When "Ghosts of Mars" hit screens in the late summer of 2001, John Carpenter had had a six-year string of disappointing movies to his credit. There was "Vampires," the so-so "Escape From LA," the better-than-average-but-not-up-to-John-Carpenter-standards "In the Mouth of Madness" and the total piece of crap "Village of the Damned."
He came back into form with "Ghosts," the best John Carpenter movie in almost 20 years. The last time he made a movie better than this was with 1982's "The Thing." Some of us were worried that Carpenter had lost his touch. Maybe he had, for a while. But he came back with a vengeance in 2001. Set sometime in the future, the film stars Henstridge as a police lietenant assigned to transfer a dangerous criminal from a Mars mining outpost. In Carpenter's vision of the future, women have taken over society. I was a little worried when I heard Henstridge was starring in this movie, as we all remember her mainly for playing a topless alien woman in the juvenile-high-boy's movie "Species." But she's actually quite wonderful and believable in the role, despite her supermodel good looks. Ice Cube is great as the felon she eventually has to align herself with to survive. As accused killer “Demolition” Williams, he basically just plays himself. Pam Grier has a small part as a commander.
Like the John Carpenter film that inspired this -- "Assault on Precinct 13" -- the cops and criminals find they have to work together when they're suddenly confronted with something totally evil. In "Assault" it was a band of "cholo" gang members reminiscent of the zombies in "Night of the Living Dead." In "Ghosts of Mars" it's a deranged army of humans possessed by the spirits of long-since deceased Martians bent on destroying any species that tries to lay claim to their land. To make things more interesting, whenever the surviving humans kill off one of the possessed miners they themselves have to watch out because they're next in line to be possessed by the same spirit.
Carpenter borrows liberally from "Evil Dead" with this one, with possessed miners going totally nuts once a Martian spirit enters their bodies. When they're not attacking Earthlings with flying discs that behead their targets or mutilating their own bodies, the new Martian recruits take part in tribal rituals and speak in ancient Martian dialects.
The film hearkens back to macho Carpenter films like "Escape From New York" and "The Thing." It also boasts the best original Carpenter score in about 20 years as well. All in all, a very, very, very solid John Carpenter movie and one that marks a true comeback for this legendary director. Those dimwitted film writers that have actually cut this movie down as “too simplistic” don’t get that all of Carpenter’s movies have been simplistic in their own way, and that’s much of their magic. Don’t allow the braindead film critics who love modern crap like Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” fool you. This is horror-sci-fi at its finest and a movie that feels like it sprang from the golden age of horror (i.e., the 1980s).