DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Masters of Horror - John Carpenter/Stuart Gordon

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Matt Stone, Mar 17, 2006.

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  1. Matt Stone

    Matt Stone Lead Actor

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    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns/Dreams in the Witch House
    Directed By: John Carpenter/Stuart Gordon

    Studio: Anchor Bay
    Year: 2005
    Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1 (Anamorphic)
    Running Time: 59 Mins. (Cigarette Burns), 55 Mins. (Dreams in the Witch House).
    Rating: Not Rated
    Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital (English), 2.0 Dolby Digital (English)
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $29.95
    Street Date: 28 March, 2006

    Review Date: 17 March, 2006
    (Ratings are out of five stars)

    Summary
    Cigarette Burns
    Cigarette Burns is rooted in the same class as Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. It plays as a commentary on the state of horror/extreme film. We, the viewer, follow movie programmer Kirby Sweetman on a quest for a rarer-than-rare horror movie. A movie so appalling that it’s only screening caused immediate violence from the audience ending in multiple deaths. During the course of the film as Kirby comes closer and closer to tracking down his white whale, he begins to feel the affects of the film (first appearing as horrific moments visible through cigarette burns). Ultimately, the film suffers from the short running time. Rather than bask and self-discovery (like the previously mentioned ItMoM), Cigarette Burns forces plot points too quickly. Unfortunately, unlike a lot of Carpenter’s early films, Cigarette Burns features some pretty boring cinematography: a lot of over-shots, close-ups, medium shots, etc. The editing is pretty cut up with a few exceptions. It’s possible that this is again a flaw of having to fit so much into such a small running time. I will admit that there were some good jump cuts during the latter half of the film. They helped represent the discordant nature of the movie.

    The performances in the film are hit and miss. Udo Keir is usually pretty creepy, and Cigarette Burns is no exception. I actually liked Norman Reedus’s character in the film. He tends to lack subtlety and comes across as goofy in roles (Blade 2 and Boondock Saints being big examples). He uses some restraint here and comes across a lot more stoic than in previous films. The rest of the supporting cast is pretty unimportant, and none stood out as noteworthy.

    Cody Carpenter’s score is simple and effective. It seems that it was meant to ape Halloween a bit, and while that is a detriment, the score was mostly on target. Come to think of it, the piano reminds me of a much simpler version of Suspiria’s score. I still miss the electronic days of Carpenter’s past (especially Assault on Precinct 13), but Cigarette burns utilized underplayed orchestral pieces well. Combined with the hit-and-miss cinematography and editing, the mise-en-scene helped develop a strong tone throughout the film. A few jump scares are there, but overall the film milks atmosphere far more than surprise. It’s surprisingly gorier than I was expecting from Carpenter. There were definitely a few moments that channeled Takashi Miike. The film degenerates a bit during the final minutes, but still falls somewhere around In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness, which isn’t too shabby considering Carpenter’s recent slew of crappola.

    Dreams in the Witch House
    I’m not really that familiar with Stuart Gordon’s other work. Aside from Re-Animator, I can’t think of a single film of his I’ve seen. His short film for the Masters of Horror series is a bit of a disappointment to me. As the title suggests, the film follows a college student who after moving into a rat-infested dump begins to have disturbing dreams of a witch and a rat with a man’s face. Yah…that’s right, a rat with a man’s face. If it sounds cheesy, that’s because it is.

    Gordon’s direction isn’t really all that bad considering the film’s problems. He does a decent job of establishing a good tone early on. Great set design and good lighting help to put the viewer a little off-kilter. I understand that he’s a bit of a Lovecraft fan, so it’s no surprise that Dreams in the Witch House is adapted from a Lovecraft story. Maybe it’s a subgenre of horror that I’m just not into, or perhaps I just don’t get it yet, but I’m still not a fan. The performances in the film are pretty forgettable. I did like Ezra Godden and Chelah Horsdal was a good female lead, but there just wasn’t much that anyone could sink their teeth into. Unfortunately, most of the film is character driven, without interesting characters. Another episode of Masters of Horror (Lucky McKee’s Sick Girl) proved that it’s possible to assemble a quick character driven short film. Stuart Gordon was unable to achieve that same success.

    Cigarette Burns Film Rating: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Dreams in the Witch House Film Rating: [​IMG][​IMG]

    Video
    Cigarette Burns
    The transfer quality was very good. I assume that this came from the HD master used on Showtime’s Hi-Def channel, and it looks stunning. Colors were clear, edges were straight, and the motion was very film-like. I noticed occasional grain, but nothing out of the ordinary. The various effects shots came off well, and the solid lighting looked very beautiful. Overall, Cigarette Burns provides a great effort for something that could have been seen as a cheap made for TV movie.

    Dreams in the Witch House
    The video quality was a little on the grainy side, but nothing too significant. The film is literally dark, and the shadow detail is only mediocre. Effects in Dreams looked very cheaply produced, but like Cigarette Burns, the overall look of the entry was film-like. The color palate was subdued with warm flesh tones. If you enjoyed the film, you’ll be happy with the transfer, but it’s far from reference quality.

    Cigarette Burns Video Rating: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Dreams in the Witch House Video Rating: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Audio
    Cigarette Burns
    Much like the transfer quality, the audio was top-notch for a TV production. Dialog was accurate without any hiss and the effects channels were utilized well for the effects shot (and the eerie bits from the movie-within-the-movie). The LFE was used pretty economically, which was a nice change of pace from the over-baked tracks that come a dime a dozen.

    Dreams in the Witch House
    Like Cigarette Burns, Dreams had an excellent audio track. One large fault (not related to quality, per se) was the score. It came across as very conventional and B-movie-ish. Dialog sounded good and the rear channels were used sparingly but very well. There are a few well-executed jump-scares in Dreams that are enhanced by the great soundtrack. There is a good punch in the LFE channel as well. I only hope all of the Masters of Horror DVDs sound as good as these two.

    Cigarette Burns Audio Rating: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Dreams in the Witch House Audio Rating: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Extras
    Cigarette Burns
    Commentaries – This DVD features two separate feature length commentaries. The first features John Carpenter as the lone participant. In my opinion, Carpenter consistently provides the best DVD/LD commentaries. Carpenter details the formation of Masters of Horror as well as the production of Cigarette Burns. It’s a little slow going in the beginning, but once it picks up, Carpenter does a good job of describing the film. He falls into narrating occasionally, but he’s still very interesting to listen to. The second commentary features writers Drew McWeeny (AICN’s Moriarty) and Scott Swan. There is a lot of repeated information, but both guys were very energetic and fun to listen to. I really hope they team up for another horror flick in the future. They very detailed and leave little silence in this commentary track. Highly recommended commentary if you choose to listen to it.
    Behind the Scenes: The Making of Cigarette Burns (3:52) – A very brief look behind the scenes of Cigarette Burns. The featurette showcases a small amount of on-set recordings of the film’s production.
    Working With A Master: John Carpenter (18:54) – An interview based look at the work of John Carpenter. As I’ve said before, I’m a huge Carpenter fan, so it was a lot of fun watching this featurette. The featurette was filled with interviews from people in Carpenter’s past (PJ Soles, Sheryl Lee, Keith Gordon, Sam Neill, Keith David etc), and all participants were very interesting. I’ve heard all of the stories before, but it’s still great hearing them again.
    Celluloid Apocalypse: An Interview with John Carpenter (18:07) – As a total Carpenter-phile, I didn’t see too much new stuff in this documentary. That being said, I love to hear the man talk, so it was definitely worth watching. If you haven’t read everything on Carpenter, it’s a pretty good look at his career, in his own words. There’s also some back-story on the formation of the Masters of Horror series as well as Carpenter’s specific entry. A very interesting featurette for a Carpenter fan.
    On Set: An Interview with Norman Reedus (7:17) – A look at the character of Kirby from the actor who portrays him. It doesn’t reveal much new, but it’s fairly interesting listening to Norman Reedus’s take on his role and the film.

    Dreams in the Witch House
    Commentary – The commentary features Stuart Gordon, actor Ezra Godden, and DVD Producer Perry Martin. Gordon does most of the talking and does a solid job of explaining the production of the film. He expounds on his direction as well as the actors’ motivations. He does fall into narrating a little bit, but overall a pretty good track.
    Dreams, Darkness and Damnation: An Interview with Stuart Gordon (20:58) – A little background featurette on Stuart Gordon’s career. It covers his obsession with Lovecraft, his career highlights and a lot of details on the production of Dreams in the Witch House. Not knowing much about Gordon, it was an interesting little featurette. It may be a little repetitive if you’re already a fan of the director.
    Working with a Master: Stuart Gordon (24:14) – A deeper look at Stuart Gordon’s background. Unlike the first featurette, this one focuses less on Dreams in the Witch house and more on Stuart Gordon’s biography. As I said before, it was pretty interesting for someone that didn’t know much about the man.
    On Set: An Interview with Chelah Horsdal (7:17) – A brief look at the film from Chelah Horsdal’s perspective. It covers a lot of her character and what she tried to do as an actress.
    Behind the Scenes (7:14) – An assembly of on-set footage recorded during the production of Dreams. Nothing too substantial here, and with the loud music, you can barely hear any dialog.
    SFX: Meet Brown Jenkin (5:08) – A short look at the film’s effects with designer Brown Jenkin. The effects were very hit and miss (gore=good, man-faced rat=bad), and this feature showed how they were pulled off.

    On a side note, I found it quite interesting that they used Cody Carpenter’s score from Cigarette Burns over most of the extras on this one. I agree with there decision, because it’s a much, much better score…but interesting decision none-the-less.

    The DVD also features trailers for other films, a still gallery, a storyboard gallery, and a Stuart Gordon biography.

    Cigarette Burns Extras Rating: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Dreams in the Witch House Extras Rating: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    In Closing…
    From a horror buff’s perspective, this two pack was a little hit-and-miss. I loved Carpenter’s entry, but didn’t find Dreams in the Witch House all that enjoyable. When I first received the announcement that Anchor Bay would be releasing the series two episodes at a time, I was a little bummed. Not being a Showtime subscriber, it meant that I was going to have to wait months, perhaps up to a year to collect the whole first season. In the end, I’m glad they decided to go with this release schedule. The extra time allows the producers to pull together some really great extras and make sure the A/V quality is as good as it can be. I’d much rather trade a little time for a significant improvement in quality. If you’re a Carpenter fan, definitely pick up Cigarette Burns. If you’re trying to get the whole series, get the two-pack for a little more. I’m anxiously awaiting the next release, and if Arrested Development does make the jump to Showtime, I’ll happily subscribe and check out next season.

    Cigarette Burns: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Dreams in the Witch House: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Overall 2-Pack Rating: [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Matt Stone
    17 March, 2005
     
  2. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    I've never seen the show but I'm definitely in for the Carpenter disc. However, I'm considering picking up the two pack but this review (and others of the show) haven't exactly filled me with much faith in most of the series. That being said, I'm sure I'll give it a try (a.k.a. be a sucker) and pick up the two pack anyway.

    The extras sounds pretty good too. Any Carpenter commentary is a good commentary in my book!

    And shouldn't this be in the TV section? [​IMG]
     
  3. Matt Stone

    Matt Stone Lead Actor

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    That's a good point. I definitely thought of them as movies when I posted the review, so I never considered putting them in the TV section. Mods, feel free to move this where you find it most applicable.
     
  4. ChrisBEA

    ChrisBEA Screenwriter

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    Looking forward to these. I had done a pre-release review of Don Coscarelli's contribution, and that excited me for the rest, but I don't have Showtime, so these disks will fill the bill.
     
  5. Pete Battista

    Pete Battista Screenwriter

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    I will definitely be getting these in my next order! I haven't seen any of the episodes... but I love horror! [​IMG]
     
  6. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    I will get simply because it's John Carpenter
     
  7. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

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    As a Carpenter fan, I might want to issue a warning about his episde. Everyone may not love it. I own most of his films on DVD, but won't be buying this one. The basic storyline was good, but it goes wrong pretty fast, and ends as this absurd gore show.

    May be worth a rental before buying.
     
  8. jakeDust

    jakeDust Extra

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    i asked this in another thread but i was redirected here so I'll try again....
    anyone catch the commercial on friday night about the three hours of bonus features on the DVD releases..carpenters will probably be really sweet..
     
  9. Jason_V

    Jason_V Producer

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    I'll probably be a sucker, too, and buy the double pack next week. The idea sounds interesting and I want to see these; I tend to find most horror brainless, though.

    Heck, that's what they made Ebay and used DVD shops for, right?
     
  10. jakeDust

    jakeDust Extra

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    exactly..so whats the word on Bloodshed? Anyone hear anything
     
  11. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

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    So, is it blind buy material? I don't get the channels that show this, but from what I have heard, the overall feeling of this show is that it is pretty good. Isn't there a Takashi Miike entry in this series that didn't get aired?

    Also, is this literally episodes 1 & 2? Continuity isn't really important in an anthology series, but I couldn't wear my nerd badge on my nerd sleeve without knowing the chronology.

    If I can find this for the right price I might spring for it.
     
  12. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    Yep. I guess the DVD will be the only way it's seen in the U.S.
     
  13. jakeDust

    jakeDust Extra

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    got carpenters last night and it came with...trading cards. random.

    anyone get em' in gordons?
     
  14. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    Yeah, I got a card with each disc. Carpenter was #1 of 13 and Gordon was #2 of 13.
     
  15. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

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    No, Carpenter's was like episode 5 or 6. I'm not sure about the Gordon episode.
     
  16. jakeDust

    jakeDust Extra

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    oh my god..the easter eggs were so easy to find...i went to Enter the Bloodshed to use the code for cig burns and you can write an alternate ending? not to sure about that one but the slaughter machine looks like its more up my alley..i'll take a few spins on that bad boy and see what happens!?!?!?!?!?
     
  17. Jason_V

    Jason_V Producer

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    I bought both of them on Tuesday on a whim. I'll prolly spin at least one of them this weekend, so we'll see if they're keepers or sellers. [​IMG]
     
  18. Andy Sheets

    Andy Sheets Cinematographer

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    I watched the Stuart Gordon one this morning and found it a pretty bad misfire. Nice extras, though. The Carpenter one should be coming to me from Netflix soon, so hopefully I'll find that one an improvement.
     
  19. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    Jake mentioned one above but here's where the (easy to find) Easter eggs are on Cigarette Burns:Push right on the Extras menu, push right on the Audio or Commentaries menu, and push right on the Trailers menu. The extras egg is a few outtakes, the audio/commentaries egg is a look at the CG work, and the trailers has the hidden code to be used at mastersofhorror.net.
     
  20. jakeDust

    jakeDust Extra

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    yeah that one would be the easier one. Thanks travis...did you find the one on Dreams at all?
     

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