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Anchor Bay presents
Masters of Horror: John Carpenter: Cigarette Burns (2005)

"Film is magic. And in the right hands, a weapon."
- Bellinger (Udo Kier)

Review By: Ross Johnson  
Published: August 17, 2006

Stars: Norman Reedus, Udo Kier
Director: John Carpenter

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for mature content
Run Time: 00h:59m:00s
Release Date: March 28, 2006
UPC: 013131372397
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

John Carpenter is one of a very particular class of directors. His legendary status in having directed horror and sci-fi classics the likes of Escape from New York, Dark Star, and, of course, Halloween, is secure. However, like a Francis Ford Coppola, no one actually expects him to produce anything of any lasting value these days. His most recent feature, 2001's Ghosts of Mars, has a few admirers, but is in no danger of eclipsing his earlier works in anyoneís heart. His best days, it might seem, are well behind him.

The beauty of the Masters of Horror series is in giving a director like Carpenter a chance to take an idea and run with it. Cigarette Burns, originally aired on Showtime, works perfectly as a short film, and the lack of studio restriction seems to suit him well, especially as a director accustomed to a small budget. Here, there's a meta-concept at play: Kirby (Norman Reedus), the young film programmer of a dying movie house is tasked by a wealthy cinephile (Udo Kier, from Suspiria, and many, may others) with a deceptively simple mission: track down the last surviving print of the film Le Fin Absolue du Monde. Kirby plans to use the money to save his theater. But that film's only screening left four people dead following a bloody outbreak of violence, and no one associated with it wants anything to do with what quickly becomes an obsessive hunt. Du Monde (and, by extension, film itself) has an undeniable power. It isn't long before Kirby's search becomes as much about his own demons as it is about the cash, and everywhere he starts seeing cigarette burns, the small circles that signal a change of reel (not unlike the sphere imagery in the Ring movies).

The film is about trust, and about the trust that we place in movie makers. A critic who survived the initial screening of du Monde explains: "We sit in the dark, daring [directors] to affect us. Secure in the knowledge that they wonít go too far." Cigarette Burns imagines a film that does just that. I can only imagine that, for a director like Carpenter, and for any director worth their salt, there's some ambivalence in this message. Wouldn't a film powerful enough to cause a bloody riot be an ultimate triumph of filmmaking? A grand achievement? And would it be worth the price, for a director or an audience? The critic character calls du Monde's director a terrorist, but then begs to see the surviving print, if uncovered. It has never left him.

Norman Reedus, from The Boondock Saints, carries the film flawlessly, and most of the performances are of a similar caliber. The premise is in many ways similar to Carpenter's own In the Mouth of Madness, which was about a book rather than a film, but here the basic idea is carried off with more energy and what feels like a surer hand. There's even some really great old-school gore here by legend Greg Nicotero, including an inventive display of, ahem, intestinal fortitude. There are moments when things start to feel a bit overly literal, and some of the potency of the ideas here gets lost. Carpenter always manages to pull back before things go off the rails, though, and the affair is surprisingly understated before it builds to a wonderfully bloody finale.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Having been produced in 2005, thereís very little to complain about in terms of the picture here. Cigarette Burns is presented faithfully here: the 1.77:1 anamorphic transfer recreates the original aspect ratio, and the picture is clear and sharp. There are a number of dark scenes, but the blacks are deep throughout.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The disc includes both a Dolby Digital 2.0 and a 5.1 track. Both do the job nicely, especially the 5.1 track which presents the bass nicely without going overboard.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Masters of Horror, Room 6, Demon Hunter, Halloween
2 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director John Carpenter, writers Drew McWeeny & Scott Swann
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There was a great deal of complaint, from myself as much as anyone, when Anchor Bay decided to release these Masters of Horror films as single discs, rather than as a season set. Nevertheless, itís hard to complain too much when presented with the volume of extras here. First, we have two commentary tracks, one from the writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, and the other from John Carpenter himself. The Carpenter track is steady and conversational, although he spends a little more time than necessary telling us what's up on the screen. The writer's track itself is quite a bit of fun. This was the first time that either of them had had a script produced for the screen, and theyíre absolutely psyched that John Carpenter has been the one to do it. They offer a lot of insight into the writing process, as well as some fun anecdotes from the filming.

Behind the Scenes: The Making of Cigarette Burns is a short and not terribly interesting montage of clips from the production. I suspect this bit began life as a promotional bumper. Likewise, On Set: An Interview Norman Reedus is a little too short and clip-filled to offer much real insight, although Reedus really is an underrated actor, so itís nice to see him get some love.

Two other features offer much more: Celluloid Apocalypse: An Interview with John Carpenter and Working with a Master: John Carpenter, combined serve as a well-deserved, and informative, love letter to the director. The first takes Carpenter through his early years in the business, from his first influences through his involvement with Masters of Horror, while the second brings us collaborators such as Nicotero, Sam Neill, and Sheryl Lee talking about what itís like to work with a legend. Well done, both, and more than just fluff.

Additionally, thereís a more-lengthy-than-usual text bio of the director, a still gallery, trailers, and a DVD-ROM script and screensaver.

The Best Buy exclusive version I reviewed has a 37-minute script-to-screen featurette, which demonstrates the creation of three scenes by first showing the appropriate script pages, and then cutting to footage from the actual production, followed by the actual scene. This is a lot running time for three scenes, but a nice addition for those really interested in the process of translating a screenplay into a finished work.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

I don't generally look forward to new John Carpenter feature films, but here he's confident and absolutely solid. A wide array of mostly-great special features really seals the deal here. The short time and minimal restrictions add up to more, rather than less, giving Carpenter fans another worthy addition to his body of work.


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