Oh…my…God. Woah, what a seriously messed up piece of work this is. This episode of MASTERS OF HORROR is directed by John Carpenter, who doesn’t hold much back. After a few episodes of relatively light fun, CIGARETTE BURNS represents a return to nasty horror established by the very first episode of the series. While it doesn’t hold together quite as well, it more than satisfies the desires of anyone looking for some real gore. In fact, it goes beyond, leaving a disturbing and dank taste in the viewer’s mouth. This isn’t perfect, but it’s real horror.
The episode represents ground visited by Carpenter in his overlooked IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, in the sense that it involves the impact a piece of art has on its audience. Here, the art in question is a film entitled LA FIN ABSOLUTE DU MONDE (The Absolute End of the World). We discover the strange history of this film when a guy named Kirby (Norman Reedus) is summoned by an eccentric millionare named Bellinger (the wonderful Udo Kier). Bellinger is a disturbed guy who will pay any price to track down a copy of the infamous film. Why is it infamous? Well, when it was first screened, it led to serious violence among its viewers. It was then lost for good. Or was it?
Kirby has his own issues – a junkie girlfriend dead by suicide, in debt over his head to the late girlfriend’s dad, and a failing movie theater. So clearly, he takes Bellinger up on his offer. Before long, he’s in upstate New York, France, then Canada, on his worldwide journey to track down the LA FIN ABSOLUTE DU MONDE. Almost as soon as his travels begin, Kirby starts seeing strange visions – visions sparked by a “cigarette burn” (those little spots in the upper-right corner of the film screen). It’s clear early on that even looking for this movie can mess a guy up.
Speaking of messed up, the episode hits its gory stride when Kirby has an encounter with a sick French filmmaker inspired by the film in question. The nasty French-man takes his reality movie-making to extremes, with a quick chop of a machete to a woman’s neck. Kudos to the make-up artists, because this scene is just flat-out nasty and horribly realistic. I was genuinely stunned by the explicitness of the gore, but I had more in store.
Kirby ultimately (of course) tracks down the film and brings it back to Bellinger. The last ten minutes of the episode are alternately unbelievably nasty, while a tad disappointing. What we want to see most is the film they’ve been talking about the whole time. We get some glimpses of it, but those are mostly random RING-style shots. Nothing particularly terrifying, and I realized at that point Carpenter would have been better off not showing us the movie at all. But what ISN’T disappointing is the all out frenzy of nastiness that wrap up the film. Carpenter lets fly with a series of unforgettable images, most of which I won’t reveal in order to “treat” you to the surprises in store.
The episode doesn’t always hold together as tightly as I’d like and there are slower gaps between the sudden violent moments. But I was intrigued by the premise and there’s no way I can say that it lacked horror. In fact, even as seasoned a horror-viewer as myself could not help but feel a little sick to my stomach at some of the effects employed by Carpenter. CIGARETTE BURNS takes MASTERS OF HORROR up a notch. It’s genuinely freaky, and utterly horrific. It’s a must-see.
RATING: *** (out of four)