John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns

31 Day Horror Challenge
Cigarette Burns: Directed by John Carpenter
Film Write Up #2
Rewatch

What is the nature of cinema? What is the nature of horror? John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns asks these questions through the lens of the horror landscape of 2005, but in truth this was something that had been building for a long time. The definition of horror is revulsion, and in the context of cinema the horror film can do more than just that, but it’s primary focus is still to repel or scare. In the 70s you had The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which evolved into Cannibal Holocaust and filmmaking kept moving further and further into the world of extreme violence within horror culminating with films like Saw,Hostel and the French New Extreme movement to encapsulate this feeling that horror was moving towards something far more graphic. Just how far could horror go when we’ve become so desensitized to violence that there are literally no more rules for what you can show? A better question is what does a film have to do nowadays to truly shock? In Cigarette Burns a hypothetical film exists that is so terrible and so horrific that it cannot be shown without causing murder among its audience members. 

John Carpenter came to us through that cinematic realm of fright, and he made his home on the margins or terror, and this is his eulogy to a genre he didn’t have much use for anymore. John Carpenter is not the man who is going to rely on torture to get a rise out of his audience and he certainly isn’t going to be the man to break that trust that one character mentions here (audiences trust directors to guide them, but never take things too far). He grew up idolizing Howard Hawks, and even if his intentions got dark (The Thing) he was still aiming to entertain an audience. He wasn’t going to punish them with long takes of the worst aspects of humanity, because ultimately he is a humanist. He may make pictures about the end of the world, but his band of misfits are going to go out swinging if it kills them. However, in Cigarette Burns Carpenter seems a bit defeated. His strengths as a filmmaker are still present, but there are no heroes in this movie, and one could hardly consider it a film within Carpenter’s oeuvre, because it goes so far out of its way to damn the audience and the genre it’s discussing. What’s wrong with us that we want to see such horrible imagery? What if the horror of the on screen image in horror pictures was suddenly turning up in cinemas due to the effect of a film? Would we deserve it for wanting to see such horrible things? Cigarette Burns answers with a resounding yes.

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