Cigarette Burns

John Carpenter has never been a “contemporary” horror director. His cinema has always seemed out of synch with its appropriate climate or era. Usually, it’s agreed that the Hollywood of the 1950s would’ve been a more ideal environment, but is that even true? Increasingly, particularly as the horror genre (all genres) have metastasized in the wake of digital, it has become apparent that Carpenter is a director without an era. Rather, it is critical to his work to both exist post-Classical Hollywood, while never aligning with the trajectories or traits of his peers. Carpenter needs the world to react off of, more particularly the ideologically murky world of the 20th Century and its fallout. Everything that entails, perhaps most critically cinema, is fundamentally alienated from, yet critical to, his work.

Vampires (1998) needs both the Western and the Catholic Church to exist. Escape from L.A. (1996) needs its predecessor (Escape from New York, 1981), the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, the trends of Hollywood, Reaganism, New Age religions, satellites, and American conservatism. They Live (1988) is both a film of the 1980s and not. His cinema is alienated.
It makes sense, then, that Cigarette Burns (2005) registers as his most despairing note. It is the ultimate realization of alienation. The moment Carpenter must finally, directly, look at the horror cinema around him. More importantly, the horror cinema of the 2000s. Torture porn, found footage, the sadistic and immoral search for shock/truth from filmmakers like Lars von Trier and Gaspar Noé.

The fictional film-within-the-film, La Fin Absolue du Monde, inverts all Carpenter. The omnipresent threat of the unknown, of evil, manifests itself as a film. This isn’t some bullshit, grandiloquent statement on cinema. Rather, it’s a deeply painful, personal look inward at the genre that sustained Carpenter as a director. The end of horror, the direct confrontation with evil that once formed the core of this particular cinema, has become elusive, or outright vanished, in the cinema of his contemporary filmmakers. A gesture of great loneliness.

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