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Case Number 09038: Small Claims Court

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Masters Of Horror: John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns

Anchor Bay // 2005 // 59 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 12th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle lights up and takes a deep drag on John Carpenter's latest work.

The Charge

A Master of Horror brings you his latest creation!

The Case

When eccentric film collector Mr. Ballinger (Udo Keir, Suspiria) hires theater owner and rare cinematic procurer Kirby Sweetman (Norman Reedus, Blade II) to find a lost film for him, the mission seems simple enough. Kirby is a few hundred thousand in debt to his late girlfriend's father, and the $200,000 being offered by Ballinger can easily thrust him into the black. When Kirby realizes that the film Mr. Ballinger desires is "Le Fin Absolue Du Monde"—a mysterious, near mythic film that drove its audience murderously insane during its supposed one and only viewing—he finds himself caught up in a quest that may lead to his own unraveling…and maybe something much darker.

I wish I could tell you that John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns is a return to form by a director who has been cinematically absent for four years (his last film was the fun but flawed Ghosts of Mars). I was truly hoping that this one-hour film would be filled with the scope, visuals, and storytelling found in previous John Carpenter movies. I mean, the guy has made some of the most entertaining movies in the last thirty years: Halloween, They Live, Prince of Darkness, and the highly underrated Escape from L.A., just to name a few.

Sadly, John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns is a sluggish trek through the world of taboo filmmaking, a cheap looking mini-movie with none of the spark of his previous efforts. This is the first film I've seen from Mick Garris's Masters of Horror series, and from this single effort I don't have much wanting to see the rest. I found Cigarette Burns to be slow going, filled with tedious plotting (a man goes door-to-door to find a lost movie) and an ending that is effectively gory (one of the film's bright points) but too little, too late.

One of Cigarette Burns main problems is actor Norman Reedus, who plays Kirby Sweetman, the man in search of filmdom's holy grail. Reedus makes a plank of plywood look like Marlon Brando by comparison—his performance is lazy, flat and mind numbingly uninspired. When Reedus is standing next to Udo Kier, it's like watching one-on-one basketball game of Michael Jordan versus Stephen Hawking. Reedus may have done fine work in other films; in Cigarette Burns he is the dead weight pulling down the rest of the film.

Carpenter's direction is competent, but it's never anything more than mediocre. Cigarette Burns looks as if any director could have helmed it, and that's just not what we expect from a "master of horror" like Carpenter. The film was written by newcomer Drew McWeeny (of "Ain't It Cool" infamy) and Scott Swan; their script is decent, but not quite as inventive or unique as they may want you to think. I did like the themes behind obsessive film fanatics, as McWeeny is certainly one himself. Yet as a whole the film never gelled for me. I wanted either an out-and-out mystery about "Le Fin Absolue Du Monde," or a gory scare show in the tradition of Carpenter's The Thing.

All involved with Cigarette Burns have done better work, or will do better work the next time around. It's nice to see Mr. Carpenter back in the director's chair; let's hope he continues to stay there well into the present decade and beyond.

Whatever you think of the film, it's nice to see Anchor Bay giving Cigarette Burns a fine looking 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image on this disc looks great—the colors and black levels are all well represented and textured. There are no major imperfections on this transfer—fans of the show will be happy with this picture.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, as well as Dolby 2.0 in English. The 5.1 mix is good, if not great—there are a few directional effects in this mix, as well as well placed ambient sounds (sadly, composer Cody Carpenter—son of John—seems to rehash his father's scores for Halloween and The Fog). No subtitles are included on this release.

Anchor Bay has packed this hour-long feature's disc with more extras than most four-hour epic releases get. Included on this disc is an interesting audio commentary with director John Carpenter, a second commentary with writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film ("The Making of Cigarette Burns"), a very nice look at Carpenter's career in "Working With A Master: John Carpenter" (which includes interviews with actors P.J. Soles, Keith David, Keith Gordon, and lots more), a short interview with Carpenter ("Celluloid Apocalypse: An Interview with John Carpenter"), an on-set interview with actor Norman Reedus, a bio on Carpenter, a few trailers, a still gallery and some DVD-ROM features (including a screensaver and the screenplay).

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 69

Special Commendations

• Golden Gavel 2006 Nominee

Perp Profile

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 59 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Horror
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary by Director John Carpenter
• Commentary by Writers Scott Swan and Drew McWeeny
• "Behind the Scenes: The Making of Cigarette Burns" Featurette
• "Working With A Master: John Carpenter" Featurette
• "Celluloid Apocalypse: An Interview With John Carpenter"
• "On Set: An Interview with Norman Reedus"
• John Carpenter Bio
• Trailers
• Still Gallery
• DVD-ROM Features


• IMDb

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Review content copyright © 2006 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.