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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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: BODY BAGS (1993)

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BODY BAGS (1993)

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Body Bags is a made for TV anthology the was produced, partially directed, and hosted by the great John Carpenter for Showtime in 1993. It’s an anthology of three unrelated stories linked by a morgue set framing segment with a creepy attendant (John Carpenter) relating the stories behind his latest corpses.

The first story is directed by Carpenter and is the best. The Gas Station is set in Haddonefield and finds a pretty night shift gas station attendant (Alex Datcher) on her first night of duty with a serial killer on the loose. It’s a spooky and suspenseful segment with Robert Carradine and David Naughton also starring and fun cameo appearances by the likes of Wes Craven and Sam Raimi along with Carpenter regulars Buck Flower and Peter Jason.

Second story is also directed by Carpenter and is sadly the weakest. The satirical Hair tells the story of vain middle aged Richard (Stacy Keach), who is frantic over his thinning hair. His sexy girlfriend Megan (Sheena Easton) doesn’t mind, but Richard is desperate. He turns to a TV pitchman, Dr. Lock (David Warner) who claims he can regrow lost hair with a revolutionary new process. Richard goes for it, but to his horror finds out you must be careful what you wish for, as his new hair seems to have a life of it’s own. Segment is well done, but more humorous and silly than scary. The segment also stars legendary singer Deborah Harry as a sexy nurse.

Third and final segment rebounds a bit with Tobe Hooper’s Eye. This segment finds minor league baseball player and expectant father Brent (Mark Hamill) loosing one of his eyes in a car accident. His career potentially over, he turns to a Dr. Lang (John Agar) who claims he has a new eye transplanting procedure that he’d like to try on Brent. His sight is restored, but while on recovery he starts to have strange visions and his behavior begins to change. Soon he finds out that his eye belonged to a serial killer and that killer might still somehow be possessing his eyes new owner. It has some very effective moments, a good performance by Hamill and some decent gore. Segment also stars singer/actress Twiggy as Brent’s wife and the legendary Roger Corman as Brent’s original doctor.

The three stories and wraparound were written by Billy Brown and Dan Angel and they could have used a bit more inventiveness, especially with the story similarities within the last two tales. Nonetheless they are all entertaining and with such guidance as Hooper and Carpenter, make for an entertaining enough 90 minutes. Carpenter seems to be having a blast playing the morgue attendant and his first segment shows he still has that magic. Originally this was intended to be a series, but for whatever reasons, it never happened beyond this initial flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 body bags.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: WAVELENGTH (1983)

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wavelength

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WAVELENGTH (1983)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Wavelength is a cool and unique little sci-fi thriller that sadly has faded into obscurity and never gotten a proper DVD, much less Blu-Ray release. It’s atmospheric soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is easier to come by than the movie and hopefully someday this entertaining little flick gets it’s proper due!

The film tells the story of down-on-his-luck guitarist Bobby (Robert Carradine), who lives in the Hollywood Hills near an abandoned military facility. Bobby’s dog starts acting strangely, barking in the direction of the government owned building and his new artist girlfriend Iris (Cherie Currie), claims to be getting some sort of voices in her head emanating from that very structure. Bobby decides to take Iris and check the old building out with the help of a neighbor (Keenan Wynn) who worked on it’s construction back in the 40s. Once inside, Bobby and Iris discover, to their horror, that not only is the place filled with personal, but there are three alien visitors being held inside. Apprehended by the military, Bobby is imprisoned and Iris is used to communicate with the extraterrestrial beings. As much prisoners as the innocent alien travelers, Bobby and Iris plan a daring rescue and escape that makes them and their alien companions, fugitives from a military determined to cover-up their mistakes.

Written and directed by Mark Gray, this low budget film isn’t perfect, but it is a little movie that could and succeeds far more than it fails…and it’s failures are small. What makes the story work, years before the similar Starman or The X-Files made them popular, is that it takes two ordinary people we can identify with and thrusts them into a situation in which they’re up against a government conspiracy that the very knowledge of, makes their lives forfeit. The military are totally the bad guys here as they shot down and now have imprisoned these innocent travelers and their ignorant paranoia and fear keeps the conspiracy going. They plan to eventually make sure Bobby and Iris never see daylight again for what they’ve seen…and they have no intention of ever letting the alien beings go, either. Once they escape, we are there rooting for them to get away, every step. Gray works in subtlety here. He gets some nice tension and suspense simply because we feel for the couple and the aliens and are angry at the ignorant jack-booted mentality of their military captors. He never beats us over the head with any aspect of the story and everything from the action to the FX are all simple and subtle and it’s the emotions from within his tale that make the biggest impact. Never trying to make his small film more than it is, is it’s greatest strength and helps it overcome some of it’s flaws. Those flaws being some weak dialog, some cliche’ characters and a few instances of having a boom appear in his shots. Other than that, this is a quiet, but very effective little sci-fi thriller that never seems to have gotten the attention it deserves. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a darn good movie that proves you don’t need a massive budget to do entertaining and thought-provoking science fiction… and The X-Files wasn’t the first to present this type of situation of alien visitation and sinister cover-ups.

The cast is most noteworthy for having ex-Runaway Cherie Currie as one of it’s leads. Currie seems a bit wooden early on, but as the story gets more intense and requires more of her, she seems to rise to the occasion a bit and does fine enough. The same can be said of Carradine as the guitarist trying to get his career going. A veteran actor already at this point, he doesn’t seem quite comfortable in the role at times, but overall is fine, as his Bobby takes a backseat to Iris as the story progresses. Keenan Wynn does his crotchety old man routine that he can do in his sleep and the rest of the cast are adequate as assorted scientists and villainous military types.

I really like this movie. Sure, it’s pretty low budget and there are no event level scenes or FX, but It’s not that kind of movie. It’s a small and subtle movie about intergalactic travelers who arrive at this planet only to be treated horribly by the inhabitants and two innocent humans who make the mistake of getting in the middle of it. Together they bond to escape the same fate from the same ignorant enemy. It’s the type of story we’ve seen before and have seen many times again, but there is something about the quiet but atmospheric style with which Mark Grey tells his story that makes it work on an emotional level. No better example than a scene where our fugitives take shelter in a church. It’s an effecting scene with minimal dialog. A very enjoyable low budget film that needs a proper release.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 alien visitor occupied containment tubes.

wavelength rating

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