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John Carpenter and Ghosts of Mars
© Jason Myers

John Carpenter, director of Halloween, Dark Star, Christine, Starman, and The Thing, stopped by the San Diego ComicCon to promote his new movie, Ghosts of Mars, and to answer a few questions. With him were Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), who plays Whitlock in the movie, and Richard Cetrone, who plays the villain, Big Daddy Mars.


What's Ghosts of Mars about?

Carpenter: Well, Ghosts of Mars is a little action/horror movie that takes place on Mars in the future. It's a kind of inverted retelling of The Thing.

Are there actual ghosts on mars? Is it more of a spiritual story?

Carpenter: If you're looking for spirituality when you go to see this move, you're going to be real disappointed. It's more like… if you remember the movie Zulu, it's more like that. It's more like a bunch of people who are trapped, and they're being attacked by these kind of maniacs. And there's no spirituality involved. [pause] Either in the movie or in my life.

What was the inspiration for Ghosts of Mars?

Carpenter: There were a couple of different things. I'd wanted to make a Mars movie since the eighties. Mars has always been a kind of powerful influence in human affairs since ancient days. Passion, blood, war, lust… all of those things. Human beings have projected their own ideas onto Mars. I got this book in the eighties, about what it would be like to try to colonize Mars. And I began to think about it, realizing that, after a certain amount of time, if the planet had been terra-formed to the point where you didn't have to wear a helmet, where you had a breathable atmosphere and so forth, it would essentially be like a frontier. And that led me to believe that, well, perhaps we can kind of do a western on Mars. That whole thing was just kind of appealing to me.

Cassidy: One of the exciting things for me to work on this film, 'cause I always wanted to do a western, is John's respect and admiration for some of the old western directors like John Ford. And when we first sat down together, he told me to go out and see Red River. So you have to kind of understand that when we went into this, I thought that one of the most fun things about it was to be on Mars, in the future, 75 years from now, to be… striding around and being in the old west.

On filming in New Mexico:

Carpenter: New Mexico is one of the most beautiful places to film. Historically, movies have been shot there, since the silent films, because of the weather… the light… it's just a gorgeous country. And if you're going to do anything that is similar to a western… I would choose New Mexico. I love it. I love going there. Plus they have great strip clubs.

There seems to be a lot of similarity between Ghosts of Mars and your earlier film Assault on Precinct 13. Is this true?

Carpenter: Yeah, I just make the same movies over and over again. [pause] It's true. [pause] I'm not kidding.

On the music in Ghosts of Mars:

Carpenter: I decided that, when we went into this, I wanted to kind of change the musical sound to it. And, actually, Ice Cube was the one who set me onto ProTools. ProTools is basically a computer system where you can load in your basic tracks and begin to manipulate them in kind of interesting ways. So, I started experimenting with it, and it's fascinating. It's a whole new process.

What was it like working with Ice Cube?

Cassidy: Well, he's not like his name. He's not like a piece of ice. He's warm and fuzzy. Has lots of people around him. Did you know that he has done a couple of feature films on his own, and wrote them and directed them?

Cetrone: About Ice Cube? Well, if I'da had my way, the ending would have been a little different, I can tell you that. But John I actually enjoyed working with a lot. He came to my planet. He said, "I wanna tell your story." But he was nice enough, so I let him and most of crew, uh, live. I can't say that for all the actors, though. But he's a good guy. It was a thrill to work for him. I think anybody in the industry would love to work for John Carpenter. He has a way of making everyone feel comfortable on the set. He has a great sense of humor. He has a quick wit. He let's you experiment. He's open to suggestions.

Joanna, will you appear again on HBO's Six Feet Under?

Cassidy: There will be a follow up to that. I'll be back.

How did you get the part in Blade Runner?

Cassidy: That's a pretty personal question. I actually told the director that I was the only one in town that could handle a snake.

Joanna, on what she's doing after Ghosts of Mars:

Cassidy: There's a pilot that I did for Stephen Bochco that'll be out very shortly called Philly, which is obviously about lawyers in Philadelphia.

Will there be an Escape from New York special edition DVD?

Carpenter: It's going to come out with the same commentary that I did on the LaserDisc. They just have arranged that. And they're going to do a little behind-the-scenes documentary. So that should be out either later this year or early next year.

Would you ever make a sequel for They Live?

Carpenter: Sure, we'd do another one. I just talked to [Roddy Piper] recently, and we'd do one. But I don't think that the studio wants to do it, so, you know, that's just the way it goes.

Are you involved at all with the sequel to Vampires?

Carpenter: Uh, only collecting a check. Actually, I just saw one of the cuts of the sequel. It's turning out pretty good. The main vampire killer in the sequel is Jon Bon Jovi, believe it or not. [pause] I swear. And he did a great job.

Is he better than James Woods?

Carpenter: Nobody's better than James Woods.

So, James Woods will not be in the second Vampires?

Carpenter: No. No. We couldn't afford him.

Which film of yours do you think is underrated?

Carpenter: Underrated? Man, there are so many that are underrated. Matter of fact, most of them probably are. I don't know. I mean, I think They Live is probably underrated. The one I really enjoyed that was the least successful was In the Mouth of Madness. That was a kind of a weirdo intellectual movie, so nobody got it.

Will you ever do another H.P. Lovecraft type movie?

Carpenter: I'd love to. I can't convince anybody to make H.P. Lovecraft. I've talked about it with studios. I even talked about it as a TV movie, and nobody gets it. Nobody gets him. They don't get the stories. I said, "why don't we do… The [Haunter] in the Dark, why don't we do something like that, and they didn't want to do it. Why don't we do The Dunwich Horror, remake that? No one gets it.

What are you doing after Ghosts of Mars?

Carpenter: Well, I don't have any specific plans, but I was thinking about kind of going back to my roots and doing this kind of balls-out horror film, like Halloween. Now, I have to make up a story. I don't have a story. So, we'll see what happens.

On Carpenter's long association with stunt coordinator Jeff Imada:

Carpenter: I met Jeff on Big Trouble in Little China. And, basically Jeff helped me the most on that movie, out of any of the martial artists who were involved. He was behind the camera. He had an incredible eye for stunts. And our personalities…. We got along really well.

Does the music video from Big Trouble in Little China embarrass you at all?

Carpenter: You thought that the music sucked, did ya? Is that what you're trying to say? Hey, man, come on. What do you want? I had hair in those days. What do you want?

Is it true that Big Trouble in Little China started out as a sequel to Buckaroo Banzai?

Carpenter: No. No, it was a western that Gary Goldman wrote. And the studio bought it and wanted to make it modern day. So they hired W.D. Richter to write it. So it was an assignment for him, and he dashed it off before the writer's strike at the time, I think it was. And he made it a modern day film. But it was not his original idea. And the original western was interesting, but they just didn't want to make it San Francisco in the 1800s. They wanted to update it.

Will there be a Prince of Darkness 2?

Carpenter: No, I don't think there will be. That movie made money, but it didn't make enough, it wasn't received well enough to make a sequel.

When will a special edition DVD for The Thing come out?

Carpenter: There is one out. There's one out. Sorry. It's good, though. It's good. I recommend you buy it. Buy it for all your friends.

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars will be released August 24, 2001.

Jason Myers is Film and DVD Editor for RevolutionSF.

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