Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Monday, May 04, 2009


Just saw this again for the tenth time and have to chime back in how much I love John Carpenter's GHOSTS OF MARS, even if it puts me on the outs with just about everybody... except Temple of Schlock. Look, it's a freakin' comedy, people! No one got BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA either when if first came out. It's Brechtian! I have a Carpenter-autographed movie poster for it.

1. Natasha Henstridge - Melanie Ballard. If Snake Plissken were a cop - Henstridge would still be more cooler. Somehow she's nurturing and nihilistic at the same time. The only way anyone can be this good is to not even be aware of what they're doing... she's a Godardian savant.

2. Lesbians Rule the Planet - The whole planet is basically gay with a few exceptions, such as Statham and Henstridge, creating an inverse of the sexual politics on earth -- a great touch that's not even really explored, as Carpenter just doesn't have time.

3. Ice Cube - He's really giving it his full attention here, with a great array of "game faces"- he looks like a little kid playing war AND he busts out his crackly soft vulnerable voice several times - "my brother and I been in a lot of battles." He's in the zone.

4. Jason Statham - I used to not be that into him and his Saxon bullet head, but TRANSPORTER 3 changed everything. Now I love him. And anyway, how many guys would be cool enough to think of using psychedelics to "exorcise" invading Martian demons spirits? "This will fuck with anything that's in there."

5. A badass black train (pictured at left): it's a sci fi western TRAIN movie!

6. Red and black color scheme, Impact fonts, red rocks and black or red skies -- it feels like I created this movie in my dreams!

7. Hilarious stunts - The kind where every explosion is just an excuse for stuntmen to go flying through the air, waving their limbs and going "Yaaargh!"

8. Joanna Cassidy - the legendary Zora from Bladerunner, still in the game.

9. The Monsters themselves - a mix of "psych ward" neo-pagan hippie meth heads at a Grateful Dead show and the Kiss Army crossed with Humongous' posse in THE ROAD WARRIOR (Aka MAD MAX 2). Not the least bit scary or terribly original, but hilarious.

10. Balloon escape flashback!

Lastly, a sampling of 'great' lines from the film:
"This is a discovery hearing!" (head of the Mars Matriarchy to Melanie)

"I've got a mystical way with locks and mechanical objects." (Statham to Melanie)

"Maybe I'd sleep you with you if you were the last man on earth, but we're not on earth." (Melanie to Statham)

"I can't let you take the rookie." (Melanie to Desolation)

"I don't understand you at all, Desolation." (Melanie to Ice Cube)

"You think there's a difference between you and me? You just got the woman behind your bullshit. Look at you... You look high right now." (Cube to Melanie)

"That's a laffer: uses a fifty percent nitrous mix" (Statham, explaining - since its Mars people use breathers) 
"Yo Lady, we don't see no train."

"I swear to you, Williams, as soon as I get back I'm gonna tell them all about this fucked up planet." (Melanie to Cube)

"See you later, you big motherfucker!" (Cube to Big Daddy Mars, before blowing him up)
I didn't even mention Pam Grier as the lesbian police squad captain, or the awesome 1980s metal soundtrack (Carpenter jamming with members of Anthrax!) If you don't need a film to be by Godard for it to thrill you with Brechtian post-modernism and deadpan wisecracks, with drugs and 'so shoot me' ambivalence, then give GHOSTS another chance. To get in the mood, you can also check out my 2004 article "Death Driving Miss Henstridge: Deproductive Freedom and The Ghosts of Mars" on the main Acidemic site.

And don't worry, this is a discovery hearing!


  1. Anonymous04 May, 2009

    need this in my life

    thanks for the article

  2. Love, love, love Ghosts Of Mars, but you're right..we're in a definite minority! Also just discovered your blog and it's great! Please stop my new blog and say howdy. I've linked to you...hope you don't mind. I really enjoy your writing. I plan to do more on film on mine, soon including re-publishing some reviews I wrote for a major newspaper as a little fuck-you for laying me off!

  3. PS...Got a kick out of your variation on the quote from "In a Lonely Place" (one of my all time faves) in your profile.

  4. "If you don't need a film to be by Godard for it to thrill you with Brechtian post-modernism and deadpan in-jokes, then give GHOSTS another chance."

    Good Christ, may actually provoke us to give this film a second chance. (we sigh)

  5. As Melanie Ballard says when trying to get the train conductor to turn back and attack the martians: "The answer's Yes!"

  6. Put me down as another who appreciates this highly criticized, but underrated Carpenter film. And, you expressed why that is well. Great post. Thanks for this.