Did anyone read the script for Cigarette Burns before they started shooting? Udo Kier’s got a line about Norman Reedus following him, then Kier follows Reedus. Not to mention Reedus’s inability to open doors convincingly, much less regurgitate Drew McWeeny and Rebecca Swan’s startlingly insipid dialogue. It’s terrible when it’s Kier and Reedus delivering the lines, but it’s not truly godawful until Chris Gauthier shows up. Kier’s able to deliver terrible dialogue with no help from a director after decades of experience but watching Reedus and Gauthier try to hold a conversation with nothing but poorly written expository dialogue is something especially awful.
I’ve been avoiding Cigarette Burns for fifteen plus years, after hearing it was not a gem from director John Carpenter, but it’s not just a bad Carpenter outing… it’s a new low for him. He’s got a cinematographer—Attila Szalay—who can’t hold focus, he’s got an incompetent editor (Patrick McMahon), though I guess at least he was able to get his son Cody a gig doing the music. And the music’s the only thing not entirely terrible. Because even if Szalay’s lighting were all right—and the shots in focus—Carpenter’s composition is at best disinterested. He’s shooting for a 16:9 frame and has no idea how to compose the shots to make them interesting; it’s not just disappointing, it’s embarrassing to watch. If ever someone needed Alan Smithee….
Reedus is a revival movie theatre owner who’s going to hunt down a mythic lost film for Kier. How mythic? So mythic Kier’s got a de-winged angel who starred in it held captive, which doesn’t bug Reedus at all. He needs the money to pay off his dead girlfriend’s dad, Gary Hetherington. Zara Taylor plays the dead girlfriend in flashbacks. Presumably she got cast because they wanted someone who’d make Reedus look like an okay actor.
Hetherington’s terrible too. It ought to be a gimme of a small part, something any working actor could execute (and a great cameo spot for a Carpenter regular, though it’d just be humiliating for them too). It becomes obvious very soon into Cigarette Burns, it’s never getting better and it’s got a long way to go to hit bottom.
Is all of “Masters of Horror” so terrible? Cigarette Burns isn’t an encouragement to check out other Carpenter movies—quite the opposite—and it isn’t a celebration of his career (it’s McWeeny and Swan doing a worse-than-expected Kevin Smith does horror). But it’s also not like Carpenter’s trying with the script. There’d be some effort in the composition, the blocking would be better, Reedus might be able to open a door believably, every muddled frame of Cigarette Burns is another item on the list of its defects and incompetencies.
I wasn’t expecting Cigarette Burns to be any actual good, but I wasn’t expecting it to be worse than Carpenter’s previous lows by so much. Maybe they should’ve gotten someone to direct it who wanted to direct it (or anything). There’s not much missed opportunity in Cigarette Burns—the script’s garbage—but someone else might have some interest or enthusiasm for it.
Other than getting your kid a job.
I’m so glad I didn’t watch it at the time, when the disappointment (before it was for sure Carpenter was retired) would have be much more severe.