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Masters of Horror - John Carpenter - Cigarette Burns

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // March 28, 2006
List Price: $16.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted March 28, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Kirby Sweetman (Norman Reedus of The Boondock Saints) is an ex heroin junkie who lost his girlfriend to the perils of smack. Before she went off into the great beyond, however, she convinced her father to loan Kirby the money to buy an old theater and fix it up. Now that she's passed, dad (Gary Hetherington) wants his money – unfortunately, Kirby's theater is hardly raking in the cash hand over fist as it specializes in obscure genre fare.

In order to make some real money, Kirby works part time as a sort of 'film detective' in that he's paid very well by private collectors to hunt down and acquire the rarest of rare films. He's quite good at it and as such he has a strong enough reputation that the mysterious Mr. Ballinger (Udo Kier of Blood For Dracula) hires him to track down a film that was only ever shown once entitled L'Absolute Fin Du Monde. Why was it only shown once? Because the crowd that was at the festival for the screening erupted into violent madness, people were killed, and the film was yanked. No one seems to know very much about the movie or the man who made it, but Ballinger offers to pay Kirby two hundred thousand dollars plus expenses if he can make it happen and he also goes to the point of proving, by way of an angel who is held captive in his inner chamber, that the film still exists – you see, the movie contains the ultimate act of blasphemy, which this angel played a part in, and as such he's part of the film itself so if the film had been destroyed, this angel would have gone with it.

Through some clever detective work and following some strange leads around France, Kirby tracks down the filmmaker's widow who allows him access to their apartment where she talks about the film. Will he unleash the power of the movie on an unsuspecting public or will he return it to Ballinger and take the cash? Does the movie really hold the violent power that everyone who has seen it attests to or is it all just a myth?

Like a few of the other entries in the series, character development gets the shaft in favor of turn around time in that at ninety minutes this probably would have worked better as it would have been more fleshed out - at fifty-five, it feels rushed. A lot of what Carpenter does here works really well, however. Udo Kier's character, despite lacking in motivation, is an interesting one and his obsession does lend some creepiness to the finale. Norman Reedus is alright in the lead, he's believable enough as a movie geek who has made a career out of his hobby and even if the subplot with his belated girlfriend feels tacked on, his conflict with her father feels genuine enough.

The script toys around with some interesting ideas, with the power of film as a medium and with the intent of the filmmaker being a very powerful portion of the way that the film is perceived. At one point the director of the movie in question is referred to not as a filmmaker but as a terrorist, as his intent was to cause the chaos that erupted out of the screening. Ironic then that his film became, according to his wife, his own undoing.

Lest it all sound rather pretentious and surreal (and at times it is), Carpenter doesn't stray too far from the genre he's known for. We're very much grounded in 'the horror movie' with this entry in the series, the finale reminds us of that even if we don't want it to. Cigarette Burns isn't a perfect experiment but it is a really interesting and, more often than not, quite effective one.



The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the movie in its original aspect ratio and for the most part, the image looks very good. There is some edge enhancement present in a few scenes as well as some shimmering and aliasing in spots but there's very little to complain about otherwise. Black levels are strong and deep, there are no issues at all with print damage, dirt or debris on the picture and there's a very pleasing level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the picture. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the reds are well defined without bleeding through.


Anchor Bay presents Cigarette Burns in your choice of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track or a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. Both mixes sound very good with plenty of lower end bass response and some very nice instances of channel separation throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. There were a few spots on the 5.1 mix that could have been a little more aggressive but otherwise things sound really good here especially during the last few minutes of the production. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitle options available.


Anchor Bay has recorded two completely different commentary tracks for this DVD. The first track is with John Carpenter, who goes this one solo. Anyone who has heard him speak on the other DVDs he's done commentary tracks for knows that the guy is pretty enlightened when it comes to filmmaking and that he's got a lot of interesting stories to tell. This track proves yet again that he delivers some of the most interesting tracks out there as he schools us on how he came on board to get involved in the Masters Of Horror series and how Cigarette Burns was born.

The second commentary track is with Drew McWeeny (better known as Moriarty from Ain't It Cool News) and Scott Swan – the two writers. These two guys have obviously got a lot of enthusiasm for the project and while the cover some of the same ground as Carpenter does in his track, they give us more insight into some of the ideas behind the story, where certain spots found their inspiration, as well as what it was like working with Carpenter and his cast and crew.

Behind The Scenes: The Making Of Cigarette Burns is just under four minutes worth of on set footage set to music. There are some sound clips here and there with some of the people who appear on camera but for the most part this is just a quick and dirty look at the shooting and production of the film without a lot of context.

Up next is Working With A Master: John Carpenter, a nineteen minute long documentary on Carpenter and his career made up interviews with some of the people who have worked with him – P. J. Soles from Halloween for example – and the man himself. We learn of how he got into film, his early works, how the success of Halloween launched him into the big time and how he came on board to work on Cigarette Burns. While long time fans will probably be familiar with the bulk of this material, for those not in the know as to Carpenter's roots or history this makes for a really good crash course in his life and for those who are already familiar, well, this works as a nice refresher as well.

Celluloid Apocalypse: An interview with John Carpenter is an eighteen minutes video interview with him that, while it covers some of his earlier work, is geared more towards his output for the Masters Of Horror and how that all came to be. Once more he proves to be an interesting guy, as he talks about working with Udo Kier and Norman Reedus as well as the script writers and special effects technicians. All in all, a very solid discussion of Cigarette Burns.

On Set: An Interview With Norman Reedus is, as it sounds, an interview with the star of the movie. Clocking in at just over seven minutes in length it doesn't get too in depth but it does give the man a chance to talk about his work on the project, how he came on board, what he thinks of working with Carpenter, things like that. He also gives us some interesting insight into his character and explains why he enjoyed the role as much as he did.

Rounding out the supplements on this release are a Stuart Gordon text biography, trailers for the first batch of Masters Of Horror entries and a few other Anchor Bay horror titles, a still gallery, a storyboard gallery, and if you're DVD-Rom equipped you'll find the screenplay, and a screensaver.

Final Thoughts:

A nice return to form from Carpenter that, despite some flaws, makes for an unsettling and atmospheric viewing. Say what you will about some of his more recent output, but this one proves he's still got what it takes and Masters Of Horror – Cigarette Burns definitely comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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