Main cast: Norman Reedus (Kirby Sweetman), Udo Kier (Mr Bellinger), Christopher Redman (The Willowy Being), Zara Taylor (Annie), Chris Britton (Meyers)
Director: John Carpenter
Cigarette Burns is actually a slang of sorts in the film business, used to describe a cue on a film reel to tell the person manning the film projector that it is time to splice a new reel to keep the movie going. It’s an old-school description, as most cinemas these days have gone digital, but it’s an apt title for this episode as it is all about film enthusiasts chasing after a mysterious film that brings death and calamity to all who watch it.
Kirby Sweetman and his father-in-law loathe one another, and given that Kirby enabled his late wife’s drug habits, I can’t blame that old man fully for his antagonism. After Kirby’s wife Annie died, the relationship deteriorated to such an extent that the old man is demanding back every penny he told Annie was a gift to help Kirby open his own cinema. Needing money as he is besieged by debts from all side, he accepts the assignment from a film fan Mr Bellinger to locate a mysterious film called La Fin Absolue du Monde (“The Absolute End of the World”), for $200,000 and two weeks run of that movie in his failing cinema. If that isn’t enough, Mr Bellinger also has a captive guest of sorts, a pale willowy creature said to be one of the cast members of that movie.
Kirby assumes that the film must be some kind of snuff flick, but his search leads him to a sick downward spiral as he meets increasingly nuttier people that are positively homicidal and insane, and that’s even before he locates the film!
John Carpenter needs no introduction, I’m sure, as he is one of the few directors in Masters of Horror that have managed to retain a semblance of goodwill despite having directed a few duds himself recently. Cigarette Burns suffers from a plethora of cartoon-like characters, but it has excellent build up and tension. The theme, the pacing, and the slow sense I get of increasingly out of control madness all contribute to a fascinate edge-of-seat episode. It is pretty easy to deduce the nature of La Fin Absolue du Monde once the episode introduces the willowy fellow, but the nature of the film isn’t the end game here. It’s all about how it is so easy for us to snap and revert to our vilest, basest instincts in pursuit of the objects of our affection.
I would have loved this one more, I must admit, if I hadn’t watched Mr Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. That one has the same theme as this episode, and while it came out in 1995, I was so struck and affected by that movie that I could still feel echoes of it, almost twenty years later, when I watch this episode. While the plots of these two Mr Carpenter-directed stories are different, the key theme and execution are similar enough that it often seems like he has plagiarized himself.
No matter, this one is a solid episode in this series. It also has some of the low-key goriest scenes I’ve ever seen in a while, heh. If you really have to watch one episode in this series, try to make it this one.