Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns (2005)

Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns (2005)

Kirby Sweetman runs his own cinema which tends to show rare horror films from the 70s and 80s. However that doesn’t pay him enough and he spends the rest of his spare time tracking down hard-to-find prints of films for various collectors. His father-in-law threatens the cinema with closure if he hasn’t paid back a generous loan he took out a few years ago. So Kirby is hired by Mr Bellinger, a mysterious collector who is slowly dying, to track down the only print of a film called Le Fin Absolute De Mond (The Absolute End Of The World). It is said that during the screening of the film, the audience went insane and began killing each other. The film was hidden from the rest of the world and all prints destroyed – except one. Bellinger is willing to pay thousands to see the film and Kirby is in no position to turn it down. But as he starts his quest, Kirby realises that the film may not be worth the money he is being offered. The price for finding it is much, much higher.

 

It’s a first for Popcorn Pictures but a welcome one. I’ve never reviewed TV shows on here before, simply for the fact that I’d be here for ages trying to give you reviews on episodes from the likes of The X-Files. However the premise for this TV show was too good to pass up on – some of the greatest, actually scratch that – THE greatest horror directors of our time have come together with some of the best writers to bring you this anthology series: Masters of Horror. Each director gets their own episode to remind the fans out there that they still exist and that, hopefully prove, they still have what it takes despite most of them not getting the big screen credits anymore like they did in their primes. The likes of John Landis, Tobe Hooper, Don Coscarelli, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Takashi Miike have all contributed to the series so far.

Perhaps no one on this list has more to prove than the man who directed this first episode that I watched – the legendary John Carpenter. I’m a massive John Carpenter fan and rank some of his earlier films amongst the top of the horror tree. However his recent work has been patchy as he was given bigger budgets and less control. Even though I enjoyed the car wreck that was Ghosts of Mars and the blood bath that was Vampires, I still yearn for the day when Carpenter returns to his roots and gives us one final classic along the lines of Halloween, The Fog or The Thing. So how would he do in charge of a small, fifty-nine minute long film which obviously had to work within the limits of TV. Well let’s take a look.

For a start the whole plot didn’t really get me worked up. It sounds like a rehash of The Ninth Gate, only with a film instead of the book. And the whole ‘watch and die’ seems to have been influenced by Ring more than anything. The ‘cigarette burn’ of the title is actually a slang name given to a little mark on the film where projectionists known that a reel change is coming up. However for all purposes here, the cigarette burn looks exactly like the ring from Ring! Its first dramatic appearance to our main character during a hallucination did do one thing though – it woke me up! The episode seems to take ages to get started and, for some unknown reason, gives away the ‘twist’ at the end of the film right at the start with the introduction of a certain pale-looking character. You’ll figure out what needs to be done and you’ll know exactly where the film is heading, so you’ve just got to sit back and wait whilst everyone else in the film catches up. Finally the episode reaches its conclusion, you watch the infamous film itself and, again, cue the Ring moments where the film looks more like a warped music video than an actual nightmarish vision of the impending violence and barbarism! Joining the dots from a to b has never been as boring.

This is arguably one of Carpenter’s bloodiest films as well and pretty nasty for a TV series: decapitations, self-mutilation (including a horrid knife-in-the-eye) and a man feeding his intestines into a projector. Like so many modern horror flicks though, the gore seems to have been a substitute for a good script and is simply there to paper over the cracks. Confused about what is going on? Let’s just have a guy chop someone’s head off and make you forgot!

Carpenter’s direction is, it has to be said, pretty pedestrian at best. You could watch this without even knowing he directed it. There’s very little here to indicate just what a legend was sat behind the camera. If this is a sign of things to come in later episodes, then doesn’t that kind of kill the whole idea about guest directors? Where are the trademark widescreen shots? Or those eerie distance shots from Halloween? Carpenter does manage to create a mood about the film with his use of light and shadows but it’s not enough. I’ll at least cut him some slack as he didn’t write this mess so he’s only working with what he has. There is one thing he manages to do pretty well and that is build up Le Fin Absolute De Mond so much that by the time you’re given the chance to sit and watch, you’re not sure whether or not you want to. Just like daring people to say Candyman’s name five times in a mirror, you want to push the boundaries but you’re not sure whether or not anything will happen if you do.

Speaking of other Carpenter trademarks, at least the music was spot on. But he didn’t compose it this time – his son Cody has recorded the music and it seems that he has his father’s talent for the simple but effective soundtracks of the past. There’s also an effective cast, with a great performance from Udo Kier. He’s a great genre actor and his sinister voice and face just cries out for a big mainstream breakthrough role instead of bit parts.

 

More comparable to In The Mouth of Madness than any of other his films, John Carpenter has certainly done himself few favours with this. I’m probably being way too harsh on the guy because I know he’s got one more amazing film left in him and the expectations from the fans for all of the directors in this series must be ridiculous. But he’s not going to make that one big one with crap like this. For me, Cigarette Burns is a sluggish entry into a series which will show us which directors have returned to form and which have continued to languish in the history of horror.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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