'Masters of Horror: 'Cigarette Burns' and 'Dreams in the Witch House''
The directors are horror legends, but will the pricetag be too steep for casual fans?
Both of the first two "Masters of Horror" DVDs contains a director's commentary, a 20-plus minute interview with the filmmaker and an equally long focus on their working process as seen through the eyes of collaborators.
Like most anthology projects, "Masters of Horror" featured at least as many misses as hits, films that delivered slap-dash gore rather than anything truly disturbing.
The Carpenter exercise offers an example of how this DVD packaging can salvage an otherwise lackluster film. "Cigarette Burns" stars Norman Reedus as a film programmer in search of a notoriously missing project called "La Fin Absolue du Monde." The film is reported to have literally driven audiences crazy, so it intrigues a near-Satanic collector (Udo Kier). The fleeting glimpses of "La Fin" are banal, the gore is perfunctory and uninspired (though there's one strong death involving a film projector at the end) and Carpenter mined the identical territory to superior effect on "In the Mouth of Madness." Plus, no matter how hard he tries, Reedus can't pronounce "La Fin Absolue du Monde."
The "Cigarette Burns" extras, though, are consistently watchable. In "Celluloid Apocalypse," Carpenter discusses his own "cinema of anxiety" and traces his roots in a way that's thorough if not insightful. In "Working with a Master," Carpenter vets like P.J. Soles ("Halloween"), Sam Neill ("Madness") and Keith David ("The Thing") make compelling cases for the diversity of the director's resume. While the commentary track from writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan is bratty and bland, Carpenter's is worth a listen. With a wry sense of humor, he deconstructs all of the sacrifices that had to be made on the 10-day shoot and tears much of the project to shreds.
"Dreams in the Witch House" is both a better film and a more satisfying package. Working once again with a Lovecraft story, Gordon ("The Re-Animator") weaves an solid tale of a physics grad student (Ezra Godden, an genre actor in the Jeffrey Combs/Bruce Campbell vein) who moves into an old boarding house formerly occupied by a dimension-traveling witch. Using a bag-of-tricks including eerie lighting, distorted lensing and wacky angles, Gordon builds tension for 30 minutes before pushing the edge of the gore envelope with a wacky conclusion including rough sex and a rat with a human face.
If Carpenter seemed a bit embarrassed by much of his installment, Gordon seems justifiably convinced that "Dreams" is a decent piece of work. His interview contains strong insight into the film's underpinnings and also offers valuable advice on how to direct actors within the genre. His collaborators contribute to an amusing portrait of a man who's actually easily freaked out himself and yet still loves to work with extremes. The interesting commentary with Godden and Gordon benefits from the presence of DVD producer Perry Martin, who serves as moderator.
Anchor Bay doesn't appear to have a timetable for all upcoming "Masters" episodes (the films by Mick Garris and Don Coscarelli appear to be coming in May), so the success of these two may determine if the company sticks to the same pattern for subsequent DVDs.
STUDIO: Anchor Bay Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: March 28
RATING: Not rated
PRICE: $16.98 apiece or $29.98 as a two-pack
TIME: 118 min. for the two-pack
DVD EXTRAS: filmmakers' commentaries; "Working with a Master" featurettes; director and cast interviews; additional behind the scenes footages
INTERNET SITE: For more info go to "Masters of Horror"