John Carpenter, together with Brian De Palma, are the only active directors who had created a body of work consisting of the representation of a particular, personal world, forged by the mixture of a number of themes and subjects, reinserted on tracks left by classic directors (Hawks and Hitchcock respectively). They make one single movie over and over again, reaching outstanding levels of accomplishment in style and coherence.
Thus `Ghost of Mars' is full of Carpenter's imaginary. The plot, the characters, the tone, everything can be linked to his previous work, most notably `Assault on Precint 13', that was yet a reworking of Hawks' `Rio Bravo'. And that's a significant point regarding this film: despite the zombies, the gore, the futuristic set-up, the red Martian atmosphere, the heavy metal score, `Ghost of Mars' is essentially a western in the most classic way. There is a train, a lawman (played by an actress), a group of deputies, a gang of bandits, a frontier town surrounded by the desert.
As in Hawks, the individuals work as a group, defined by codes of professional skill in a strictly masculine environment. Interestingly, Capenter portrays the Martian society as a matriarchy, but the elements operate the same way: the good guy and the bad guy differentiate from each other just for the fact that they are in opposite sides of the law, but are nevertheless exchangeable. Also, following Hawks' epic, the vulnerability of the hero is determined by a fault or weakness (Melanie's addiction to drugs is a progression of Dean Martin's alcoholism in Rio Bravo).
Told in a peculiar series of flashbacks from different points of view, and as in `Vampires', with the use of long, continual dissolves, the story introduces some original points, like the ghosts taking possession of human through the ears and Desolation's smart device to save Melanie with the aid of drugs. There are some plot holes, yes, some bad acting and gratuitous -though stylized- violence. But it's Carpenter unpretentious as ever, telling us how dark our future appears, not from a pulpit but from his director's chair. And I'm very grateful for his effort.