Directed by John Carpenter (2006)
Reviewed by MaT, added on Apr 4 2006
John Carpenter, after a lengthy absence from directing following the abysmal Ghosts of Mars, returns to the genre that made him famous with Cigarette Burns, an hour long film that deals with the power of film. Specifically, a film by the name of La Fin Absolute du Monde (The Absolute End of the World), which is infamous for only being screened once and causing the audience to go insane. A dude named Kirby, who is well-known for being able to acquire ultra-rare prints, is hired by the one and only Udo Kier to find the last remaining copy of the film so that he may view it before he dies. So begins Kirby's quest to find the lost print of La Fin Absolute du Monde, which he quickly finds is a much more treacherous assignment then he originally thought.
Showtime and Anchor Bay's Masters of Horror series was seen by many, including myself, as somewhat of a disappointment. Most of the episodes were stale and uninspired, and the majority of the "Masters" seemed to have lost the touch that made their earlier films great. John Carpenter was one of the few who did not disappoint. Cigarette Burns is basically Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, just replacing a novel for a film. Both films involve men investigating unusual circumstances and both deal with the breaking down of reality/society. What makes Burns an interesting watch is Carpenter's pace and style. I've always loved the subdued, laid back direction that Carpenter brings to his films. The guy is grounded and based in the classical Hollywood style of filmmaking and in a day and age of hyper-speed edits, it's refreshing to see a film that allows you to watch the characters and the story unfold on screen. Burns is arguably the goriest entry of the series. One particular brutal scene involves a snuff film where a girl's head is hacked off in front of Kirby (all in glorious, blood spraying detail). Carpenter knows what the audience wants to see, but unlike shock-meisters like Takashi Miike, he balances the violence with actual character development, and a story that necessitates the violence rather than using it as a vehicle for exploitation.
The downsides with Cigarette Burns is that some of the plot development and character back stories just can't be fully fleshed out in a 57 minute film. For example, Kirby is an ex drug addict, and there is a subplot involving back money owed to his dead girlfriend's dad, but in the end, the subplot feels forced and rushed. Expanded to feature length, it may have worked a little better. Also, I personally can't stand Norman Reedus, who plays Kirby. The guy looks like he phones in his performances and Burns is no different. It's a stiff, wooden, slightly awkward performance that makes it difficult for the viewer to engage with his character.
Anchor Bay did a great job with the dvd. I picked it up for under ten bucks and for the price, it's well worth it. Commentaries by John Carpenter and the writers, as well as a few well-made featurettes, provide great insight into Carpenter and his work. One particular amusing tidbit was Carpenter's admission that he didn't really want to do the film because he "didn't want to have to get up in the morning" because he's "an old man". Cigarette Burns is a great return to form for Carpenter after a decade of "sub-par" efforts. It isn't going to change the face of horror, but it's a well made and entertaining film with a dvd full of great features for the price. Highly recommended.