John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars

Starring: Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge
RRP: £5.99
C820 8682
Certificate: 15
Available now

The year is 2176 (not 2025 as stated on the back of the video) and humans have been colonising the red planet for some time. But when a police unit is sent to a remote region to escort a dangerous prisoner, they discover a far greater threat. Ancient Martian spirits have been released, which can take control of human hosts and which regard us as invaders...

While not of the same calibre as many of John Carpenter's earlier movies, such as Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13 (the plot of which this 2001 film somewhat resembles), Ghosts of Mars still has things going for it, most notably the Martians themselves.

As disembodied spirits inhabiting human hosts, they provide an unstoppable menace. Kill as many of their host bodies as you like, but they just take possession of more and rise up again. This is a quite modestly budgeted film, so devising human "monsters" was a clever move on Carpenter's part. The possessed hosts themselves are a disturbing and horrific sight to behold, having a gruesome penchant for self-mutilation. The aliens' murderous actions do seem a bit illogical - if they were to kill all the humans they wouldn't have access to any spare host bodies - but then they don't come across as the most rational creatures ever to inhabit the big wide universe.

Natasha (Species) Henstridge is the hunted rather than the hunter this time around, in the role of police lieutenant Melanie Ballard. She gives a decent performance, though she is not given the best dialogue to work with. Curiously, she appears not to realise that she has stumbled upon an antidote to the alien ghosts, simply attributing it to human will power, but perhaps this is a deliberate and subtle comment upon our own delusions of grandeur.

Ballard finds an unlikely teammate in the shape of criminal James "Demolition" Williams (Ice Cube), a felon who makes good in the battle against the monsters. As such, he is very much cast in the mould of Vin Diesel's Riddick in Pitch Black.

It isn't the most original sci-fi/horror movie ever made, but Ghosts of Mars contains some good and scary moments and some interesting ideas.

Richard McGinlay

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