Synopsis: (from IMDb) With a torrid past that haunts him, a movie-theater director is hired to hunt for the only known print of a film so notorious that its single screening caused the viewers to become homicidally insane.
Neoli’s Review: Nothing scares better than anticipation. That’s exactly what’s at work in John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, his mini masterpiece for the Masters of Horror series, a compilation of hour-long horror stories for the cable channel Showtime.
Here the object of our anticipation is an old, rare, and controversial film called La Fin Absolue du Monde (The Absolute End of the World), a film allegedly so disturbing it inspired bloody slaughter among everyone in the audience during its first—and final—screening. The government banned it and supposedly destroyed every single copy, but one man, Mr. Bellinger, isn’t convinced. A wealthy, obsessed cinephile, he sets the handsome-faced theater owner Kirby Sweetman on a mission to find and procure the film to the tune of $200,000. Just what Sweetman needs to keep his business afloat and pay off a long time debt to his dead wife’s father.
Cigarette Burns becomes a quest then both for Sweetman and us the audience, just like how other works of fictions in the past have intrigued us about a missing element from which the entire story revolves (in Citizen Kane, it was “Rosebud”, in Heart of Darkness, it was Kurtz, and in the Ringu series, it was that likewise deadly videotape featuring the lady from the well.) As we get hot on the trail of whatever it is we’ve been looking for, the more we know we’ll be regretting the consequences.
In Cigarette Burns, we already know our main man is doomed, right from the start of his journey he sees those telltale seared rings—cigarette burns—etched in his mind and in our very screens. That missing film has its way of destroying the lives of whoever sees it, taking that single aspect of your life you hold dear (be it an obsession with films, your dead wife, your dead daughter, etc), and turning that against you. Because an angel was mutilated in the film, it now likewise mutilates everyone.
And yet despite its notoriety, we don’t see a single thing. Fans of gore might be disappointed with Cigarette Burns’ relative tameness. There’s lots of blood for sure, yes (and even an icky, blood-curdling scene involving intestines), but for the most part the film proceeds quietly, with only its tense air of mystery pulling us closer and closer each moment.
The mere fact that such a film exists, a film whose tragic consequences are revealed to Sweetman by some of the people who luckily survived it—the very notion that such a film can be so life-changing in the worst possible way is enough to send you shivers.
As one of the informants tells Sweetman about the film, “What you see isn’t the important part. It’s how you change. It’s what the film does to you that matters.”
In a time when unforgiving torture porn and senseless slasher films dominate the market, Cigarette Burns is indeed a refreshing change. Watch it and know what true horror is all about.
Eric’s Review: I’ve not much more to add to Neoli’s great Review. I truly enjoyed Cigarette Burns and I believe it is John Carpenter’s best work since “In the Mouth Of Madness”.
I like that this 1h format keeps the film moving at a good pace despite its contemplative rhythm. The score (always an important element in Carpenter’s movies) helps providing an eery feeling and what a blast to see Norman Reedus before he became a major star with his role as Daryl in The Walking Dead.
There is much to say about the subtext of the script but what’s great to me is the energy and efficiency of Carpenter’s camera work. One of the best master of Horrors episode by far (the other one being Miike’s Imprint).
My Rating: 7/10
Director: John Carpenter
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