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John Carpenter plays cowboys and Indians on the red planet with Ghosts Of Mars

Illustration for article titled John Carpenter plays cowboys and Indians on the red planet with Ghosts Of Mars

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The genre-blending sequel Riddick inspires five days of space Westerns.


Ghosts Of Mars (2001)

John Carpenter’s love of Westerns was apparent as early as 1976’s Rio Bravo riff Assault On Precinct 13, so it’s no surprise that his 2001 sci-fi/horror actioner, Ghosts Of Mars, also has obvious oater roots. Eschewing revisionist leanings in favor of an unabashed pro-colonial position, Carpenter’s tale (co-written with Larry Sulkis) is set in 2176 on a still-terraforming Mars governed by women. Such female supremacy is embodied by Natasha Henstridge’s badass beauty, a military lieutenant compelled to explain to superiors how a routine prisoner transport mission spiraled into unholy chaos. Told in flashback, that story concerns Henstridge and her cowboy-like compadres boarding a desert-traversing train to pick up Ice Cube’s accused murderer. That task leads to a deserted outpost town, and the discovery that humans’ mining operations have unleashed evil Martian spirits that possess people, compelling them to stick metal in their skin, file their teeth, and mutilate themselves in a manner that—as evidenced by Richard Cetrone’s pale-faced ghoul leader—makes them look like overzealous Marilyn Manson fans.

Ghosts Of Mars’ villains are a somewhat ridiculous bunch, and the film’s dialogue is all cheeseball one-liners. Still, Carpenter’s futuristic Western embraces its B-movie nature to entertaining effect, delivering gory shoot-outs and character-squabbling scenes bolstered by colorful supporting performances from Pam Grier (as the gruff commander), Jason Statham (as the flirtatious tough guy), and Joanna Cassidy (as the cause of the ghostly outbreak). While Carpenter’s demonic indigenous baddies are obvious Native American stand-ins, the director doesn’t press his allegorical points too hard, instead putting most of his effort into making Cube and Henstridge iconic ass-kickers in a Snake Plissken or Jack Burton mold. That’s not a wholly successful endeavor, but the stars’ macho banter does much to keep the proceedings amusingly light, and Carpenter’s direction—in this, his last theatrical feature until 2010’s awful The Ward—remains sturdy, characterized by his typically evocative widescreen imagery.

Availability: Ghosts Of Mars is available on Blu-ray and DVD (which can be obtained through Netflix) and to rent or purchase from the major digital services.