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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Burning (1981) review


Brian Matthews (Todd), Leah Ayres (Michelle), Brian Backer (Alfred), Larry Joshua (Glazer), Ned Eisenberg (Eddy), Jason Alexander (Dave), Fisher Stevens (Woodstock), Holly Hunter (Sophie), Lou David (Cropsy)

Directed by Tony Maylam

***WARNING! This review contains pics of graphic violence and nudity***

When a camp prank goes horribly wrong, Cropsy, the now deformed caretaker of Camp Blackfoot returns to stalk and kill a group of campers out of revenge for the terrible accident that burned his body beyond recognition five years prior.

This popular 80's slasher had a reputation long before its American DVDebut in uncut form. It was one of those movies that held a great deal of anticipation for horror fans anxious to see it in its unexpurgated version after hearing so much about Tom Savini's grand gore effects. When it finally made its appearance on the digital format in the US in late 2007, it didn't disappoint most fans who were familiar with it.

I remember renting the old Thorn EMI/HBO Video VHS and not being very impressed with the movie. It has some cool moments, but you had to wade through a lot of muck to get to them. The same holds true for the DVD. While it looks great and the cinematography perfectly captures the New York forests aiding the atmosphere immensely, the movie is still kind of a frequent bore. Watching it yet again the other night, my opinion has changed a bit. The characters are the typical nerds, geeks and assholes inherent in every slasher movie, and a lot of time is spent getting to know them. After the first ten minutes, there's not another death scene till the 49 minute mark.

The film itself has quite a pedigree which only adds to the films status on the slasher popularity poll. The Weinstein's got their start in the business working as producers and writers on the picture. Several popular television and screen alumni started out here such as Jason (SEINFELD) Alexander, stage and small screen actor, Fisher Stevens and Holly (RAISING ARIZONA) Hunter. Rick Wakeman, of the band Yes, handled the score for the movie. Jack Sholder, the director of the superior slasher, ALONE IN THE DARK and THE HIDDEN was the editor and an individual by the name of Corky Burger was a presenter.

THE BURNING is pretty much interchangeable from any other slasher movie of the time, particularly those of the 'killer in the woods' variety. There are others that I think are better (MADMAN) and there are those I think are inferior (THE FINAL TERROR). THE BURNING falls in between there. It has several good horror moments, but not really enough to make it stand out from the pack, at least in my eyes. The film begins good enough with its setup showing Cropsy being burned up and the eventual hospital scene where he hear a voiceover state the skin grafts didn't take.

After the opening credits, it does something different from the usual 'killer in the woods' motif. Cropsy is in the city fresh out of the hospital and pays for a hooker. When she takes a gander at his mishapen face and shows distaste for his appearance, he kills her with a pair of scissors to the stomach. There's also an editing mistake here. You can see that the scissors are cut off when the camera stays on too long when the killer pulls the implement away.

With the film taking so long to get to the red stuff, there are several great build ups and false scares. The bulk of the action doesn't happen till the last 20 minutes. One of the best sequences and the one that seems to get the most mention is the raft scene where five characters are killed off all at one time. When their rafts suddenly disappear, the campers all split up to find them. One group builds their own raft and locates one of the canoes a good distance from their location. Investigating, they discover that Cropsy is waiting for them and kills them all with his garden shears, his weapon of choice.

The ending also eschews the usual "final girl". In this case, it's a "final guy", or more accurately, two final guys. It's suitably gory and itself contains a few false scares (as well as a twist) till the killer is finally dead. Tom Savini provided his patented realistic gore effects and the burn make up on Cropsy. The original ending was supposed to have taken place inside a cave, but unsafe conditions kept that from happening. Even with all the ratings problems this production went through, seeing it now, it's a bit tame when compared with other Savini gore spectaculars such as MANIAC and THE PROWLER (both 1980).

While it seems to have a fairly healthy following, casual horror fans, or impatient viewers accustomed to Hollywood's current means of keeping them entertained by a "thrill a minute" will most likely be bored with this movie when people aren't being butchered. Recommended for slasher and 80's horror enthusiasts only.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD


Rev. Phantom said...

I'm not that into slasher as a whole (anymore that is, as an 80's kid I loved them back in the day), but this is one of them that I really liked. Not sure exactly why, as it's fairly by the numbers as you point out, but there were enough difference to make it interesting. That being said, I didn't see The Burning until a few years ago, if I'd seen it as a kid I don't think it would have left much of an impression because it had so much competition back then. Seeing it as an adult and after not seeing another slasher for awhile, I enjoyed it a lot.

venoms5 said...

Me, too, Rev. When I first bought the DVD, I still didn't think all that much of it till I watched it again a few days ago. It stands out in the suspense, building up to the kills although there's not many of them till the last 30 minutes or so.

Will Errickson said...

I do however love that raft murder sequence because it doesn't play by slasher rules: none of those kids had sex and they're actually likable in a nerdy, cute way. Plus that shot of Cropsy holding up his shears silhouetted by the sun is pretty bad-ass.

venoms5 said...

I totally agree, Will. That shot of Cropsy with his shears was used on the poster, too, I think.

Carl (ILHM) said...

So many people regard this as one of the best single serving slashers, but I dont think it is anything outside of average (the raft sequence being the obvious exception). I prefer many other slasher above this one, though it does make for plenty of campy 80s fun

venoms5 said...

I used to not think much of it myself, even after buying the DVD. Then I watched it again a few nights ago and thought it had some unusually good characterizations and some well mounted suspense. Aside from that, there's little else. But it is a good slasher.

Kaijinu said...

Aside from the ultra-gored-up raft massacre, I actually dig the stripper kill. I mean that gut, softest gut I ever lay eyes on!

venoms5 said...

I thought this one was boring when I first rented it, but after the DVD came out, it grew on me.

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