Being a long-time fan of the works of director John Carpenter, I've become familiar with several of the running themes that dominate the majority of his works. The demoralizing effects of isolation upon the human soul, seen as early as his debut work Dark Star and the follow-up, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and reaching it's zenith in his now-heralded as a "classic" reinterpretation of The Thing (1981). Then there's his fascination for the notion of the anti-hero and/or "flawed" protagonist, with characters such as Napoleon Wilson, Snake Plissken and Jack Burton filling those shoes quite well. But the theme that tends to interest me the most is his love for the bitter irony that comes from the almost undeniable fact that you cannot escape from the sins of the past, no matter how remorseful you are or how much you attempt to repent.
It has been said in the past that Carpenter has made a career out of remaking the same film over and over again, and it's pretty evident that may be close to the truth. I mean, look close enough, and you'll see it..... Prince of Darkness is basically Assault on Precinct 13 in a church, Ghosts of Mars is practically Escape from New York in space, while Escape from L.A. IS Escape from New York ...only with a better budget. Some may view that as lazy storytelling, but I like to think that the director's interest in the themes that fascinate and fuel his work hold him so much in sway that he can't help it. Or, I like to think of Carpenter's films in the same way that I think about Johnny Ramone. Sure, he played the same three chords for the majority of his career....but he played them better than anyone else ever has. Obsession with one's muses does not always mean stagnant work.
Cigarette Burns is a story of an obsession that anyone reading this site (including your faithful reviewer) can identify with: film. Carpenter explores the thought that film is an incredibly powerful voice, one to be reckoned with, not only to be revered...but feared as well. Norman Reedus portrays Kirby Sweetman, a man who specializes in tracking down "lost" films, a theatre owner whose checkered past -involving heroin addiction and the death of his lover - constantly haunts him emotionally, and towards the latter half of Carpenter's contribution to the SHOWTIME "Masters of Horror" cable series, literally by way of physical manifestations and hallucinations. He is assigned the task of tracking down an infamous French film, the fictional "Le Fin Absolute du Monde" (translated "The Absolute End of the World"....think of the film version of Sutter Kane's work from the climax of Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness for a proper mental picture), a film reputed to drive those viewing it into a manicial frenzy of death and mayhem. Pulling the strings in this little endevor is the always fabulous Udo Kier, here playing Mr. Ballinger, an eccentric collector of film memoribilia who wants the fabled lone print for his own sinister masochistic uses. On the trail of the film, after discovering it's true nature, Mr. Sweetman finds himself in over his head, damned by association just for inquiring about it's existence....so you can imagine how things pan out when he finally gets the chance to view it.
Crisp clear digital picture and sound. It's my opinion that it's practically useless to comment on such things, especially in matters of the transfer of digital material from one format to another (source to retail disc, etc.,), for we do live in a "golden age" of digital media reproduction. Not to say that there isn't the occasional instances of technical snafus and glitches, but this particular Anchor Bay disc isn't one of those cases.
Audio Commentary with John Carpenter: I usually love Carpenter's commentaries, but alone he has a habit of boring you to tears with his laid back delivery of facts. I myself prefer him paired with Kurt Russell (the Escape from New York, The Thing , and Big Trouble in Little China commentaries are a blast, by the way).
"Celluloid Apocalypse" featurette: Nice little interview piece which acts as a mini-retrospective on Carpenter's life and career highlights.
"Working With A Master" featurette: Teetering dangerously on the border of being a fluff piece filled with interviews with actors and crew who have worked with Carpenter in the past, it does come off as a nice testiment from a few good friends who enjoyed working with the director in the past.
"The Making Of Cigarette Burns" featurette: Title pretty much says it all, folks. Standard studio produced glad-handing piece about how the film and the "Masters of Horror" series came together.
Then, there's the typical stills gallery, John Carpenter text bio and a nice little DVD-ROM feature that let's you take a gander at the screenplay.
A nice effort...and it's good to see someone trying to push some horror-themed projects on television (even though it's original medium was pay cable), Cigarette Burns is a decent piece of work from Carpenter. Even the slightly less than an hour format of the show works, the director and efforts of the cast hitting all the right buttons at a fairly decent pace, with little or no slack in the shocks or suspense.
Anthony Conn, aka The Hong Kong Cavalier, 4/12/2006