Wednesday, November 01, 2006



I needed something to watch on Halloween, and I figured John Carpenter was a safe bet. But rather than reach into my DVD cabinet and pull out The Thing or Prince Of Darkness (the two of his films I own), I decided to get Cigarette Burns, his episode of Showtime's Masters Of Horror series, from Netflix. I was disappointed.

Carpenter's directing skills haven't gone soft; he's as economical and powerful a storyteller as ever. In fact, I'd argue that Ghosts Of Mars is a better movie than Assault On Precinct 13, and Vampires, its first half in particular, is criminally underrated. But he had bad material to work with here, and he couldn't save it.

The story is basically this: creepy Eurotrash film collector Udo Kier hires dumbass ex-junkie horror-revival theater owner Norman Reedus (best known, if he's known at all, as Wesley Snipes' traitorous sidekick in Blade II) to find the one existing print of the legendary film La Fin Absolue Du Monde, which provoked mob violence and death in the theater at its sole screening. Off we go: stooge seeks film, wallows through decadence and degradation, including a totally gratuitous decapitation (though to his credit, Carpenter throws in a nice line of deflating dialogue immediately afterward - "That's not art, that's just murder!"), stooge delivers film to rich creep, everyone gets their comeuppance. This is an old story, told lots and lots of times in different ways, and it always fails at the same point: the reveal. Remember how un-creepy the images on the unholy videotape in The Ring were? When we inevitably get to see La Fin Absolue Du Monde (and by the way, hearing Reedus mumble his way through that title about six dozen times in an hour gets really fuckin' old), it looks like a particularly arty Deicide video - an angel having its wings sawn off, a woman scraping her fingernails off against a wall, in black and white of course, and 1, 2, 3, yaaaaaaawwwwwwnnnn. Once the film-within-a-film actually started rolling, I ceased to give a shit. Sure, it'd basically been a gorier ripoff of 8mm to that point, but I'd been willing to ride along with Carpenter because there were a few good lines, especially one riff on the idea of removing the "cigarette burns" (the small circles that appear in the corners of movies to indicate an upcoming reel change, or if you're watching it on TV an upcoming commercial break) from films. But economical storytelling doesn't help when you've got a crap story to tell.

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