Sunday, July 26, 2009

John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns: If Movies Could Kill

cigarette burns,john carpenter,dvd box

I don't mean the title of this post to insinuate that this movie will kill you. It's not that terrible. It's not the best of John Carpenter's rather extensive work, but that may be mostly because this was done for the Showtime series Masters of Horror, and as such isn't up to normal standards. It is, however, a fairly original concept done in a mildly interesting way, so it isn't a total loss.

I realize now that I'll have quite a number of John Carpenter movies here on the ol' blog soon. I'm also waiting to review Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing, and I could always review Halloween and They Live! purely from memory. I do enjoy John Carpenter's films, and this was no exception. I did enjoy it, but given the format, it wasn't quite up to being great, and it was too short, besides.

The film stars Norman Reedus (Boondock Saints) as a Kirby Sweetman, a theater owner and pretty haunted dude, trying to pay back his father-in-law, Walter. To help his financial issues, he takes a film-detective job from Mr. Bellinger, played by Udo Kier (Blade, Halloween). Kirby is to find a long-lost film called La Fin Absolue du Monde (The Absolute End of the World), which is said to have driven its previous audiences to violence and death. Upon retrieving the film, he ends up with more than he bargains for, seeing reel-change markers (referred to as "cigarette burns" from its one mention in Fight Club, though they aren't actually known as such in the industry) in his waking life, before violent and strange hallucinations. He may slip deep into madness just from pursuing the film. Who knows what might happen if he actually watches it?

Ok, I was trying for a more concise with an actual summary of the film before really getting into a rant about it. Did it work? Meh, probably not, but I figured I'd try it out.

The main thing that disappointed me about this "movie" is that even though it has a some-star cast and is directed by a respected horror director, it's still not much more than a made for TV movie. It's too short, and I think there are some restrictions on content to a certain extent. Moreover, I was always aware on some level that this was not a theatrical film, and was originally on television. I like the general idea of the Masters of Horror, putting a bunch of horror directors together on one unified project, trying to make good horror films that are accessible to anyone paying for Showtime. I think the After Dark Horrorfest took that idea and made it into something worthwhile, an actual annual film festival specifically for horror, with excellent branding and a good marketing campaign.

I really liked the idea that a film is/can be more than just a film. This idea was touched on in the novel Three Days to Never by Tim Powers, as well, though not with the same horror twist. Basically, every time we see a movie, we put a lot of trust into it. We'll go to a theater, sit in the dark (surrounded by strangers), giving our attention totally to the screen, hoping the director doesn't try to screw us over. This is doubly true when we see a horror film; we trust that they won't show us anything that we can't handle. The film that Kirby is commissioned to find was created specifically to cause as much chaos as possible with the audience. We find that there's something subliminal in the film, something carefully edited, coupled with the immense power the film itself held. It's suggested that if the camera films something terrible, something unprecedented and terrible, it becomes powerful. In this case, the torture and forced transubstantiation of a real, live angel is captured on film amongst other truly horrific images and edits, which results in a film that drives anyone who watches it completely insane and violent. If anyone actively pursues the film (like Kirby), they begin to feel its effects, getting visions accompanied by the signature cigarette burns.

cigarette burns,screenshot,norman reedus

It's pretty short, as I said before, but Norman Reedus is pretty good in it, and it kind of reminds me of that Johnny Depp movie, The Ninth Gate. The plots are sort of similar (an expert is commissioned to find an evil version of something, with results that backfire, involve angels, evil, etc.), but unfortunately, The Ninth Gate is just a better movie. Cigarette Burns isn't terrible, by any means, though.

It's worth a watch if you're really a huge fan of John Carpenter. It has some interesting ideas in it, but I feel that they could have been developed more (the majority of the movie is about finding the film, and some creepiness and hallucinations), and maybe I'm just a little weird, but I wanted to see him screen the cursed movie for an entire audience and watch them all go crazy. I do like the idea and its inherent question: Filmmakers have much power over the imaginations of their audience. What if a director made a movie that would harm its audience on purpose?

I give it two accursed demon-films out of five, or two creepy wingless angels out of five.

cigarette burns,deformed angel

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