|Masters Of Horror - John Carpenter - Cigarette Burns|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 28 March 2006|
A group of friends, mostly horror writers and directors, have occasionally met for dinner here and there in Los Angeles. Somewhat in the spirit of “Hey, Judy’s got the costumes, my uncle’s got a barn, we can do the show right here!”, Mick Garris, one of the group, proposed a series of made-for-TV hour-long horror dramas, each to be made by a name horror director.
The resulting series, “Masters of Horror,” aired on Showtime and was popular enough that a second “Masters of Horror” season is now in production, and a “Masters of Sci-Fi” series is also in the works.
Anchor Bay is releasing the first series two episodes at a time. Each episode comes in its own cardboard sleeve, with the DVDs almost incredibly jammed with extras. Someone knew that horror movie buffs are among the most avid DVD collectors, and that they simply can’t be told too much about their favorite movies. This extras-laden treatment is rare in general, and incredibly rare for individual episodes of a TV series. Watching all the extras takes considerably more time than the individual episodes; this may be too much of a good thing.
In the last ten years or so, with lackluster titles like “Ghosts of Mars” and outright stinkers like the remake of “Village of the Damned,” John Carpenter has shown he’s losing interest in directing. In the interview on this DVD, he unwisely scoffs at the main idea behind his own “Masters of Horror” episode. Perhaps that’s why the short film, though generally accomplished, is so hard to believe on any level. Instead of trying to make the absurd acceptable, Carpenter shrugs and overstates everything. After about the halfway point, the episode becomes laughable and never recovers.
Theater programmer Kirby (Norman Reedus), who specializes in finding, then showing, rare and/or obscure movies, is hired by reclusive millionaire Ballinger (Udo Keir) to track down an especially rare film. This is “La Fin Absolue du Monde,” shown once in 1971 at a fantastic film festival in Sitges. It’s reputed to have driven the audience mad, that the theater aisles ran red with blood.
Ballinger also collects film artifacts. In another room he keeps an especially strange one: an angel whose wings have been brutally cut from its back (Keir also has the wings in a glass case). Kirby does not react to this astonishing sight. He gets Ballinger to promise him $200,000 and the right to show the film at Kirby’s theater. He borrowed that much from the father of his girlfriend who died of a drug overdose.
Kirby heads for Europe and what seems to be the Cinematheque Française. His contact there sends him on to a peculiar film collector who lives in a house encased in amber vines, and who, dressed as an executioner, decapitates a woman before Kirby’ s eyes. Then crouches on him, snarling philosophy while rubbing the film seeker’s face with bloody hands. This is where the film goes over the top, and it never comes back.
Kirby finally locates a print of the film (in Vancouver, where “Masters of Horror” is shot) and returns to Ballinger. Later, he comes back after Ballinger screened the film, and watches—again, without any reaction—Ballinger’s Asian servant stab himself in the eyes. What Ballinger does to HIMself, well, you don’t wanna know.
In the interview, Carpenter admits that showing anything from the film that drives people crazy is doomed to failure—but he shows some of it anyway. And he’s right, it doesn’t work. The black and white footage includes shots of children attacking that angel, a brick wall with a woman’s hands clawing at it, a sky full of what looks like blood clots (in color). It’s incoherent and though intense, also trivial. It’s like hearing someone tell parts of that deadly joke the Monty Python troupe played with.
The film is very handsomely produced, and Carpenter occasionally shows he’s still capable of powerful scenes. But his lack of belief in—actually, contempt for—his material is all too easily to discern. If the director has no appreciation for this material, why does he expect the audience to?
The title, incidentally, refers to those circles in the upper right-hand corner of the screen indicating reel changes. They never looked like cigarette burns to me.
This also has a lot of extras, though not as many as “Dreams in the Witch House.” There’s “Celluloid Apocalypse: An Interview with John Carpenter,” who seems jaded. “Working with a Master” again consists of interviews with actors who’ve worked with Carpenter, including Sam Neill, Keith Gordon, PJ Soles and Keith David.