In his "Ghosts of Mars," director/co-writer John Carpenter fuses the genres of sci-fi, action and horror into a laughable gorefest and a leading contender for the title Worst Film of the Year.
Natasha Henstridge and Jason Statham star as cops whose beat is the planet Mars in the year 2176. They are part of a mismatched crew (former blaxploitation queen Pam Grier has a role) that's assigned to travel to a rural outpost and transport a dangerous criminal, Desolation Williams (Ice Cube), back to the big city.Ã?But after arriving at the outpost, Henstridge and company discover that its citizens have been possessed by an evil presence apparently descended from an ancient race of Martians -- who, truth be told, look more like Satan worshippers than ghosts.
After joining forces with Desolation and his fellow criminals in a bid to escape the settlement, Henstridge's Melanie and the other cops spend the rest of the movie shooting or stabbing as many bad guys as they can. Looking for a movie with a high body count? You've found it. And speaking of high, in a bizarre plot twist, Melanie must get stoned on 22nd century Martian drugs to stand any chance against the evil power. Inexplicably, she vomits up the invading force after ingesting the illicit substance.
The film wouldn't be complete without a shot of Henstridge in her underwear, and we also get the obligatory unlikely romance between the leads. Having Marilyn Manson look-alikes banging down their door must be some sort of aphrodisiac.
Particularly embarrassing is the lead ghoul's reaction to being set on fire by Melanie. In a scene designed to elicit fright on the scale of "Halloween II," we see "Big Daddy Mars" burning to death -- or so we think. Instead, he re-emerges a moment later, slightly charred. With a not-so-scary snarl thrown in for good measure, he shrugs off his fiery setback and continues his bloody rampage. He's apparently a master of the drop and roll.
The script serves as a perpetual source of amusement, mostly because it takes itself so seriously. Inconsistencies abound, mistakes Carpenter either didn't notice or counted on the audience to miss instead. When Melanie returns to the city to explain her gruesome ordeal, she refers to a moment we have just witnessed in flashback. But her explanation is totally different from what's been seen. Another scene shows hundreds of murderous freaks dancing around a fire ringed by decapitated heads on spikes. Jericho's reaction: "We have a situation here."
Carpenter's name isn't synonymous with quality work, but in "Halloween" and "In the Mouth of Madness," he at least showed that he understood suspense. In "Ghosts of Mars," the few frights are so poorly timed that you laugh out loud at their absurdity.