In my opinion Showtime’s Masters of Horror (all reviews) anthology has not been living up to my expectation, and finally after seven boring episodes I’m all pumped up for the next. Word on the net is that John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns is awesome, the single best episode in season one thus far. Inside you can read Tex Massacre’s review for the one-hour episode, and check out reruns this week on Showtime…
Masters of Horror
Episode 1.8: Cigarette Burns
8/10 or 4 Skulls
Reviewed By: Tex Massacre
For most horror fans the name John Carpenter is whispered with a quiet reverence. The man that created Michael Myers, the man that placed our future in the hands of Snake Pliskin is also the man responsible for some of the truly great disappointments of recent years. Although some might suggest, in those same subdued tones, that Carpenter has lost his edge, he is still one of the very few filmmakers whose name commands a presence above the title. The designation “John Carpenter Presents” is as much an icon of terror as the man behind the lens is.
Cigarette Burns are the round circular flashes that appear in the upper left hand portion of a theatrical release indicating to the projectionist the point at which the reels of the film are changing. Carpenter’s film follows the tale of Kirby Sweetman (Norman Reedus) a theater owner with a dark past who is also a recognized expert in locating rare films. Sweetman is hired by reclusive collector Udo Kier to locate the most rare of films. “Le Fin Absolute du Monde” is the ominous lost masterpiece of a director whose determination to press the boundaries of cinema lead to a celluloid massacre. Desperately in need of the cash to save his failing theater and regain his life from his debtors, Sweetman will learn a vicious lesson as the aura of Le Fin Absolute du Monde will test the very limits of his sanity, bending the borders of reality and sending his soul into a nightmarish frenzy of self-realization.
Call it derivative, sure you can, I can name a half dozen films at minimum that echo the journey, not the least of which are Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, the early 90’s schlock-fest Popcorn and Carpenter’s own In the Mouth of Madness. Regardless of the films source material, Carpenter owns the final product, churning out the best episode Masters of Horror has seen yet and frankly showcasing Carpenters finest work in the past 10 years.
The film’s unsettling nature focuses on its main characters sense of impending doom. Kirby Sweetman has lost control of his life, even after fighting so hard in his past to regain control, the future still resonates with his haunting mistakes. Carpenter does well to imply the horrors that Sweetman endures in his quest, leaving it up to the viewer to determine the source of the films horror. Even as the credits begin to roll, we know what it is that we have witnessed but the implication is so provoking that, with the ultimate answers left ambiguous, we are forced to reevaluate who or what was the tragedy of Cigarette Burns.
It is a rare filmmaker that can achieve a subtle blend of both abstraction and realism in their work. As Carpenter proved with In the Mouth of Madness and further illustrated with Cigarette Burns he may still have one last go around as not only a master of horror but as a true master of cinematic subtext as well…assuming he stops making sequels, cannibalizing originals and greenlighting remakes of his previous successes.