(This is of course part of Radiator Heaven's Excellent John Carpenter Blogothon).
I would hardly be the first person to note that film is a drug. Neither for that matter would Cigarette Burns. But rarely have I seen a film, that articulated the idea quite so well as Cigarette Burns. That understands that junkie’s quest, the way a film that’s just out of reach can dance around the backend of your subconscious, the way the hunt becomes just as much a part of the experience of the film itself. In the bit torrents era this isn’t quite the same anymore, but for those who remember the experience of hunting down that last elusive film in a director’s run, Or a film like The Holy Mountain, or Salo in The VHS era, the film will ring true.
And the hook, oh man what a hook. The idea that out there is a film, that will provide both the ultimate film going experience, and the end of all film going experiences. Can any of us who have devoted a good chunk of our lives to film going honestly say that we wouldn’t at least consider looking? I know I for one would be sorely tempted. To stand before something that is truly unlike anything else ever made, the rumored ultimate form of the art… could you just walk away? Leave without ever knowing what was hiding in those reels, waiting for the light to bring out. After all, you know how terrible the price is, but not how wonderful the rewards could be.
And yes, I know that to even consider watching such a film, is stupid, dangerous, and borderline insane. To which I can only reply, that is the nature of addictions.
As disinterested as Carpenter seemed in his post In The Mouth Of Madness films (I may not like that title but he is trying.) is how engaged he seems by Cigarette Burns. Though the film’s scale is small, it wrings the maximum amount of tension from its set ups, and through it’s subtle use of location (including somewhat brilliantly shooting Vancouver as Vancouver), manages to give the production a much larger sense of scale then it actually has.
The small scale also helps drive up the tension. There’s no room for a big climax of The Thing style showdown. But what Carpenter can do, is put you in the frame of mind for something like the infamous snuff sequence, that anything can happen, a skill he’s always had. You’re never safe in this film.
The cast is equally engaged, even the usually unappealing Norman Reedus. Udo Kier in particular makes the most out of his small role as Bellinger, the man behind the madness.
Any horror film can make scare you, the best horror films scare you because of their ideas, and what’s more, your reaction to those ideas.
For cinephiles I would argue that Cigarette Burns is among the best of horror films. Where the scariest thing about it, is despite the dark places in which it treads, it remains unabashedly, a twisted sort of valentine.
(For my Senior Project In College I had the opportunity to talk to Drew McWeeny (Writer of Burns) for a documentary I made about Fandom. As a great admirer of both his films and his criticism (I would certainly count him, along with Roger Ebert, and Nathin Rabin as my most formative influences as both a critic and filmgoer) it was quite a treat. I found Mr. McWeeny to be a personable and generous, and we ended up having quite a long conversation. And I ended up with more footage then I could use.
So when I decided to write about Cigarette Burns, I thought I’d edit some of the Cigarette Burns and John Carpenter related outtakes together for this. Hope you enjoy:)