Masters of Horror is the brain child of Mick Garris, the
idea to assemble the best horror film directors and let each
loose for an hour to create a new millennium of terror for
the small screen. The names in question are: John Carpenter
(Halloween, The Thing, etc.), John Landis (An
American Werewolf in London), Dario Argento
(Demons), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre),
Don Coscarelli (the Child's Play films, Bubba
Ho-Tep), as well as Stuart Gordon and Mick
Garris himself. This first twin-release showcases Carpenter
John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns Kirby Sweetman splits
his time between screening rare movies at his cinema and tracing
them for private collectors. When he is paid by a wealthy
man to trace Le Fin Absolue du Monde (The Absolute
End of the World) he has little choice but to accept the
challenge. His father-in-law had loaned them $200,000 for
the cinema, but ever since his wife had committed suicide
in a heroin-induced state the man has blamed Sweetman. Now
he is threatening to close down the cinema and even kill Sweetman.
However, the single existing print of the film has become
notorious. At its one public screening the entire audience
were driven to an immediate killing frenzy. A bloodbath ensued.
As Sweetman gets closer to the source he begins to experience
flashes of cigarette burns, which are circles on a film that
tell the projectionist to change reels. Within these circles
he sees frightening images, many relating to his dead wife.
He delivers the reels and collects his cheque without watching
the film, but the nightmare isn't over. The film affects all
those who come into contact with it, and Sweetman is about
to endure his own private screening of hell...
can I say except that John Carpenter is a genius? A bias opinion
perhaps, as I'm a long- time fan. But in this case it's not
all his doing. Carpenter had pretty much retired after Ghosts
of Mars, hinting that he might return if the right script
came along. So here he is, in his own words an old man, returning
to the fray after being impressed with the dialogue-driven
script by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. A very creditable job
he does too, using a passive direction which allows the suspense
of the story to seep into you, rather than slapping the audience
round the face with the concept.
good to see Carpenter has lost none of his brutal honesty;
both feet are firmly on the ground. He ridicules the idea
that anyone, least of all himself, is a "Master of Horror",
whilst everyone else sings his praises, and we learn that
what scares most people actually makes Carpenter laugh. So
we see him on set (on the extras) silently convulsing with
laughter before spontaneously applauding a gristly scene.
A true character.
for Cigarette Burns itself, it succeeds in allowing
the viewer to build the suspense by merely hinting at the
film's power and showing fleetingly quick images from the
film (which work in a similar manor to Sadako's video in the
Japanese film The
Ring). It doesn't weaken the plot that we never
discover what Le Fin Absolue du Monde is actually about
- apart from it being an art film. There's a fine balance
at play with the images, and it's difficult to know what to
make of the angel which the collector keeps chained up, its
wings savagely removed as a memento. It's not laughable, nor
is it frightening, merely surreal. For
me personally there is only one step too far (silly, not scary)
when the collector feeds his own entrails into the projector.
Burns has certain similarities to Carpenter's own In
the Mouth of Madness, particularly the cinema version
of a best-selling horror book which turns the audience into
mindless psychotics. I would have preferred that Carpenter
script his own piece, as he has for the majority of his films,
but any sort of Carpenter is a bonus these days and this is
a good addition to his arsenal.
There's a host of special features, including: a commentary
by director John Carpenter (although it isn't mentioned, I'm
certain I spotted a cameo from the man himself; as Sweetman
enters his cinema he is reflected in the glass door walking
past); a separate commentary with the writers Drew McWeeny
and Scott Swan; Behind the scenes Making of... documentary;
Working with a Master - John Carpenter (on set with
the man, and comments from others with whom he has worked);
an interview with Carpenter; an interview with Norman (Sweetman)
Reedus; Cigarette Burns - From Script to Screen; John
Carpenter biography; still gallery; visual effects; out-takes;
trailers for the others in the Masters of Horror collection;
DVD ROM screenplay and screen saver.
In Stuart Gordon's Dreams in the Witch House, advanced
Physics student Walter Gilman rents a cheap room in a run-down
old house not far from the university where is is conducting
his thesis on geometric shapes creating joining universes.
Resident at the house is a bad-tempered landlord, young mother
Francis and her baby, and a seemingly crazy old man who prays
loudly and covers his walls in crucifixes. After chasing a
rat from the room of Francis, he wakes to find one in his
own. He is horrified to realise it has a human face. The old
man babbles about a witch coming for Walter, but the student
writes the entire experience off as a dream. Increasingly
real dreams begin to overtake him, to the extent that he wakes
up in different places. Then he realises that the angles of
the walls come together to form the exact shape needed to
create a connection with another universe. The witch wants
the blood of the baby, but for some reason requires Walter
to make the killing stroke...
Gordon has made a string of horror movies, but arguably none
of them bar one has resulted in any mainstream impact. His
film version of Re-Animator, based on H.P. Lovecraft's
story Herbert West: Re-Animator, struck just the right
balance between Frankenstein-like horror and black
humour. Although Dreams in the Witch House is scripted
by Dennis Paoli and Gordon himself, it is again based on work
by Lovecraft. Let's be absolutely honest and say in this instance
Lovecraft is the only "Master of Horror" here. The
reason why hardly any Lovecraft material has made it to celluloid
is because it doesn't adapt well for the screen. Consequently,
this is average stuff. Witches have been done to death (literally)
in the movies and there's not enough of a slant to make the
audience think they're watching anything new.
there are a couple of enjoyable scenes. When Walter ravishes
what he thinks is the naked Francis, she suddenly changes
into an old hag - one of the guises of the witch (no Friday
night / Saturday morning jokes please!). After a particularly
vivid dream in the house Walter wakes to find himself at the
university, seated in his underwear and inexplicably reading
The Necronomicon, the ancient Book of the Dead
which is written in blood and bound in human skin. Of course,
The Necronomicon was invented and heavily used by Lovecraft
in his stories. Since then countless films and books have
used the premise; most notably The
Evil Dead and the Necronomicon series
of books by Brian Lumley.
less said about the rat the better. The BBC were doing this
sort of make-up for Sunday afternoon children's serials years
ago. The Special Features are identical to the Cigarette
Burns disc (just replace Carpenter with Gordon), and there
is an interview with Chelah Horsdal who plays Francis.
the packaging from Anchor Bay is near exemplary, choosing
to separate the two short films, as they deserve, and then
placing them in a box sleeve. The only niggle is that the
artwork of Carpenter on the cover looks like someone has sketched
a corpse and then turned it to stone.
is some of the best horror stuff to have been made in recent
years, and the trailers promise more gems to come. Roll on
the next release in the series.