Ghosts of Mars (2001) Review

People have praised John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing as his crowning achievements, acknowledging them as groundbreakers in the genre of horror, with Halloween often credited with spawning a slew of slasher flicks that saturated the 1980s into today, while The Thing supposedly changed the shape (pun most certainly intended) of movie monsters. At the same time, people forget to appreciate the film that represents the true pinnacle of Carpenter’s career, a culmination of all that he has hoped to achieve in the realm of horror ever since the inception of his career. That film is 2001’s Ghosts of Mars.

While Carpenter films like The Thing dealt with themes of paranoia and isolation, Ghosts of Mars deals directly with the theme of ghosts–in the form of malevolent demons, specifically. This is much like Carpenter’s earlier lesser film, The Fog. Well, this movie makes The Fog look like a teary-eyed crippled toddler with the world’s worst cleft palate. It also makes The Thing look like a hairless dog with the world’s worst case of psoriasis and eczema combined, along with severe brain damage resulting from years of abuse with a hammer. Yes, it’s that good.

Let’s start with the incredible cast: Natasha Henstridge (you probably know her as the Oscar-snubbed actress/hottie in such classics as Species and Species II),

Natasha Henstridge as Melanie Ballard in Ghosts of Mars.

Pam Grier (a bunch of blaxploitation flicks from the ’70s, also Oscar-snubbed but not for the insufferable Jackie Brown),

Pam Grier as Commander Helena in Ghosts of Mars.

a less famous Jason Statham (king of Oscar-snubbed performances?),

Jason Statham as Sgt. Jericho Butler in Ghosts of Mars.

Ice Cube (no, he’s the king),

Ice Cube as Desolation Williams in Ghosts of Mars.

Joanna Cassidy (from the abominable piece of shit Blade Runner)

Joanna Cassidy as Whitlock in Ghosts of Mars.

and Clea DuVall (thankfully not related to the laughably horrid Robert Duvall).

Clea DuVall as Bashira in Ghosts of Mars.

This is a team clearly geared for success both at the box office and among the critics.

Now take that amazing cast and throw it into the Great Movie Blender with an excellent premise, impressively ultra-realistic special effects, a phenomenal script and flawless direction, and you get one of the greatest modern horror films ever made, one that is also somehow extremely underrated.

With dialogue that would make Tarantino blush with embarrassment, acting that would have made Laurence Olivier drink lighter fluid to end his comparatively lame career, and directing that would have made Orson Welles take bath salts and eat his dog out of hopelessness for his own future, I fail to see why this movie didn’t become more popular. I guess most mainstream audiences can’t appreciate genius when they see it.

Let’s dive into this magnum opus already, shall we?

The movie opens with voice-over narration speaking impressively fast about the basic premise of the film, while notes about Mars’ colonization and population pop up alongside visuals of Mars and an approaching shuttle. All of this happens simultaneously, which moves the film right along and doesn’t assume the audience is stupid enough to be unable to read, listen and watch at the same time. Most of the time movies underestimate their audiences’ intelligence, but not this one. It assumes its viewers think with 100% of their brains 100% of the time.

Anyway, through the opening text we are informed that it is in fact the year 2176 A.D. and that Mars has been 84% terraformed. The narrator talks about something that has been unearthed on there, something that has been buried for centuries.

The opening credits to Ghosts of Mars.
You already know this will be a fast-paced, intelligent adrenaline rush.

Following the opening credits—which hover over, in front of and behind a train moving across the surface of Mars—we actually wind up in a town called Chryse, apparently the first city on Mars if we are to trust this hardly visible sign.

The Chryse sign in the opening of Ghosts of Mars.

Next, we face a group of people all dressed up like corporate executives, one of whom talks about this mysterious Cartel and an incident involving the aforementioned train, which we learn is called the Trans Marinara 74 Yankee. That might sound like an item on a lunch menu at an Italian restaurant in New York, but it’s equally badass here. Oh, sorry, it’s the “Trans Marineris”, according to the subtitles. My bad.

This same woman goes on to tell us all about how some Mars “police” came across this train, which had apparently been abandoned (referred to as a “ghost train”, to start off our subtle motif of “ghosts”), until they came across a lone survivor who is possibly the most beautiful person on Mars, played by the smokin’ handcuffed and comatose Natasha Henstridge. Thankfully, all of this narration is visualized before us to keep us from having to imagine Henstridge in this position ourselves.

Melanie Ballard sleeps handcuffed to bed post.
My imagination would have taken this a little further.

This woman, according to our older and less-pretty council leader, is named Lieutenant Melanie Ballard. This sack of sleeping beauty and her crew were apparently assigned to transfer a prisoner. Ballard was taken to a hospital and treated for minor wounds (apparently whatever hurt her had a soft spot for blonde models who’ve played half-Martians in the past) and was found to have trace amounts of something “illegal” called tetromonochloride (thanks once again, subtitles!) in her system.

Next thing we know, Ballard enters the room fully conscious, donning full fictional space military uniform to talk something over—presumably about what happened on that train. She sits down and they get down to bloody brass tax, starting right away with the questioning. “What happened at Shining Canyon?”

Oh, but I believe the question is: “what didn’t happen at Shining Canyon?” I sense John Carpenter giving me a couple of winks from the darkness of my bedroom closet and snickering snidely.

Miss Ballard goes on to speak through a flashback transition shot about a dust storm that engulfed the Trans Marinara and gives us all of the details about this train. She says it was an ore hauler in the mines in the “outer sector”. Again, this film wastes no time in testing whether we can learn and digest everything about this universe all at once through several different mediums at the speed of sound.

Ballard admits her first crime to this “council” or whatever by stating that her crew was hitching a ride to Shining Canyon on this train. Cut to a prematurely cocky Jason Statham and some generic dude playing what appears to be a hybrid of Digimon and Magic the Gathering on a table, the manliest game to be found on Mars. The game is actually called Kurumada and may just play a significant role at some point in this brilliant piece of classic cinema, or not.

Jason Statham complains and rebounds in an exasperated action-man voice, “Fuck me, the Five of Bats. You’ve got the wheel. What’s your wager?” He says this with impressively unshakable confidence—and audible false fear—after eyeing Ballard on the other side of the train car. He’s probably thinking, “That’s right, honey. He may have the Five of Bats, but I’m gonna whip out my Ace of Dragons and Six of Snakes and take you to bed with them.” Even then the man had unmatchable swag.

“Five bucks,” the other man wagers, probably in all actuality betting that he’ll expire before the end of this film for being particularly generic and un-action-man-y, which may or may not be likely.

We then meet Clea DuVall and Pam Grier (Helena). And what do their characters do? They’re human compasses and distance measurement tools, I think. A great contribution. They spew some technical details about being klicks away from their destination; it’s all very interesting.

We also find out that Ballard really likes drugs as she consumes an adorable white pill, and we know it’s horrible because a sharp, stingy PSA musical cue lets us know this as she pops it in her mouth. Could this be that dreaded “tetromonochloride” we heard about?

Melanie Ballard dreams of Earth in Ghosts of Mars.
A drug that makes Natasha Henstridge hallucinate about Earth for once… I don’t think I’d take that away from her.

Helena snaps Ballard out of her trip to let her know they’re supposed to be alert when picking up a prisoner named James Williams, or as Ballard says with apparent recognition, “You mean ‘Desolation’ Williams?” I think you’d have to be pretty desolate to earn a name like that. “Desolation” Williams has been accused of murder, and Ballard mentions he’s been on trial for murder three times before, getting off on self-defense every time. This time, according to Helena, he’s reportedly slaughtered a bunch of miners and some inexplicable shit’s probably gone down.

Helena asks what Ballard thinks of Sergeant Jericho (Statham’s character), while the other “rookies” aren’t even mentioned in name, highlighting their importance which will obviously be revealed later. Helena scolds Jericho for being a man and not a dependable strong woman, because apparently extremist feminism is popular on Mars these days. Although, according to the council leader, it is a “Matronage”, which doesn’t exist according to spellcheck, along with “tetromonochloride”.

“I need you straight, Melanie,” Helena tells Ballard.

“I’m as straight as they come,” Ballard replies, headstrong.

“Such a shame,” Helena says, tilting her head in disappointment.

Does this mean Helena is a lesbian, or that she actually wants Melanie to be a junkie and is playing bizarre head games? We may never know.

Rachael from Blade Runner comments about Voight-Kompf test.

After Jericho flirts with Ballard and fails for the first time, our train full of heroes and generic people arrive at their destination and head over to the mining town, which is, unexpectedly, empty. As Jericho and Ballard enter the nearby prison to find out if anybody’s around and pick up Desolation Man, Jericho flirts and fails a second time, offering the irresistible pick-up line, “I’ve got many talents.” It will work, man. Just be persistent and get on her nerves and it’ll all work out because you look, act and sound like Jason Statham.

He does tell her after another failed attempt less than a minute later, “I’ve changed a few minds in my time.” I’m sure you have, buddy, unless you mean forcibly through brutal rape, which might possibly happen and cast an unexpected shadow over our supposed leading man. He’d probably still be charming, though.

Ballard and Jericho in Ghosts of Mars.
“I want to have sex with you like a monkey on Viagra who hasn’t masturbated in six years. Do you get that? How about now?”

Surprise, surprise, the only prisoner in the entire mining community is black. If everybody is still alive and present in that town, they’ve clearly decided to prevent another Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown incident by sticking this lone black man in the one place where a black man is safe. Way to go, future Martian society! We’ve got rampant sexism and now successful racial profiling.

Oh, wait. That’s right, supposedly this guy killed a metric shit ton of people. Are you sure he’s the killer, though? He is black, so I’d wager five bucks on it. Oh, yeah, he’s also the only person apparently around, but I’m still sticking with the first reason.

Ballard and Jericho decide to find out how best to get to this guy when Jericho flirts and fails again. How long has it been, two minutes? Yep, almost on the dot. Impressive. “I’ve got a mystical way with locks and mechanical objects,” he charms. “There isn’t a machine on Mars that doesn’t love me.” There isn’t a filmgoer on Earth who doesn’t love you, either. I don’t want this character to be torn from the inside out, organ-by-organ and slowly as he screams while somehow trying to sound cool about it. Not at all. Who would?

The two investigate what seems like a power issue involving flashing lights through windows in another building and come across the arm of a woman with a bracelet on it, peeking out from a locker. It turns out to be severed. Fuck. Cue John Carpenter’s definitely-not-outdated-’80s-sounding-synth-suspense music!

The generic soldier guy joins them after committing a clever jump scare around a corner, and then we follow Helena and Clea DuVall’s character (Bashira, according to subtitles over Pam Grier yelling at her face) and the generic guy as they discover a bunch of decapitated bodies hanging from the ceiling in lovely purple and yellow lighting. It definitely doesn’t make you feel like you’re looking at a horror film set.

Decapitated bodies hanging in Ghosts of Mars.
“I sure hope I don’t wind up like these poor guys. I really don’t want that. Really don’t.” – Invincible Generic Guy

All of these people gather in the building and can’t communicate with the few guys left on the Trans Marinara 74 Yankee Doodle. Stress starts to set in. To help ease this stress, Helena explains to Ballard that Williams previously murdered seven people in the same fashion as the bodies they’ve just seen—which I thought Ballard might know about since she mentioned in exposition that he was up for murder three times, but I guess she didn’t, given the shocked look on her face. Or maybe it’s orgasmic. Is she the killer? Carpenter just keeps us paranoid about who’s the enemy, much better here than in that debacle appropriately called The Thing.

Melanie Ballard surprised in Ghosts of Mars.
“Please. Tell me more about how their heads got removed and they bled from the neck hole.”

So, Jericho manages to open the door to get to the jail cells and they move in, when a woman decides to join in the jump scare fun and slams her hands on the bars of her cell. This darker-skinned (probably partially why she’s imprisoned) woman asks calmly and collectively, suspiciously devoid of real anger, “What the hell’s going on around here? We haven’t had a meal or piss break in six hours.” It’s almost as if she had been rehearsing that line to say it at that precise moment to those exact people. Something fishy is afoot.

After this point everybody in that cell is let out and we find out about these prisoners, one of which is yet another woman, a sleeping one named Arlene Whiplock, er, Whitlock (subtitles), played by Joanna Cassidy. She’s a butch blondie that I’m sure Helena is wet to see. Whitlock really wanted to go to jail for some unknown reason, according to jump-scare woman.

Once jump-scare woman wakes her up, Whitlock wearily explains in a totally not-green-screen and believable flashback about how she flew a weather balloon over Mars after fleeing a riot. She came across the mining town and hit a windmill because of a windstorm and crashed. We see the balloon explode four times in four simultaneous flashbacks, which cleverly lets us know it’s such a devastating omen for ole Whitlock that it’s replaying in her head four times.

Weather balloon explodes in Ghosts of Mars.
One bad thing comes in fours, apparently.

Whitlock was happily apprehended by the town’s prison system following this.

Cut to Jericho and Ballard confronting Williams, who we are finally introduced to as he enjoys some quiet time in his cell. Ballard calls him an asshole for not speaking while he’s clearly meditating, which causes him to politely turn his head to face her.

Desolation Williams in jail.
“I gotta say, today was NOT a good day.”

They walk away, seeing as he still seems to want to contemplate in silence, and even Jericho mentions that you shouldn’t call “Desolation” Williams an asshole, without even a hint of flirting. But that soon changes.

As Jericho and Ballard walk away, we witness Flirt n’ Fail #5. The dynamic behind this one is Jericho exaggerates Williams’ violent past a bit, which causes Ballard to hold up her fingers a couple of inches apart and say, “Yeah, and this is eight inches,” which surprisingly causes Jericho to perceive that sexually and offer, “Yeah, well in my case it’s a bit different. Perhaps a connoisseur like you would appreciate what I have to offer.” They hear a noise right after that, so we don’t really get to see whether this annoys Ballard or fills her with insatiable horniness.

The entire team investigates the noise, which turns out to be a tragically pale locked-up woman who just seems to be really into Kung Fu.

Kung Fu girl demon in Ghosts of Mars.

Girl demon practicing Kung Fu in Ghosts of Mars.

Oh, and she also has the power of red drunk vision.

Demon vision in Ghosts of Mars.

But we know there’s more to her than these little quirks. Something sinister.

Helena and Ballard take a stroll outside and find another guy in a vehicle who’s decided to sadly exclude himself from the outside world. He partakes in the Martian jump scare trend, screams, tells Ballard not to open the door and “let it out” (which she can’t hear), and subsequently slits his throat with enthusiasm. It’s truly a horrifying glimpse into what we’ll see as the horror reveals itself.

Jericho shows up and wants to know what’s up, and we get another brief flashback of what just happened. We’re basically in a flashback sandwich now. Ballard explains that before the man killed himself he mouthed revelatory sayings such as “stay away”, “don’t open the door” and “stay away.” I feel like we kind of already know this is what he said in a sense, but perhaps there was more to it than we know, judging by the tense close-up of the guy’s flashback face.

Suicide demon in Ghosts of Mars.
Carpenter keeping us cognitive with subtext!

Next, we learn that Helena’s missing, so some shouting of her name ensues.

When Ballard steps inside the jail again, it’s apparent that Bashira done fucked up and let Williams out for some food. Well, she’s at knife point now with Williams lovingly wrapping his other hand around her throat. In this scene we learn Generic Guy’s name is Descanso (subtitles) thanks to Williams saying it with force in his voice, like we really should know his real name. I smell future importance.

Then Ballard tries to fight Williams, which results in Williams knocking her out. When she wakes up, she learns that Williams paid a visit to the clinic. She goes with Descanso and Bashira the Fuck-Up to retrieve him.

While in the clinic, Ballard stumbles upon a couple of people who simply want to rest and enjoy some time alone with themselves.

Demon man in clinic in Ghosts of Mars.
“These hands and I have had many good times together. Right, hands?”

The woman in the other room is just enjoying chewing her nails when Ballard intrudes and causes her to hiss a little. She also has a metal frame around her face as though she’s recovering from a serious skull fracture. I think Carpenter might actually want us to feel bad for these people.

Then a long-haired guy with a serious skin problem shows up and tries to kill our heroine, but soon Williams pops up to pummel him with a shotgun. The resting woman starts attacking Williams for disturbing the peace, but he also remorselessly puts her down.

Ballard forces Williams to come with her at gunpoint after he drops his gun, and he gets placed back in jail where he belongs. See what happens when you let the one black guy out? I hope we’ve learned something here today.

We are treated to another flashback to find out Williams’ backstory as he explains it. He supposedly just went somewhere to grab a bite to eat with a loaded shotgun in-hand, when he found everybody hanging upside-down sans heads. This time, instead of purple and yellow lighting, there seems to be a theme of blue and red. Using colors as metaphors perhaps?

Desolation Williams finds bodies in Ghosts of Mars.
“I gotta say, today REALLY was not a good day.”

Williams treated himself to some money he found, at which point the flashback ends and Ballard states that he’s convinced her of his innocence, in that particular instance. Williams also states that he can tell that she’s high somehow, even though she appears collected and her pupils aren’t dilated. Is there a sixth sense he possesses that we don’t know about? Maybe.

Cut to the present, er, future, I suppose, where the older council woman asks Ballard where Helena was at the time of all of this.

We then cut back to the main flashback, and Jericho comes along and immediately pulls us into another flashback to explain what happened to Helena. It’s like a flashback Inception, where we might just see which level of flashback gives us the answers for which we’ve been searching. For all I know this actually is the obscure movie from which Christopher Nolan borrowed his ideas.

Anyway, flashback Jericho comes across a row of heads on sticks while searching for Helena. A woman with a nice ass joyously thrashes about, grunting and groaning erotically while adding another long-haired head to the row. Once the woman places the head on a pole, has a little playful dig at the sand and leaves, Jericho investigates and discovers the head is Helena’s. We get a dread-inducing close-up of her normally pleasant face.

Pam Grier head on stick in Ghosts of Mars.

Jericho also spots a group of “ghosts” praising their presumed leader, a big guy who could be a combo of GWAR, KISS and Marilyn Manson; an intimidating mix to be sure. I was about to be terrified until the creature opened his mouth, and suddenly it occurred to me that he had apparently been stricken with deafness. As soon as the first garbled “gablablalala” uttered forth from his mouth like a toddler straining to speak and command his parents, I realized this poor man just might be deaf and possibly mentally challenged. I went from feeling complete terror to sincere sympathy. Remarkable, Carpenter. Truly remarkable.

Marilyn Manson demon in Ghosts of Mars.
Obviously his army just wants the poor guy to feel like he’s something great. Shine on, man.

We see flashback footage of this tragic figure decapitating a man being held down for him, and then another, followed by another, and it’s obvious that this tribe of moral degenerates is simply trying to help this guy feel like he’s “one of the gang” as he emphatically “gablabla”s more. To make things even sadder, he has a horrible skin problem, particularly below his eyes. This film just leapt from possibly-straight horror film to tragic character study in a single triumphant bound. A marvel, if I must say so myself.

Finally, we return to the main story flashback, where Ballard demands that Whitlock explain what’s going on. Whitlock proceeds to explain about certain organisms—stuff goes way over my head—and how they’re demons that possess people and need a living person to possess. After learning this fact, Ballard and Bashira the Fuck-Up slaughter Kung Fu girl and the drunk-vision demon leaves her body, eventually slipping into the ear of an old guy sitting in a cell. He looks a little startled, but otherwise doesn’t seem too bothered by the draft of pure evil that just ear-fucked him.

A few new guys show up with Jericho, one of them black and bigger than Williams, so obviously the biggest suspected threat. Jericho treats us to another flashback informing us of how he found these guys after finding Helena. The other two are Latino and a token Native American. These guys bring us to another flashback (so keep in mind, we’re now in the third layer of Flashback Inception) to explain how they got to the building where Jericho found them.

They were spying on the miners in town when some red-colored air swooped down and possessed people.

Woman possessed by demon in Ghosts of Mars.
“Hello, hands. Looks like we’re gonna have some good times together.”

We learn that these people started acting not-okay and gave themselves some body modification, leading up to murdering people and wearing their faces. It basically became a town of Ed Gein’s.

The three amigos have a suitcase full of little bombs that could come in handy, which they take with them to the jail. For some reason they whip out their guns when they hear “Desolation” Williams is there and demand they see him. When they get to him, they’re revealed to be his friends Uno (black guy), Dos (Latino guy) and Tres (token Native American guy). The logical thing to do with these four criminal-minded amigos? Lock them all up together with their guns. Both black guys are now incarcerated, so at least that threat is gone for now.

Ballard tells Williams how it’s going to go down, basically saying she’s in charge now. She agrees to let them out if they’ll cooperate, including Williams and Uno. When they get out, Williams introduces his friends formally, and Uno tries to overpower Ballard. She hands his ass back to him by threatening to break his arm. I think the only reason she’s able to do this is because Uno doesn’t want to damage the hottest woman in the place. I don’t blame him, although once again we see what happens when the black guy is out of his cell.

Uno arm lock in jail in Ghosts of Mars.
What a man’s gotta do to get some action on Mars.

We then proceed to the cell with the possessed old guy, who’s taken up the rare hobby of peeling his face off with his bare hands.

Man peels face in Ghosts of Mars.
This guy’s having a GREAT time with his hands.

Everybody in the cell with him including Whitlock seems complacent in light of this and sees this as no real biggie, but they do decide they should leave him behind. No effort to help him or anything, poor sap.

Finally, everybody suits up and arms themselves for a big battle, even though they presumably know that killing these things will leave them ripe for possession. They all get guns, even Dos, the guy who gets high right there on a “black market breather” that “turns your brain into Swiss cheese” in the words of Jericho. He accidentally cuts his thumb off with a machete when trying to impress jump-scare woman by opening a can, everybody has a good laugh, he passes out, wakes up, and Ballard asks him if he’s still alright to go through with this. He nods and gets higher. They still give him a bomb. I guess he’s more headstrong, able-bodied and trustworthy than I believe he’d be at that point, especially considering they’re about to face something that normally only paranoid schizophrenics see. I suppose desperate times call for desperate addicts with guns in this case.

Everybody goes outside, and Uno and Williams each state that they don’t see the Trans Marinara 74 Yankee Doodle Dandy, which should be arriving soon, according to Ballard.

Explosions break out. A bunch of supposedly important buildings get destroyed. The place goes to hell, literally. Deadly dinner plates are thrown.

Man dies from ninja star in Ghosts of Mars.
No final meal for this guy, heh heh heh.

There’s confusion about why the train hasn’t shown up. Ballard gets flustered. Hope seems to wane.

That is until Williams utters a “come on, you mindless motherfuckers” and aims two guns at either side of him, opening fire wildly. His aimless shooting seems to hit most of the demons (must be that sixth sense I mentioned), freeing their souls to allow them to possess others. Seems sort of kind, actually. Everybody starts joining in and freeing more demon souls.

Dos dies in a clumsily caused explosion with his own bomb, because he’s too high to do shit the right way.

More shooting happens.

Bashira the Fuck-Up trips over a dead body dramatically.

Bashira tripping in Ghosts of Mars.

Melee combat ensues.

Uno is possessed.

The deaf and mentally deficient rockstar demon is heard gablabla-ing, followed by cheers even when his army probably doesn’t understand a thing he’s saying.

Demon leader in Ghosts of Mars.
I’d be pissed too if I had all the problems he faces.

Tres gets speared. No more token Native American.

Descanso gets his arm chopped off by one of those dinner plates, but still fights back like nothing happened. Brave man.

Descanso shooting in Ghosts of Mars.

At least he didn’t lose his head like those hanging bodies he hoped he wouldn’t be like.

Descanso gets head cut off in Ghosts of Mars.
I spoke too soon.

Ballard and the rest of the gang lock themselves in, and we find out Uno was Williams’ brother. As soon as Tres hears that Uno didn’t make it, he seems appalled, groans “oh God” and dies instantly to join him.

Meanwhile, outside, Invalid Rockstar Demon does more gablabla-ing and his army seems to listen, responding with tribal chants of “roo-ra”. Badder things seem like they’re soon to come.

By the way, how’s the old guy holding up?

Old man possessed in Ghosts of Mars.

Old man peels face in Ghosts of Mars.

Oh…

Whitlock gives us another flashback to when she worked with the miners, when she sees a red swirl hurling toward her out of a mysterious cliffside hallway and concludes that the wind carries the demons.

Back to the main story flashback and Bashira the Fuck-Up reports that the Trans Marinara’s conductor said the train tracks are blocked, hence the train being unable to arrive.

Whatever happened to the Flirt n’ Fail game?

Jason Statham flirts in Ghosts of Mars.
Oh, never mind.

Jericho leads Ballard to privacy to talk something over when he shuts the door behind him. He hits on her with “I’m kind of clumsy, don’t you think?” Then she asks, “Did you lead me back here to seduce me?” He admits it, basically saying he’s desperate and that she’s not going anywhere, and that he knows she wants it too. She complies by kissing him consensually. So, not-quite-rape-but-nearly-there gets the girl. Got it. Taking notes.

After their brief romance together, we hear gunshots and discover that Bashira the Fuck-Up fucked up again, shooting the possessed old guy. The demon leaves the body and possesses Ballard. She passes out even though this is uncharacteristic of the possession process from what we’ve seen, and the group knows she’s possessed and leaves her outside instead of locking her up.

Jericho’s idea of a possible cure for her possession? Giving her a little tetromonochloride tablet and her lucky necklace. Jericho must be an understated genius because when Ballard trips about Earth and water again, it frees her from the possession. I guess demons really hate things that aren’t red. It’s definitely symbolic of good vs. evil.

Now that I think of it, something seems familiar to me about her sweaty facial expression here:

Natasha Henstridge tripping in Ghosts of Mars.

Oh, right. I know that beautiful eyes-peering-into-skull look from the best film of her career, Species II.

Eve in Species II.

Actually, I recall it back in the first one as well, when she dreams about H.R. Giger trains and hot alien sex.

Sil healing herself in Species.

Coming back to this film, Ballard pukes the violet-hued demon.

Melanie Ballard expels demon in Ghosts of Mars.

Cut to the present, er, future, or whatever, and Ballard verbalizes everything we just saw to the council without adding any revealing psychological insight apart from “I felt like I was being possessed.” I suppose this is Carpenter’s way of saying, “Do you really need everything explained for you?” Thanks for letting me keep my imagination, John.

When we fade back to the main story flashback, Ballard is outside and some heavy metal guitar riffs signify an angry demon, which she fights. She then creates a makeshift rappel to get back into the building where everybody else is.

Jericho asks her if she’s really her and she says yes. That’s enough to convince everybody and they let her back in. Jericho knew what he was doing after all, or his mating instincts convinced him of the truth.

Back inside, Williams realizes that killing the possessed isn’t a good thing, but pretty soon he and Ballard are blowing away hordes of them that break into the place. Surprisingly, they don’t drop any of those white pills before or afterwards to help prevent possession.

Invalid Rockstar Demon crashes through the roof, gets burned almost immediately and subsequently gets frustrated. It’s quite sad, actually.

Angry burned demon in Ghosts of Mars.
Don’t worry, you poor soul, we know you’ll kill these condescending assholes.

Bashira manages to contact the train by climbing higher up a little comm tower, and it’s the first time Bashira the Fuck-Up has done the opposite of fucking up. Everybody makes their way to the train by traveling in one of the land vehicles to it, and then you expect the movie to end at this point. However, that still leaves the question of “what happened to everybody at the beginning of the film?” Carpenter doesn’t leave us with false hope for our heroes for too long, however.

As Ballard appears to contemplate her safety and comfort, and ultimately come to the conclusion that she’s unhappy with it, she tells the crew, “We have to go back.” They could leave this mess behind, but we know there has to be one last standoff to end the Martian demon menace once and for all, and have one last final battle set to some awesome pulse-pounding metal.

Ballard even mentions that “it’s not their planet anymore,” which actually makes me perceive these humans as invaders, ruining the once-peaceful lives of Invalid Rockstar Demon and his large family of crusaders. Is Carpenter making a self-deprecating statement about humanity being a cancer spreading across the galaxy? It certainly seems so.

So, the team goes back after Ballard convinces everyone but Williams that she’s right with her angelic face. Williams winds up relenting his cynical ways and joins them, however.

Whitlock, in one of her cocky, butch and all-knowing moods, tells Ballard that a small atomic explosion caused by blowing up the nuclear power station could end all of this. So, this fresh, newly terraformed planet is basically turning into Earth all over again.

Ballard agrees it’s an excellent idea.

Everybody then initiates a final shootout that puts the end of the atrocious Scarface to shame. To start it off, Ballard, Whitlock and Jericho leave the train before it gets to the appropriate stop to try to sneak around the demons that are expecting the train to return at that spot, I guess.

The train pulls up and the demons, sure enough, come running with knives as they get blown away by the guys on the train.

Ballard spots Invalid Rockstar Demon not joining in with his chaotic family.

Angry demon in Ghosts of Mars.
“And you think I’m the retarded one.”

Invalid spots her as well and proceeds to gablabla to let everybody know they’ve been psyched. Needless to say, the atomic bomb idea didn’t go quite as planned, although Ballard does still manage to put it into place.

A bunch of running happens, shooting happens, explosions happen, the whole nine yards (hah, another Natasha Henstridge movie), and it appears as though Bashira the Fuck-Up has become badass enough to drop that last part of her name.

Bashira shooting in Ghosts of Mars.

Those pesky dinner plates kill the train conductor, who was obviously too generic.

Ninja star plates in Ghosts of Mars.

And Whitlock gets possessed.

Whitlock gets possessed in Ghosts of Mars.

Bashira impressively manages to dodge a couple of the dinner plates,

Clea DuVall is decapitated in Ghosts of Mars.

but then becomes Bashira the Fuck-Up for the last time.

Jericho gets killed by a group of demons that surround him, and another generic guy who was on the train for the whole film gets his throat slit and promptly dies.

Williams gets the train on the move with Ballard, and I suppose Whitlock settled down with her demon because she’s never seen again.

Some deaf-sounding demons yelling gibberish manage to get on top of the train and bust in, including Invalid Rockstar Demon, who faces off our two remaining heroes to the bitter end.

Williams deals with them by gathering a shit ton of bombs left on the train and creates a makeshift mini-nuke, but not before having to fight Rockstar in close-quarters combat. Ballard does the same with another one, but overpowers him like she had with Uno earlier, and throws it off the train. I guess he just wanted to have a chance at getting laid for once. I don’t blame him.

Williams detaches the train car with Invalid Rockstar Demon on it, and he lets out one final yell of exasperated frustration, displaying a straddle to express his perceived superiority as he succumbs to a shit ton of flames.

Demon explodes in Ghosts of Mars.
No mentally challenged person has ever made it this far. Admirable.

Following that explosion, Ballard demands Williams to “say your prayers” as she remotely causes the atomic explosion to go off, which presumably sets all of the demons free. How nice of her in the long run.

After stitching up Ballard’s wounds while they’re on-course to Chryse, Williams kindly handcuffs her to the bed and seems as if he’s about to get kinky with her, but instead he simply bids her farewell, even after she had just explained a plan to set him free by fabricating a convincing story to tell the authorities. In the end, it can’t be any clearer that you can’t trust the black man. He leaves the train and she smiles as he does, and at that exact moment it occurred to me that she couldn’t care less that Jericho the persistent kisser didn’t make it back from the mining town.

Natasha Henstridge smiling in Ghosts of Mars.
“I’m fucking glad that pig won’t live to convince me to let him rape me again.”

Ballard concludes her little story, explaining that she fell asleep and didn’t know what happened to Williams.

All seems nearly good and done, as the council believes she could be innocent while remaining skeptical of the ghost story, and it looks like we’ve got a bittersweet end to the story.

But wait!

Natasha Henstridge scared in Ghosts of Mars.

Noise occurs while Ballard is sleeping, which sounds like random chaos, and wakes her up. Could it be that wiping out all of those people at the mining town initiated an epidemic of demon spirits, knocking it out of containment? It would appear that way, as Williams enters her hospital recovery room and tosses her a pretty silver futuristic semi-automatic.

“Time is up. Time to stay alive,” Williams says, winking with unwavering confidence.

He tells her she would make a good criminal, and she tells him he would make a good cop. Hehehe, right. They both share a laugh about that one too, and they walk off into the credits as Ice Cube breaks the fourth wall, hinting that the audience is finally a part of this now as well.

Ice Cube looks at camera in Ghosts of Mars.

I honestly believe this is Carpenter’s finest effort to-date, as he takes what could have been a genuinely terrorizing horror film and transforms it into a sad examination of the human condition: invade a planet, disturb its innate population, change the planet to better suit your needs and destroy the natives over and over until they’re finally gone for good, even if it should be clear that you’re dealing with an invincible force. It’s a theme of perpetual futility, and I wind up hating the humans and rooting for the demons in the end, which I’m sure is what Carpenter set out to accomplish.

A shining example of cinematic excellence. My rating? 5 out of 5 possible stars, hands down, but thumbs up.

To add this film to your wonderful horror-science-fiction collection, buy John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars at Amazon new for around $6 or even used from tragically much lower prices.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s