ON THIS DAY IN HORROR - August 24th
"GHOSTS OF MARS" released in 2001
In the year 2176, Mars has been partially terraformed allowing humans to walk on the surface and mine deep into the Martian earth for it's valuable minerals. But not all indigenous life on Mars is really dead, when Dr. Arlene Whitlock (Joanna Cassidy) accidentally unleashes the vengeful disembodied spirits of the ancient Martian's who want to reclaim their planet, in John Carpenter's Ghost of Mars!
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Sent to a remote mining camp deep in the Martian desert, police officer Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) and her team - Sergeant Jericho (Jason Statham), rookies Bashira Kincaid (Clea DuVall) and Michael Descanso (Liam Waite), and commanding officer Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier) - arrive at the tiny outpost of Shining Canyon to escort notorious criminal, James 'Desolation' Williams (Ice Cube), back for trial. Finding the town deserted, Braddock orders the team to split up - Ballard and Jericho go to the prison to secure Desolation and Braddock takes Kincaid and Descano to the hotel, where they find the hung mutilated bodies of the some of the miners! Meanwhile, Ballard and Jericho find the police station abandoned (except for Desolation and a handful of prisoners still in their cell) and later rejoined by Braddock and the rookies. After questioning the prisoners, including Dr. Arlene Whitlock (Joanna Cassidy) who is in prison by choice, Ballard and Braddock search the rest of the town. While they are gone, Desolation escapes and Ballard manages to corner him in the supplies building - when they are both attacked by a pair of "deranged" miners. Killing them both, Ballard again captures Desolation and he later explains that he is innocent of the "one crime" of murdering the townspeople's, claiming they were dead already when he arrived. Still outside, Jericho follows another of the possessed miners to a canyon behind the town, and discovers Braddock dead and the remaining townspeople have gone crazy, committing horrific acts of death and destruction, along with self-mutilation led by Big Daddy Mars (Richard Cetrone). On the way back, Jericho finds three other survivors - Uno (Duane Davis), Dos (Lobo Sebastian), and Tres (Rodney A. Grant) - and takes them back to the jail, when they reveal they are friends of Desolation and were there to break him out of jail before all the miners went crazy after a strange "red mist" covered the entire town. The group is again attacked by a possessed Deputy who was hiding in the station. Scared, Whitlock hastily explains that she was originally from a town further up the valley, Trucker's Ridge, where they discovered a secret underground passage created by an ancient Martian civilization. When the door was opened it released disembodied spirits or "ghosts", which took possession of the miners. Whitlock escaped only for the spirits to travel (appearing as a massive red dust cloud) to Shining Canyon behind her and possess the miners there as well. Whitlock also explains that killing a possessed human merely releases the Martian spirit to possess another human. Barricading themselves in the police station, Ballard assumes command and must find a way to save themselves from the deranged horde outside and destroy the spirits possessing them before the ghosts of Mars eradicate all human life on Mars!
Melanie Ballard: Look, if we even get back to Chryse, those things will just keep coming. We've got a chance here. We got a chance to stop this thing before it goes any further. This is about one thing: dominion. It's not their planet anymore.
Bashira Kincaid: What about him? Isn't it our job to take him back?
Jericho Butler: Is he still a prisoner, or is he one of us?
Desolation Williams: I can give a damn about saving this planet. Seems like it was after me since the day I was born. If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die fighting, not running.
Top: "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube) and Lt. Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) board the freight train to escape the valley;
Above: The leader of the possessed miners, Big Daddy Mars (Richard Cetrone)
Ghosts of Mars originally started off as a potential Snake Plissken sequel, entitled Escape from Mars. According to Carpenter, the story would have been largely much the same, however, after Escape from L.A. failed to make much money at the box office, the studio did not wish to make another Plissken movie. Changing the character of Snake Plissken to "Desolation" Williams, Carpenter rewrote the screenplay with writer Larry Sulkis. Not among their priorities was any kind of scientific accuracy; Mars has approximately 1/3 Earth's gravity though no effort is made to simulate that or depict the problems or advantages that would come with it, nor to explain the apparently earth-normal Gravity. In the story, Mars is 80% terraformed, yet there's no plant life to help maintain the oxygen in the atmosphere or enrich the soil. The planet still looks super-sterile of other life forms, and it's mentioned that people only need breathing masks now instead of full face masks, yet all they wear is safety glasses!
Michelle Yeoh, Franka Potente and Famke Janssen were the first choices for the role of Melanie Ballard, but they turned it down. Courtney Love was originally cast, but she left the project after her then-boyfriend's ex-wife ran over her foot in her car while she was in training for the picture. Natasha Henstridge replaced her by the suggestion of her then-boyfriend Liam Waite (who also plays rookie officer Michael Descanso in the movie) and was able to join the cast just a week before production began. The actress found the experience to be very harrowing, due to the heavily physical nature of her role and the difficult working conditions. Jason Statham was originally hired to play James "Desolation" Williams, but was replaced by Ice Cube by the studio for his star power, and was given the role of Sgt. Jericho Butler instead.
TRIVIA: The film is considered to be a futuristic remake of John Carpenter's 1976 classic Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).
Top: Director John Carpenter with Ice Cube on set;
Above: Carpenter lines up a shot on location
Filmed entirely at night, much of the location shooting was done on a gypsum mine near Albuquerque, New Mexico. The gypsum, which is almost pure white, was sprayed with a biodegradable red food dye to give the appearance of a Martian landscape. Production had to shut down for a week when Natasha Henstridge fell ill due to extreme exhaustion, as she had just done two other films back-to-back (Second Skin and Kevin of the North) before joining the production at the last moment. Richard Cetrone (playing Big Daddy Mars) also had difficulty on set with his prosthetics that the he wears in the film were rather too large for his mouth and resulted in most of the "ghost-speak" having only the "a" vowel sound (although most of his dialogue simply invovled Cretrone having to howl!). As usual with all his films, John carpenter also provided the score for the film with music producer Bruce Robb also bringing in famed heavy metal band Anthrax to contribute to the music (according to Carpenter he had originally filmed the movie listening to Metallica). The film's score is entirely original and was recorded by Robb at his Cherokee Studios in Hollywood.
Ghosts of Mars was a critical and commercial failure. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 21% with the consensus stating "John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is not one of Carpenter's better movies, filled as it is with bad dialogue, bad acting, confusing flashbacks, and scenes that are more campy than scary." Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic.com suggested that the film was symbolic of 'Carpenter at rock bottom.' According to press reviews factors contributing to the box office failure of the film included "poor set designs, hammy acting and a poorly developed script". John Carpenter revealed after the movie's failure that he had become burnt out after he had made Ghosts of Mars - and decided to leave Hollywood for good. It would not be until 2010 that he made another full feature film, The Ward (2010), almost nine years later.
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 21%