Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Masters of Horror: John Carpenter: Cigarette Burns
directed by John Carpenter
written by Drew McWeeney and Scott Swann

I sort of know Drew McWeeney, half of the writing team that created this entry into Showtime's Masters of Horror series. I've frequented the Ain't It Cool News website for quite a few years now (where he's known as Moriarty), and I've had occasion to have dealings with him over various issues and misdeeds.
So, I happen to know exactly what inspired Cigarette Burns. Some have accused him of cribbing from Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness or Lovecraft or a dozen other sources. But none of them could suspect that the inspiration for the infamous film that causes madness and violence in all who see it was actually a Monty Python sketch: The Joke.

So, I had that in mind when I sat down to watch the DVD.
Norman Reedus plays Kirby Sweetman, the owner of a revival theater and a procurer of rare film prints for wealthy collectors. When an eccentric (Udo Kier) approaches him about obtaining the Holy Grail of rare films, La Fin Absolue du Monde, a film so disturbing that it drives viewers to murder...and worse.
Art is powerful. It's caused riots, it's started and stopped wars. It's wooed maidens and debauched the virtuous. Art has raised man and dashed him to the winds like dust.
Imagine something so powerful that it has destroyed everyone who's watched it. Imagine a film so blasphemous that it damns the viewer forever. That's what Kirby's looking for.
The closer he gets, Kirby starts seeing things. Glimpses of startling images, all through a "cigarette burn", the mark that theater projectionists use to find reel changes.

I can see a little bit of "The Joke" in the premise to Cigarette Burns, but that's really where the similarity stops. The film does take some cues from media theory (read: Marshall McLuhan), but is more influenced by the entire subculture of film geeks out the writers themselves, and each of the directors in the Masters of Horror. It's a film about film lovers, and that's probably its most endearing strength. We movie geeks have all gone out to obsessive lengths to see some rare film or get an import or bootleg DVD of some forgotten film that's near and dear to our hearts...or something we've heard about and simply must see.
That's the case here. Carpenter and the writers have created a mythical must-see picture that cineastes the world over would be scrambling for were it real. Were it an actual film, I'm kinda guessing that I would have attempted to track down La Fin Absolue du Monde years ago and paid the consequences. I'm reminded of my own weakness and love for film, and that's what sold the story to me.

What this film has done for me is make me instantly want to see a new feature by Carpenter in the theater (not that I didn't before, but now I'm REALLY itching for it). The man IS a master, not just of horror, but of film itself. I realize that Ghosts of Mars kind of sucked. But the vast majority of his catalog is absolutely classic -- essential viewing that any film aficionado should see.
I'm also jazzed to see something else from McWeeney and Swann. I've been reading some of their stage plays and unproduced scripts lately (thanks for putting them up, Drew). They've got some great ideas and they have a good voice working together. Someday, they might just knock us all on our coal mining asses.

The DVD isn't bad, though full retail is still sorta steep for a one hour film (thankfully, I got it for much less than that thanks to a sale and a coupon). There's oodles of extras, including two commentary tracks (one by Carpenter and one by the writers) and a handful of featurettes. Anchor Bay does a nice job with normal stuff, and they handle little genre gems like this even better.
I'd be much happier if they put out a season box of the entire Masters of Horror series, but I suppose I can pick and choose a disc or two here and there and assemble the first season piecemeal. I'll just whine and kvetch about it a lot.

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