John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns

John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns (2005)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Norman Reedus, Udo Kier
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Interviews, Biography, Trailers, Still Gallery

The "Masters Of Horror" series of TV movies has been hailed and awaited by many horror fans. Unlike the "Tales From The Crypt" series, these films are not being created by mainstream actors and directors wanting to try their hand in the horror genre and they also do not universally carry this comedic wink-in-the-eye element those stories provided. In "Masters Of Horror" we get, as the name suggests, small horror films created by the masters of the genre, namely directors like John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, Don Coscarelli, Mick Garris and many others. It is a "Who Is Who" of American horror and John Carpenter's "Cigarette Burns" is the first of the series that is available on DVD now, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.

"Cigarette Burns" is a dark film that somewhat resembles "In The Mouth Of Madness" meets "Ringu." A young film enthusiast and theater owner, Kirby Sweetman, (Norman Reedus) is asked by an eccentric millionaire (Udo Kier) to find the only existing copy of "Le Fin Absolue Du Monde," a notorious horror film that has been lost immediately after its historic premiere. Historic, because the film caused mayhem, as viewers went insane upon seeing it and began slaughtering each other in the premiere theater. Of course the film immediately disappeared and was never seen again, shrouded in mystery and myth. Many collectors and fans had previously tried to unearth the lost movie but to no avail.

As Kirby sets about, trying to locate the film to make the money he needs to pay back the debts he owes his father in law, he soon realizes that something weird is going on with the movie. The closer he gets to discovering it, the closer he himself comes to madness. In brief glimpses – introduced through cigarette burns, the little marks on film prints that tell a projectionist that it is time to change the reel – he begins to see his own Hell. The fact that he still feels responsible for the suicide of his fiancée has been material for his nightmares for a long time but now they begin to manifest themselves, slowly pulling him over the edge of sanity. In fact, everyone he encounters who has had some contact with "Le Fin Absolue Du Monde" seems equally on the brink. What will happen if he should really discovers the only remaining print of the film?

"Cigarette Burns" is dark, disturbing and unsettling. It is a surprisingly gory and overtly violent film for John Carpenter, but not to its detriment. Carpenter has always been the master of suggestion, creating horror in the viewer's mind by not showing us details. Here he sidestepped this technique and gives us remarkable graphic shots and one of the most memorable death scenes of any horror film in the past 20 years. The film is highly atmospheric and Carpenter's style is prevalent throughout, making it a thoroughly enjoyable and suspenseful film and a very cool entrance to the "Masters Of Horror" series on DVD.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has created a wonderful transfer of the movie for this DVD. Presented in its original 1.77:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the transfer is enhanced for 16×9 TV sets and is free of any defects. The contrast of the film is incredible, creating moody, dark shots with glaring highlights, without ever bleeding, blooming or losing definition. Colors are vibrant and natural-looking at all times. The level of detail in the transfer is very high bringing out even the slightest details in texture and fine gradients. No edge enhancement is evident in the presentation and the compression is without flaws.

The audio presentation on the release comes as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track that is very effective. Making good use of the surround channels, the track is filled with subtle ambient noises and directional sound effects. The music, composed by Carpenter's son Cody, conjures up memories of John's own scores for films like "Halloween" and "Escape From New York," adding even more Carpenter stamp on the movie. Dialogues are well integrated an always understandable.

The release contains a number of cool extras, including a commentary track by John Carpenter in which he discusses the material in quite some detail. Carpenter's commentary track have traditionally been very good, detailed and candid and this one is no exception.
A second commentary on the disc features writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan as they discuss their inspiration and approach to the material.

In "Celluloid Apocalypse," an interview featurette, John Carpenter looks back his career as a whole, talking about the films that made him a legend and the way to becoming one of horrors predominant directors, before talking a bit about the "Masters Of Horror" idea and concept.

"Working With A Master" is a fine love-letter to John Carpenter in which many of the actors and collaborators he has worked with over the years of his career reminisce about their relationship with the director. While this is a laudatio, of course, it always feels honest as we hear anecdotes and stories that underscore the person that John Carpenter is and the way he works.

"The Making Of Cigarette Burns" is a featurette that takes you behind the scenes to learn more about the production of the film, complete with interview snippets and behind-the-scenes footage form the set. An on-set interview with Norman Reedus is isolated out of this featurette and available as a separate feature on the disc, allowing us to learn more about the actor's approach to the part and the character.

The DVD is rounded out by a John Carpenter Biography, Trailers and a Still Gallery. If you have a DVD-ROM drive you can also access the movie's screenplay and a screen saver.

"Cigarette Burns" is certainly John Carpenter at his grittiest but also at his best in a long while. It makes you forget disasters such as "Escape From LA," "Vampires" or "Ghosts Of Mars" and celebrate John Carpenter's mastery of the horror genre. It is a film that shows that he had fun with the material, managed to make it his own and put it on the screen the way only he can. It is a great film and I can't wait to pull out my next "Masters Of Horror" DVD to see how some other horror legend fares by comparison.