We Want Horror/Sci-Fi/Action: Ghosts Of Mars (2001)

Being a latter day John Carpenter fan has been interesting. Around 1999 when I was first getting interested in horror, I was hearing that Carpenter was a rad director who had maybe lost his touch. Halloween, The Thing and Assault On Precinct 13 were all still considered classics (among plenty of others), but Escape From L.A., Vampires and Ghosts Of Mars seemed to mire is rep in many peoples’ eyes. I think that might have been a good thing for me, because I didn’t go in to all of his movies with expectations of his movies from the late 70s/early 80s. It also might have helped that I saw them mostly out of order, with Vampires either the first or second of his movies I ever saw (and quite liked if memory serves).

So, after seeing his most recent effort, The Ward, I figured I’d check out the movie that made him stop making movies for 10 years: Ghosts Of Mars. Overall, I thought it was an alright movie, but I can see why it might have drained the director. Not only was it a big budget sci-fi/horror flick with lots of series stunts but also a good deal of special effects that maybe should have been done practically (or held off on until a few technological advancements had been made).

The story revolves around a group of cops on Mars heading to a mining colony (or is it a prison colony?) for a prisoner transfer. But it turns out that most of the people in the area have been turned into bloodthirsy killers. The idea is that these Martian organisms died many years ago, but not they’re working their way into humans as a way to keep them from terraforming their planet. It’s a pretty good idea that’s mostly well done, but there are definitely problems.

First and foremost is the goofy script. Stars Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge deliver some real headslappers when it comes to lines. In fact, most of Ice Cube’s shouted dialog sounds like it was added in to give the movie a more 90s urban flare, which is silly considering it takes place on the Mars of the future. Anyway, Jason Statham and Pam Grier came to play and did well. Statham looks a LOT like Bruce Willis in this movie. Anyway, the other problem I had was some pretty craptastic CGI. The mutant/zombie/bad guys throw buzz saw blades as weapons with a strength and accuracy so precise it’s laughable. But the real problem is how bad the special effects look in these scenes. Everything looks good and practical and real and then you see what look like pie plates running across the screen. Ed Wood had better looking flying saucers.

Anyway, at the end of the day, GOM is a good idea with some poor execution. Perhaps, of all of Carpenter’s movies, this one should be remade or added onto instead of his legit classics.

Faculty Advisory

2008-07-10
3:32:44 am

Robert Rodriguez is one of those director’s who’s always impressed me. Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn, Planet Terror and his Mexico Trilogy were all great in my mind. So, when we got our online Blockbuster account I added just about all of his movies, especially looking forward to The Faculty because 15-year-old TJ wasn’t allowed to see it and later TJs never got around to it. Well, the wait was a pretty long one and then, what do you know, we included it in ToyFare’s Best Alien Invasions (see ToyFare #133 on sale today to find out what place it took and who snagged the #1 spot). So, with that, I borrowed the flick and watched it last night.

The Faculty (1998)

Written by Kevin Williamson, David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Starring Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Usher, Josh Hartnett, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Jon Stewart and many more

Well, you can add this one to the list of Rodriguez movies that I dug. Part of it was a sense of nostalgia I got while watching it. It kind of reminded me of Can’t Hardly Wait. Not thematically, but when it comes to star power. There are SO MANY familiar faces in this movie. Just check out the list above. Freakin’ Jon Stewart plays a science teacher who gets possessed by an alien parasite and stabbed in the eye with some kind of caffeine drug. Great stuff.

Oh, I guess I should explain the plot. A small town in Ohio gets invaded by alien parasites who burrow their way into bodies, taking over control of the inhabitant. Elija Wood’s character finds one of the parasites on the football field and later finds himself in a closet with the hot girl as they see the football coach (T-1000 himself Robert Patrick) and another teacher drop a parasite in the hot nurse (Salma Hayek). From there a mismatched group of high schoolers (think basically The Breakfast Club. Don’t know what that is? Go away) bands together and figures out that the drugs that Josh Hartnett’s been peddling around the school can kill them and do their best to stop the invasion.

I really like how they don’t muck about when it comes to the story on this flick. You’re into the story pretty early on with Elija Wood finding the parasite. They don’t mess around with “is this really happening” BS too much that comes with these kinds of movies. You get your set group of characters pretty early on and you strap in for the ride with them. I also like that Matt Parkman’s partner from Heroes (Clea DuVall) actually compares what’s going on to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and all that. She tells Elija Wood about this and he wonders if all the movies and whatnot about aliens is actually a way for them to get people complacent so they don’t think an alien invasion is possible. It’s a great bit of business that feels really natural in “our world.”

Speaking of the cast again, it’s a lot of fun to see some pretty huge actors (along with some not-so-huge and completely unknown actors) in these roles. But they’re also really really convincing in their roles. Elija Wood looks like a huge geek and acts like one too. Josh Hartnett’s loser Zeke is pretty much a genius who just doesn’t like school and deals drugs on campus. They all handle the Thing-like suspense of “who’s an alien and who’s not?” so convincingly that I really couldn’t figure out who was and who wasn’t.

I also liked how the special FX (do they still spell it like that? Probably not, oh well) looked. Especially in the scene where the parasite-controlled Jon Stewart attacks the kids in a classroom. Zeke rips the blade off of a paper cutter and chops Stewart’s fingers off. But they don’t just lie there, the snake themselves towards the kids. But that’s not all, whisps of blood snake out from his fingers until he’s stabbed in the eye, foams and the parasites under his skin die. Crazy stuff.

All in all, this is a fun little romp that shows off Rodriguez’s directing chops along with the acting talent of the cast that has gone on to prove itself just as well as the adults who play the teachers. Oh and Bebe Nuerth looks hot as the principal. Yeah, I said it.