TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)

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GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)

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Ghosts of Mars was John Carpenter’s last film before he took an almost decade long break from filmmaking. The movie takes place in the future where Earth is terraforming and colonizing Mars. A squad of police officers, including Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), Sgt. Jericho Butler (Jason Statham) and Cmd. Helena Braddock (Pam Grier), are sent to a small mining outpost to collect career criminal James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube), who is suspected of robbing a payroll delivery and brutally murdering six people. What they find, aside from a jailed Williams, is that an ancient evil has been released by the miners and has taken over the colonists and turned them into savage killers. Now trapped and outnumbered, they have to join forces with Williams, his criminal posse, and the other inmates, to survive.

Film is directed by Carpenter from a script by he and Larry Sulkis. Carpenter’s appreciation for British writer Nigel Kneale is evident here as Ghosts has elements of Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit (also known as Five Million Years to Earth) and Carpenter’s own Assault on Precinct 13. We have the spirit forms of an ancient Martian race of savage warriors released from their tomb and possessing individuals, turning them into savage blood-thirsty killers, who are determined to oust the human invaders. This forces cop and criminal alike to team up to survive, as the Martians lay siege to the outpost prison. The film was not a success back in the day, but looking back it’s not as bad as it’s reputation suggests, though still one of Carpenter’s lesser efforts. There is plenty of action, abundant bloodletting and gore and the SPFX are charmingly old school on GOM’s modest budget. Carpenter had a little fun with telling certain scenes from different POVs and it has some spooky moments when dealing with it’s Martian specters, who can move from one host to another when a previous host is felled. The Martians themselves are creepy with bizarre face paint and gory body piercings. It’s only when their leader (Richard Cetrone) speaks that the scenes loose their potency as he seems to be uttering gibberish and not an actual structured language, like say, Klingon or any of the Star Wars aliens. It’s a bit distracting, but thankfully those scenes are brief and few. Overall, the film is derivative, but Carpenter still crafts a fun, action/horror with a good cast and some entertaining character interaction. One of Carpenter’s strong points has always been memorable characters and it’s no different here.

As for the cast playing those characters, Natasha Henstridge makes a strong lead in what Carpenter’s intro describes as a matriarchal society. Ballard is a fighter with her own issues and she and Ice Cube work well together. As Williams, Ice Cube is solid as the criminal with a bit of a code of honor. Sure, someone with a bit stronger screen presence, like Wesley Snipes, could have taken Williams into Snake Plissken territory, but Cube is more than efficient. Statham is good as the cocky and horny Jericho Butler and it’s interesting seeing him in a supporting role, before he became a top action star. Pam Grier is every bit the legend she is as the tough Cmd. Braddock and Joanna Cassidy is good as a scientist responsible for the Martians’ release. She supplies a lot of the exposition we need, as does a clever sequence of a stoned and possessed Ballard that fills in the backstory. Supporting cast include Clea DuVall (The Faculty), an imposing Richard Cetrone as the Martian war chief and small roles from Carpenter regular Peter Jason and Robert Carradine as train operators.

Maybe it’s the nostalgia, but all these years later this flick doesn’t seem quite as disappointing as it first did on opening day in 2001. GOM is still not Carpenter’s strongest work, or most original flick, but it’s also not his worst flick either. Carpenter crafts an entertaining action flick, with some spooky sci-fi/horror elements and has a good cast. It’s not perfect, but he does add some inventive touches and moments to a derivative story and it moves quickly at just under an hour and 40 minutes. Gary B. Kibbe provides some nice cinematography for Carpenter’s shots and Carpenter himself provides a rock heavy score with some famous names guesting on it, like Steve Vai, Anthrax and Buckethead*. GOM does show signs of a filmmaker getting tired of the whole process, but also one who can still make good use out of a familiar story and on a modest budget.

*Complete track listing with guest artists listed below trailer!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) angry red planets.

 

 

 

 

 

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GHOSTS OF MARS TRACK LISTING w/guest artists (list originally posted on Wikipedia)

  1. “Ghosts of Mars” (3:42) – Steve Vai, Bucket Baker & John Carpenter
  2. “Love Siege” (4:37) – Buckethead, Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax (Scott Ian, Paul Crook, Frank Bello & Charlie Benante)
  3. “Fighty Train” (3:16) – Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  4. “Visions of Earth” (4:08) – Elliot Easton & John Carpenter
  5. “Slashing Gash” (2:46) – Elliot Easton & John Carpenter
  6. “Kick Ass” (6:06) – Buckethead, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  7. “Power Station” (4:37) – Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  8. “Can’t Let You Go” (2:18) – Stone (J.J. Garcia, Brian James & Brad Wilson), John Carpenter, Bruce Robb & Joe Robb
  9. “Dismemberment Blues” (2:53) – Elliot Easton, John Carpenter & Stone
  10. “Fighting Mad” (2:41) – Buckethead & John Carpenter
  11. “Pam Grier’s Head” (2:35) – Elliot Easton, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  12. “Ghost Popping” (3:20) – Steve Vai, Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE FACULTY and DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

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THE FACULTY (1998)

The Faculty plays basically like a high school version of The Thing with elements of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and Night Of The Creeps thrown in for good measure. But since it’s from pop-culture horror writer extraordinaire Kevin Williams (Scream) and director and film geek Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), we know this is intentional and they playfully acknowledge their homage with some high school versions of some of those movies’ most famous scenes and some outright character references to those original works.

This tale of an alien invasion that starts in a small town Ohio high school has a group of five students, including mean girl Delilah (Jordana Brewster), geek Casey (Elijah Wood), rebel Zeke (Josh Hartnett), goth Stokely (Clea DuVall) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) facing the alien menace which starts by assimilating the school faculty. And what a faculty we have with Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek and Piper Laurie, to name a few. Of course no one believes them that aliens are among us and up to no good and as the adults are assimilated by the alien’s slimy slug-like swarm, they are soon outnumbered and being hunted with no one to turn to but each other. Now the 5 must overcome their differences and mistrust, to find the alien queen, destroy it and save the school and the planet.

Rodriguez wisely plays it straight and lets the material provide the fun. He knows not to make a joke out of what basically is a silly sci-fi story, but he never takes things too seriously that we don’t have a good time watching our teens battling alien drones that once were their teachers and friends and trying to convince themselves that this is actually happening. Sure we’ve seen it all before, from the doubting adults to the paranoia over who is an alien and who is human, but that is part of the fun. Rodriguez knows we’re familiar with this type of story and uses our familiarity to sometimes pull the wool over our eyes and play with our expectations. And when he doesn’t do that, he simply delivers what we want expect, as with the final showdown between our heroes and the big bad alien bitch herself. It’s not perfect, sometimes the familiarity of the material works against it and a few of the classic film scenes recreated are a bit too obvious, but overall it’s an entertaining movie with some really good SPFX and a cast who knows exactly when to take things seriously and when to camp it up a bit and have a good time. And the large ensemble cast, also including Jon Stewart and Usher Raymond, are all up to the task with Patrick and Janssen especially chewing up the scenery when appropriate.

The 1998 film is a bit dated at this point, but if you enjoy the Scream era horror flicks then you won’t mind it. It’s not old enough for nostalgic charm just yet, but it will be soon enough. A fun movie from an era where pop-culture references and horror went hand in hand quite often.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) high school hunting alien queens!

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DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (1998) 

This late 90s flick tells the story of high school student Steve Clark (James Marsden) and his sister Lindsay (a pre-Ginger Snaps Katherine Isabelle) who move with their parents from Chicago to the quaint remote community of Cradle Bay, Wa. A community that seems to be run by the elite high school varsity Blue Ribbons, a group of clean cut teens with valedictorian goals. But Steve bonds with outcasts Strick (Nick Stahl), Rachel (Katie Holmes) and U.V. (Chad E. Donella) who warn him that all is not right with the picture perfect Blue Ribbons. Soon he finds out his friends are not being paranoid, as the Blue Ribbons acquire some surprising new members, including Strick and these honor society students seem to easily and violently react whenever they face normal teenage emotional turmoil. Even more suspicious, is the Jim Jones-like Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) the man behind the ‘seminars’ that recruit Blue Ribbons members. Is this some kind of cult or is Caldicott more Dr. Frankenstein then Dr. Phil?

Disturbing Behavior is an entertaining flick from X-Files episode director David Nutter and does play very much like an episode of that classic show. Which isn’t a bad thing. Nutter gets some good suspense and chills out of Scott Rosenberg’s script and gives this high school Stepford Wives some nice atmoshere. Not everything works. There are a few of the Blue Ribbon melt-down scenes that come across as silly rather then disturbing and the film’s climactic confrontation with Steve and Rachel being hunted down by the Blue Ribbons and their deranged creator at the edge of a dam ends in an equally silly denouement.

The cast perform well, for the most part, with Marsden making a fine hero, Holmes making a feisty rebel-chick and Greenwood an appropriately charismatic yet slimy villain. Sadly, the usually dependable William Sadler overacts as the school janitor Dorian and A.J. Buckley hams it up a bit too much as the short circuiting Blue Ribbon with a crush on Rachel and it stands out as the rest of the cast play it straight including bad guy Greenwood. Both these performances give their scenes an element of camp that is not present in the rest of the film, except for the unintentionally goofy climax.

Overall Disturbing Behavior is an entertaining enough thriller that is brought down a few notches by some campy performances and a few scenes that didn’t quite work, but David Nutter does provide enough suspense and chills to keep it afloat and it deserves credit for doing it’s own thing and avoiding the pop-culture heavy teen horror of this era. Flawed, but still an entertaining watch.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) hot pre-Cruise Holmes!

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