by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a cheap movie in need of a plot must be in want of some tits. Breasts, the most affordable special effect of all, have been used since time immemorial to hide lousy scripts, rubber monsters and bland characterization.
H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House, part of the Masters of Horror series, flings as many boobs as it can to distract from the unavoidable truth: that Stuart Gordon, despite his best efforts, is unable to extend Lovecraft’s short story into an hour-length’s worth of entertainment.
Some of the special effects, including the witch’s familiar, are downright laughable, and the story, as filmed by Gordon, feels flat and stale. Perhaps, had it been trimmed to half an hour, the whole thing might have been more palatable.
As it stands, H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House becomes a showcase of blood and breasts, with little imagination. Lovecraft’s story dwells on dreams, dimensions and bizarre rooms “of good size but queerly irregular shape”. Mathematics mingle with sorcery, and dreams bleed into reality. None of this makes it into this adaptation.
A better Lovecraftian experience is obtained by watching Cigarette Burns. Directed by John Carpenter and just like In the Mouth of Madness, Cigarette Burns has a Lovecraftian feel, focusing on a forbidden object, the blurring of reality and a descent into madness.
In In the Mouth of Madness, the forbidden object is a novel threatening to unleash death and insanity on the reader. In Cigarette Burns, it is a movie. La Fin Absolue du Monde has caused sorrow to its audience since the beginning: a riot followed the original screening of the film and most of the people connected to the movie have died, gone insane, or both.
Cigarette Burns works best in its first half, when the secrets of the film remain half-whispered and veiled. A monster under the glare of a naked lightbulb is never as frightening as one hiding in the shadows, and mysteries are more tantalizing when they remain unresolved.
Although it has its flaws, Cigarette Burns is probably the best of the Masters of Horror features, combining gore and special effects with a thoughtful script and a sense of menace. It’s a clever film, Lovecraftian at its core and well-made. Watch it as a triple feature with In the Mouth of Madness and The Thing, the latter also containing some Lovecraftian touches.