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Rated R
Copyright 2001 Storm King Productions
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 21 March 2009

The Characters:  

  • Lieutenant Ballard - Natasha Henstridge! She is completely wasted in this role, because she never removes her shirt. Her character has a teeny-weenie problem with recreational hallucinogenic drug use.
  • "Desolation" Williams - Ice Cube! He is considered tough because he talks tough and is almost a criminal. I think that he's not tough, he's just written that way.
  • Sergeant Jericho - For him, all doors would open...except the one he really wanted (the zipper on Lt. Ballard's leather pants).
  • Kincaid & Benchley - Rookie police officers; they are only here to make the occasional mistake and die.
  • Commander Braddock - Pam Grier! Holy headless livid lesbians, Batman!
  • Dr. Whitlock - She released the spiritual plague upon the unsuspecting human colonists. Last seen in the middle of the desert, wearing steel rebar as earrings.
  • Uno, Dos, & Tres - These were Desolation's boyz, until they all died. I wonder if his next three sidekicks will be "Cuatro, Cinco, & Seis."
  • The Ghosts of Mars - Apparently, Mars was once home to a civilization of body-piercing Uruk-Hai punk mimes with bloodshot eyes who all failed metal shop because they would not stop welding random objects together when the teacher was not looking.
  • Big Daddy Mars - Did anyone understand what the heck he was saying?

Buy It!

The Plot: 

This film is a horrible retread of John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13" set on Mars. Perhaps the worst thing about the movie is how the story is told to the audience. Lt. Ballard is discovered handcuffed to the bunk on an empty train that mysteriously arrives at the station in Mars' capital. We are subjected to an exceedingly annoying series of flashbacks that relate the story as Lt. Ballard testifies to Martian Grand Council. So, the story is constantly interrupted as the movie cuts back to Natasha Henstridge in the council chamber. That is annoying; that is really annoying. It is like watching C-SPAN coverage of a Senate subcommittee appointed to oversee septic tank reform legislation.

I have not seen anything that senseless on C-SPAN yet, but I am not letting my guard down. It's my s**t, it's under my yard, and we don't need another law about it.

Anyway, back to this movie (which belongs in the septic tank in my backyard). Cmdr. Braddock and her team are riding the train to a remote mining town to provide escort for a single prisoner. The prisoner is Mr. Williams. That's right, Desolation is considered so dangerous that five officers are required for security.

After the train drops them off and continues on to its other stops, the police officers discover that the outpost is a ghost town. Nobody is on duty at the jail, though the prisoners are all securely locked in their cells. It's only after Ballard and her compatriots start looking around that they discover something has gone terribly wrong. The miners are not sleeping off an early Friday drunk. Most of the town's inhabitants are dead. The police officers find them, headless and hanging upside down, inside the various buildings.

What immediately springs to mind here is that the gruesome slaughter has to be the work of a cult; a cult who hangs people upside down before decapitating them. That there could be a cult with members who routinely hang themselves upside down before chopping off their own heads did occur to me. People have chopped off their own genitalia before committing suicide, because some self-appointed prophet told them, "No wee-wees in the afterlife." I guess that maybe the miners could have killed themselves, but it seems highly unlikely. Cmdr. Braddock thinks so as well. The police officers barricade themselves inside the police station and get to work on unlocking the security door between them and the prisoners.

A question for all you amateur psychiatrists out there: How does one tell a crazy cultist that what they are intending to do is stupid? "Don't drink the cup of berry-flavored cyanide. Don't cut off your wee-wee. No, God doesn't want you to put a plastic bag over your head." - that sort of thing.

Once Sergeant Jericho opens the security door, Desolation wastes no time. He gets the drop on the rookies and escapes into the dusty Martian night. Despite the fact that everyone who was outside of the maximum security jail is either upside down and headless or missing, the police give chase. Cmdr. Braddock encounters the title entities and becomes one of the headless types (though not upside down, and she was only missing until Jericho found her head). Jericho gets a really good look at the blokes responsible for the headless upside down craze: the missing people. They are not missing any more, but they do appear to be crazy. The psychopathic miners are subjecting themselves to extreme self-mutilation. They are also killing anyone they can find with a variety of makeshift weapons, including thrown circular saw blades.

Faced with a mob of industrial workers who have turned their tools of the trade into ghastly weapons of dismemberment, Sergeant Jericho wisely retreats back to the jail. He meets Uno, Dos, and Tres on the way and they tag along. The three newcomers briefly cause a tense standoff, but Lt. Ballard kicks some dusty gangsta butt. Everybody agrees to work together after that. Thank goodness, because the interaction between the characters is just disgraceful.

Among the people freed from the holding cell is Dr. Whitlock. She provides the needed plot filler before the ad hoc force makes their attempt to escape from the jail and get back to the train. The miners have not gone crazy; they are possessed by Martian spirits that were released from an ancient tomb. The Martians are crazy and violent, along with a whole lot of other words that you should never be able to use to describe someone you bring home to meet your mother. They are also indestructible. Ballard and the others can kill the human hosts, but all that does is release the alien ghost to possess another person, quite possibly the same person who shot the first unfortunate flesh vessel.

Knowing that, and the protagonists do, what happens next is incredibly freaking stupid. The group makes a break for the train tracks, discovers that the train still hasn't returned to the station, and then blasts their way back to the relative safety of the jail. The whole time that the nonpossessed humans are doing this they are shooting the attackers. This is not a very good idea. I mean, in "Assault on Precinct 13," part of the wildness was that the gang members were willing to do anything, even die, to destroy the police. The police had no choice but to fight back with everything they had. In "Ghosts of Mars," shooting an attacking Martian meat puppet just means that the spirit is going to take over another one of the defenders.

Do not get me wrong; when a bunch of possessed miners are coming at you, then you have to do something. In this case, I think that shooting them in the kneecaps is the best course of action. Then you could just walk away from the hobbled homicidal maniacs.

Eventually, one of the freed Martian ghosts jumps into Ballard's body, but it does not stay long. Something about Ballard's drug-induced dreams of crashing waves forces the spiritual parasite out before it starts with the piercing and self-mutilation. If I ever found myself inside of Natasha Henstridge's body I would make a beeline for the shower. Barring an exorcism, or an opportunity to occupy someone even more interesting (like Anna Falchi), that is where Natasha/Andrew would spend the rest of eternity. Well, at least until her body was forty-five or so.

The train finally does return to the station, and the rapidly dwindling group of human survivors makes it aboard. Wait, that is way too many people. Only Ballard was aboard the train when the story began. To fix that discrepancy, the ragtag group decides to go back to the town and rig the atomic power plant to explode like a bomb. Maybe nuclear fission can destroy the Ghosts of Mars. Great idea. If it works, the ghosts are history. If it doesn't, well...let's just say that there will be an awful lot of Martians looking for new skin digs.

As you might have guessed, Ballard and Desolation are the only two who make it back aboard the train. He handcuffs her to the sleeping berth before making his getaway, because there is no way that he wants to testify before the Grand Council. It is almost entirely comprised of old white women who ask a lot of questions. That is whack.

After the council hearing is over, the Lieutenant is confined to her quarters. With the night comes the Martian winds, and blowing on the winds is a familiar red glow. As the sounds of pain and suffering echo through the capital the young woman dons her leather uniform. The door to the room opens, and Desolation bursts in with a pair of chrome submachine guns. Reunited, the criminal and the police officer get ready to bling-bling some unkillable alien ghosts to death.

I guess that will work if Ballard and Desolation kill every other single human being on Mars and do nothing but watch surfing movies all day to keep the Ghosts of Mars from taking them over.

A piece of me died as I watched John Carpenter do this...this awful rehash of his earlier film. He made one of my favorite films of all time, "The Thing" (1982), along with cult classics like "Escape from New York" (1981) and "They Live" (1988). Those are Carpenter at his best. This was the opposite end of the spectrum. I harbor quite a bit of resentment for this film, and "Village of the Damned" (1995), because they took part of my innocence.


March is Martian Movie Madness Month! Click on the banner for more reviews.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • The Y chromosome determines if someone will be a lawyer.
  • In the future there are still BC goggles, and they are still sexy.
  • Hot air ballooning and windmills do not mix.
  • Your soul is the existential equivalent of a sea monkey, scientifically speaking.
  • Inhaling the aurora borealis can be hazardous to your health.
  • Never operate a can opener while under the effects of nitrous oxide.
  • Under the right circumstances, 2" steel plate is romantic.
  • It is possible to vomit so hard that your soul comes out.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • Opening Credits - Is this a documentary about Arrakis' public transit system?
  • 7 mins - This medication is obviously meant to be taken with plenty of water...
  • 12 mins - She almost has me sold on immigrating to Mars.
  • 34 mins - I see; now it is "The Woman" instead of "The Man" who is keeping you down.
  • 37 mins - Where is a limited yield nuclear SMAW when you need one?
  • 50 mins - If you keep scratching that, it is only going to get worse.
  • 58 mins - "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" copied this scene right down to the angry armor-plated mime yelling stuff that I cannot for the life of me understand.
  • 69 mins - Whoever improperly placed that razor wire should be flayed to pieces with a homemade scourge.
  • 69 mins - He was already? Great...uh...glad that somebody was on top of that.
  • 73 mins - Wishing for an old-fashioned Thompson, aren't you?

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note ghostsmars1.wav Braddock: "I know you think you're some pretty tough hombres. You've had the best training. You have the best gear. You probably think this is some routine prisoner transfer. That's what I want to bang into your heads: there's nothing routine about this prisoner. We're here to pick up James 'Desolation' Williams. I want you all jack ready and double tough."
Green Music Note ghostsmars2.wav Jericho: "You've got some balls calling him an a**hole to his face. That's Desolation Williams. I heard that he took out at least six when they cornered him at Deimos Station."
Ballard: "Yeah, and this is eight inches. You men love to exaggerate, Jericho. Just goes with the territory."
Jericho: "Yeah, well in my case it's a bit different."
Green Music Note ghostsmars3.wav Ballard: "Let me ask you something, Desolation. If you're so innocent, how come we found all that stolen flash on you?"
Desolation: "I didn't say I was innocent. I said I didn't kill nobody."
Ballard: "Let's say I believe you. What exactly happened at K-305?"
Green Music Note ghostsmars4.wav Desolation: "These my compadres. Uno, Dos, and Tres."
Ballard: "Uno must be the nice one."
Uno: "You got that right, Butchy. I'm not as nice as Desolation, and I'll cut your f***ing t***ies off."
Ballard: (puts him in an arm bar) "Who's in charge here?"
Uno: "You had better let go of my arm."
Ballard: (applies pressure) "Who is in charge here?"
Uno: "You! You, you, you, you, you!"
Green Music NoteTheme Song Listen to a clip from the soundtrack.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipghostsmars1.mpg - 7.2m
I keep trying to decide if Desolation shaking his head "No" while he is shooting is supposed to make him look tough or gangsta, or what...

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