Renowned director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) has had his share of hits and misses during a long career. Among the latter is Ghosts of Mars, a 2001 sci-fi/horror flick that bombed big-time, both critically and at the box office. A true Guilty Pleasure, don’cha know, one that I will watch every year or two until the Mother Ship arrives.

A MISSION GONE BAD

By the twenty-second century Mars has been mostly terraformed (given an Earth-like atmosphere), and humans can walk on its surface without pressure suits. The leadership is primarily matriarchal, with women running the ship. (Sounds like a great idea to me!)

The story opens with police officer Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), looking rather haggard, standing in front of a tribunal and being grilled about a mission that went terribly bad. Ballard and her team had been sent by train to a distant mining outpost to retrieve and transport a dangerous criminal, Desolation Williams (Ice Cube). Most of the story is now told in flashback scenes.

Arriving at the outpost, Ballard and the other officers (including action star Jason Statham) find it mostly deserted, with only a few live bodies—including Williams—safe inside jail cells. A number of mutilated corpses also are discovered. The survivors cannot provide any answers as to what had happened there.

The killer and the cop become unlikely allies.

THEY WERE THERE FIRST

Ballard assumes command after Braddock (Pam Grier), the team’s ranking officer, is murdered. Ultimately she will discover that, while digging, the miners unearthed a doorway created by a long-dead Martian civilization. This released disembodied spirits—the “ghosts” of the title—all of which took possession of the miners, who are now like fast-moving zombies. The ghosts cause the miners to perform gruesome acts of murder and self-mutilation. And, as Ballard learns, killing the host only causes the spirit to find another human to possess. At one point Ballard herself is nearly possessed but is spared because of a drug that she took. That is when she comes to understand why the spirits are attacking them: they see humans as invaders of their world.

The possessed miners make a formidable—and scary—fighting force.

As Ballard’s team dwindles down to a precious few, a plan is hatched. They will blow up the outpost’s nuclear reactor, which will hopefully vaporize all of the spirits. Before it blows they will reach safe distance from the outpost on the train that brought them there. But they will first need to battle their way through a whole lot of possessed miners to reach the reactor, not to mention the return trip to catch the last train outta Dodge. Not the best situation, to be sure.

I will stop here, in case you have any desire to see this film. Be forewarned: it is bloody as hell, and there is a lot of shit blowing up, right up until the end. Ghosts of Mars isn’t for everyone, but if you like plenty of action along with your sci-fi and horror, then this one just might be for you.

MORE SPIRITS SEEKING VENGEANCE

Speaking of pissed-off spirits, my ghost story, The Burning Ground, will be available at $1.99 on a Kindle Countdown Deal from June 6th through June 8th. Quick synopsis: The Maidu Indians wanted no part of the white devils that came to their sacred land to hunt the shiny metal. But in 1849 Gold Rush miners in the Sierra Nevada foothills slaughter nearly all the inhabitants of the village of Kalkalya, trapping their spirits.

Over a century and a half later, a “thief of time”—a grave robber—desecrates the Maidu burial ground in search of artifacts. Now the angry spirits, bent on vengeance, unleash a bloodbath that threatens the nearby, picturesque town of Lodestar, just as hordes of unsuspecting tourists arrive for the annual Labor Day weekend festivities celebrating California’s Gold Rush. The task of preventing further carnage falls upon an unlikely quartet: a former major league pitcher; the tormented town librarian; an elderly descendant of the Maidu people; and a ten-year-old boy—the son of the grave robber whose immoral actions first raised the spirits up from the Burning Ground.

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