"Cigarette Burns" (John Carpenter), "Dreams in the Witch House" (Stuart Gordon)

From Forum With No Name:

Saw my first Masters of Horror episode.

John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns, about the search for a long-lost horror film print with fatal effects on its viewers, seems highly uncharacteriststic of his work--no self-composed minimalist music score, no Hitchcockian angles, long takes or POV shots (at least, none that really stand out or call attention to themselves), and far more gore than is usual for Carpenter.

It's not the sort of thing that's going to have immediate appeal, and the concept--that the closer the hero comes to the print the worse the effects will be--doesn't have much of a visceral impact, beyond what's provided by shock cuts. The burning rings signifying 'burns'--visual warnings to the projectionist that the reel is about to run out--don't have much creep value either; I wished it could have been depicted in a subtler way.

But Carpenter speaks a secret language here, of the heedlessness of cinephiles and the allure of legendary lost prints, and anyone even moderately steeped in the lore will understand, even sympathize with these characters, or brood over their fates ("that Udo Kier, his fate wasn't that bad, considering..."). It's fun for that subtext alone, though I wonder at the film dubbing its hermit critic character 'the one of Kael's disciples who can really think.' That's giving Kael a whole lot more heft and influence than she really had, I thought.

Stuart Gordon's Dreams in the Witch House (taking a tale from his favorite source, HP Lovecraft) shows the kind of fluid camerawork and naturalistic yet effective lighting he gives us in his best works (Reanimator, From Beyond, King of the Ants, even Dagon). Not to mention he has a wonderful knack for introducing us to totally engaging characters (a likeable college student living in a rat-trap boarding house and his beautiful single-mother next-door neighbor).

It falters towards the end, and doesn't have the metaphysical punch of his best work, but he's got us hooked to the story and people, and we squirm and worry accordingly. A lovely little gem.

ChrisJ: I also appreciate more and more the usually natural humor that Gordon and company find in various situations. It's rarely overly exagerated (thought sometimes a bit stagey which you can chalk up to Gordon's stage experiences) It's missing from straight horror (like Carpenter's Cigarette Burns) and over-done in both campy (some of which I like) or I- want-to-be-loved-by-the-teen-audience- horror crap that invades our theaters every year.

Good quick snapshot Noel.

Udo rocks !!!!

Actually I think the staginess serves Gordon in good stead; he's able to draw from entirely different sources than film-school geeks usually do, and I think there's a force and authority in doing something deliberately theatrical (a ritual, say, or a tableau) that most screen images lack.

Carpenter's humor is more the deadpan, you-gotta-be-on-the-inside-to-appreciate kind.

No comments: