Ghosts Of Mars, meanwhile, came out in 2001, a point in Carpenter’s career where he admitted that he’d “burned out” creatively. A sci-fi horror mash-up about cops and criminals under siege from an army of Martian-possessed people, it sounded on paper like it should have everything going for it – which we’ll cover very soon – but somehow, none of it gelled into a satisfying whole. The movie made only half of its $14million budget back at the box office. And it marked Carpenter’s temporary retirement from feature filmmaking.
Like so many science fiction films and TV shows. Ghosts Of Mars (Bong Ma Tren Sao Hoa) resorted to some rather lo-fi means of recreating the look of an alien planet. In this case, a gypsum mine on the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico were pressed into service as Mars. The problem, though, was that the natural cover of the mine’s rocks didn’t look especially Martian, so gallons of food colouring had to be used to stain them red.
Although some of the efforts to convince us that we’re looking at a settlement on Mars aren’t bad. Some of the interior sets are quite good, as are the miniature effects used to create an armoured Martian train. It has to be said that the exterior shots really do look like they’ve been shot in the middle of a terrestrial colony at night. Fortunately, the landscape will soon be covered in far too many severed limbs to notice too much.
When Ghosts Of Mars begins, Ballard’s found alone on the train. And the rest of the film’s violent events are a flashback. As Ballard recounts her sorry tale to some sort of tribunal. But in a nod to the narrative complexity of the gothic novel Wuthering Heights, Ghosts Of Mars doesn’t stop there.
During the bit where we see the demonic events unfold at Shining Canyon – that is. The main bulk of the film – Jason Statham’s Sergeant Jericho shows up at the colony’s main building with three extra survivors. “Where the hell did you find these?” Ballard asks.
As Jericho explains, he gets a flashback of his own, where we see him exploring a shed shortly after finding Pam Grier’s head on a spike, and discovers the three survivors within it. He then has a bit of a conversation with them, in which he asks them what happened to the colony. This then triggers a further flashback from the survivor’s perspective, as he describes seeing the demons possess the bodies of miners, and all the bloody things that happened next.
Flashbacks are nothing new in movies, and if they’re used carefully, they can be quite effective. The original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers has one, largely to avoid an originally intended bleak ending. But it’s inconspicuous enough that you almost forget that it exists. The same’s true of Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way.
In Ghosts Of Mars , though, you’re constantly being reminded that what you’re seeing is a flashback. Because the story keeps cutting back to Ballard recounting her tale to the tribunal after all that’s happened. This makes Carpenter’s film relatively unusual, in that it’s essentially providing spoilers for itself before every major event.
Even towards the end, where Ballard and her crew have a chance to escape on their armoured train but decide to set off an explosion to get rid of the demons. The film cuts back to Ballard sitting in a chair and saying, “It was a simple plan. The only problem was it didn’t work how it was supposed to.”
Well, thanks for spoiling the surprise, Natasha Henstridge. Unfortunately, the gigantic explosion didn’t kill the demons. And the end of the film hints at a potential sequel: a gigantic demonic invasion hits Mars’ main city. And we see Desolation Williams and Ballard head off to war with their shiny machine guns.
Had Ghosts Of Mars been a hit, the sequel probably would have seen Desolation and Ballard high on anti-demon pills. And furthering the spread of possession by cheerfully shooting every human in their way.