Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cigarette Burns (2006)

Alas! I wanted to watch a horror movie and what Cigarette Burns gave me was indeed a horror movie. Though not as repugnant as Takashi Miike's Imprint, this John Carpenter film for the Masters of Horror anthology is a fitting entry. It's as if Carpenter grew tired of negative criticism and proved himself in just under an hour.

Perhaps using these short Masters of Horror films is a way of cheating on my pledge to this daily blog, but I'm certainly having a blast with them. I love how the movies pay homage to other horror movies and directors. In Pick Me Up, homage was paid to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (both versions!) and Psycho, and in this movie homage was doled out to Nosferatu and director Dario Argento. It shows the unwavering camaraderie between horror movie fans and filmmakers.

Cigarette Burns is about a theater owner's search for a mysterious film that turns its audience into deranged maniacs. Hired by a wealthy collector, and driven by a debt to pay off, the theater owner pursues the film and begins to get sucked in by its growing darkness.

The search for the film kicks off with this thought: We put our trust into filmmakers, allowing them to manipulate our emotions, believing they will not go too far. In the case of this film the director not only wanted to manipulate but destroy the audience.

There were two things I loved about this movie. First and foremost, the fact that the movie plays off of its title and uses its own cigarette burns as both a scare tactic and a way to open up a whole new dimension for the film. The first time we experience the interactive cigarette burn, it captivated me and pulled me helplessly into the story's clutches.

The second thing I loved about Cigarette Burns was the suspense surrounding the notorious film. It's a plot that's been done before, in many different ways; you watch a film and something out of your control occurs (sound familiar?). But the movie did a tremendous job of using almost the entire cast to bring the mystery to life. We follow the protagonist from California, to France (where he becomes part of an abhorrent film himself), to Canada, seeking out the film, learning more and more about its baleful history. Finally, he tracks it down in British Columbia, at the home of the director's widowed wife.

By the time he delivers the video to the millionaire collector, the rare film has been built up so much I wondered how Carpenter would deliver its promise, so to speak. I wondered if we would get to see the film for ourselves like we did in The Ring (Ringu). What he did was reveal bits and pieces of the film to us while using the characters who watched it to validate its claims. As the movie rolled, it unleashed its power menacingly. I can't say that I've ever seen someone feed their large colon into a movie reel before!

Using stunning special effects, shocking gore and a steadily increasing level of suspense, this taut film seals the deal and leaves horror fans satisfied.


  1. This was another favorite of mine, along with Imprint. The MOH series was uneven, at best, but features like this and Homecoming really showed what talented directors can do, and Carpeneter did deliver the who-says-I-lost-it? goods on this one.

  2. Bo - what did you think of the "angel?" Particularly at the very end?

  3. John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns has inspired me to make an experimental short film. I studied different techniques of influencing the human mind and attempted to implement them into a story. Art can be presented in the form of a product, or it can be used as a tool to promote different products, people, and ideas. Art can be seen as a tool for manipulation of the mind, the same way a scalpel is a tool for manipulation of the flesh.

    You can watch my short film on YouTube:

    or in case you prefer Vimeo: