARS if you want but that is not his intention.  Hopefully like the old critics of the past those who do not like this film now will eventually come back to it and appreciate it a little more.  I think that will be easier to do since nowadays films similar to this one are so C.G.I. heavy that it is hard to take anything happening on the screen seriously.

GHOSTS OF MARS is one of the few JC movies I got to see on the big screen.  Despite some flaws I had a blast watching it.  I hope in time others will find this one to be as enjoyable as I did when I first watched it.  Great soundtrack too.


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