Back in 2005, Showtime came up with the concept of a series called 'Masters of Horror', where they would take the best of the best that the horror genre had to offer, and give them ultimate and complete control in making an hour long movie. The lineup of writers and directors are the cream of the crop in the genre, from names like Tobe Hooper, John Landis, and Clive Barker. Obviously being on Showtime, they were allowed to get away with quite a bit, and while not all of them were brilliant, they all had their merits and some bordered on fantastic. There was a huge variety in the series, ranging from "Deer Woman", an almost tongue-in-cheek flick about an Indian legend that is half woman, half deer, to more grim topics such as abortion and murder. While I recommend the viewing of pretty much the entire series, a couple always stood out to me and felt like they were such original ideas, they could have (and should have) been fleshed out into full-length films. One such movie is titled "Cigarette Burns", directed by John Carpenter. Just the title alone interests me, for some reason.
The term "cigarette burns" is a term that people use to describe those, well, burns, that you see on a film reel. If you've ever been to the movies, back before everything became sterile and digital, you would see these marks that were actually on the film itself. So when the movie starts, we see our main character Kirby, played by Mr. Norman Reedus, yes, Darryl from "The Walking Dead", pulls up to a mansion and we're introduced to Udo Kier as Mr. Bellinger. You may not recognize the name Udo Kier, but I guaran-damn-tee you that you've seen him in something. He's that crazy looking German guy that's been in hundreds of movies and tv shows. He is a rich man that is obsessed with all things movies, and Kirby is a bit of a film collector himself. Bellinger tells us the story of a movie called "La Fin Absolue du Monde", which translates from French as "The Absolute End of the World". It was a movie that was screened one time about 30 years ago, that was so graphic and disturbing in nature that it drove the audience to madness, to kill each other and themselves. That concept to me is fascinating. I've always been interested in the mental aspects of film, or any medium of art, and how it affects the mind. It goes back to the primal instinct of being scared, how some of us crave that adrenaline of a great jump scare or something so gross that it literally turns our stomach. What if there was something like that that had such dire consequences on anyone that watched it?
Udo Kier explains to Kirby that there is one single print of the film, somewhere in the world, and he will pay him very handsomely to hunt it down for his personal collection. Surely the print doesn't exist, after the controversy? Well, he has a "prop" from the movie in his collection, an actual living, breathing fallen angel, that he's cut the wings off of. He keeps the angel as somewhat of a living display in his home, and the angel explains that they know the film still exists because they are tied to the very grain of the film itself. If the film ceased to exist, so would he. Again, that's something I find very original. Besides the fact that the angel is super creepy visually, the idea of something or someone being physically and spiritually tied to something like that, is very creative. So Kirby visits a guy who wrote a review of the film, who has obviously been driven to insanity. He sits in a dark room, frantically typing, surrounded by stacks of thousands of pages, and he says he's writing his "real review", and that he's almost finished. But he needs to see the film again. It's all he's thought and dreamed about for 30 years.
Through his connections, Kirby is introduced to this very odd, S&M type guy who might have a way to the film. It's a scene straight out of "Hostel" or something, complete with cliché mob henchmen. So this guy actually drugs Kirby, ties him up, and kills a woman on film, in front of him. He then explains in more detail about *what* the film is. The fallen angel from before? The concept of the film was, what would happen if you filmed such an extreme act that it changed anyone that watched it? The movie was about killing this angel, something so pure and perfect, and what effect watching that would have on someone. He finds the widow of the director, who explains that the film drove her husband to suicide, and that if he watches the film, it will do the same to him. Reluctantly, she gives him the print of the film and he delivers it to Udo Kier, who is hilariously brought to an orgasmic state just by touching the film reel. You can always count on Udo Kier being thoroughly entertaining in anything.
So we have the film, Kirby has his movie, and all the while during this first 45 minutes, you're obviously hoping and wanting to actually SEE this movie. It's kind of like the elephant in the room. So many people are sold on this concept of "less is more", and probably wouldn't even show anything of the film. Besides, nothing could live up to the hype of what your mind has created, which I guess is the point. So Udo starts watching the film, and do we see it? For better or worse, not really. We see a few quick flashes of something that looks like it could've been from "The Ring", certainly nothing that will keep you up at night. Of course, it does cause Udo to slice open his stomach and feed his intestines into a film projector, that's always fun. The climax is ultimately, kind of anticlimactic. I think they kind of overshot the explanation for what the film actually is, and it veers into something about how Kirby's dead girlfriend comes out of the movie screen and he realizes that the only way her spirit will be free is for him to stop thinking about her, so he kills himself. Ultimately, I just couldn't piece the ending together. I don't think it was over my head, I think they just couldn't figure out how to adequately end such a brilliant concept. That's something so many movies and series do today, they spend so long showing great ideas and execution, but then it goes off the rails because they can't figure out how to end it. All about the journey and not the destination, I guess.
After Kirby shoots himself, the fallen angel is freed and gathers the film reel, says "thank you", and I guess goes on to live happily ever after. In watching this, I'm so conflicted. The premise, to me, is one of the most original I've ever seen. The hook is so perfect and everyone is so intrigued when they learn about the plot. But the actual execution isn't completely all there. Ironically, the problem is that the idea was too good. I guess you can equate it to maybe coming up with a genius idea for a video game, but then not having to technology to fulfill your vision. The concept of the power of film, the fallen angel, seedy film collectors, snuff, the skeleton of the ideas are pretty genius, but I often wonder if it was somehow stunted by being made for this series. Would they have been able to flesh things out better in a full length, feature film? Maybe so. But maybe not. To hear these directors talk, they were held back only by the boundaries of their creativity. But if you think about it, the heart of the movie was this film in it, and they possibly couldn't have ever shown anything that halfway lived up to the hype it had created. Perhaps this *is* a case of less is more.
"Cigarette Burns" gets 7 Fallen Angels out of 10