Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
In the ’80s, a lot of horny teenage campers got dismembered on screen. The Burning was released in the wake the massive success of Friday the 13th and added its fair share of corpses to the pile. But what makes the victims in The Burning different than those in the majority slasher films is that these kids are pretty damn likable. Usually you can’t wait for the obnoxious teens to get torn up, but the campers at Camp Stonewater are easy to root for. Besides one rapey scumbag, everyone else is pretty cool and the film itself is very entertaining and fun.
The film begins in 1976 at Camp Blackfoot. A group of campers sneak out out of their cabin in the middle of the night to pull a prank on Cropsy, the camp’s caretaker. By “prank” I mean they accidentally set him on fire and he’s horribly disfigured for life. Jump five years in the future and Cropsy gets released from the hospital. He dresses himself like Darkman and picks up a hooker. After killing her with a pair of scissors (foreshadowing the pruning shears to come), he sets out for Camp Stonewater, where one of the campers involved with the prank is now a counselor.
We hang out with the Stonewater kids as they play softball, buy condoms and porno mags, take a canoe trip – the usual summer camp activities. Two notable campers are a young and very skinny Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit) and a not-so-bald, not-so-stocky Jason Alexander (aka George “Lord of the Idiots” Costanza). Like I mentioned earlier, all of the campers, besides one skeezy guy, are entirely likable. Camp Stonewater looks like a decent camp void of sadistic counselors and perverse kids. I would’ve wanted to go there as a teen, for sure.
Before Cropsy can start picking the kids off, a counselor named Todd tells the ghost story of the horribly burnt caretaker over a campfire. Later in the film, Todd squares off with Cropsy and, during their struggle, the counselor suddenly remembers that he was involved with the original prank, which is weird because he earlier told the story. Maybe he repressed the memory or something. Anyway, after Todd tells the story, a shy camper starts seeing Cropsy around the camp. You know what’s coming next: teenage bloodbath.
It’s formulaic stuff, but at least there are some genuinely suspenseful moments and great kills that elevate the film above many slashers that were churned out during this period. One notable kill scene involves a massacre on a raft that the distributor demanded be cut for the theatrical release. It is a very nasty scene but nothing that’ll churn a contemporary audiences’ stomach. In the UK, The Burning was even added to the infamous “video nasty” list. The gore is pretty top-notch, thanks to effects maestro Tom Savini. Because of some adverse feelings he had towards a proposed sequel to Friday the 13th, Savini left the production to work on The Burning instead.
It is kind of a bummer that Todd defeats Cropsy in the end. Morally it’s pretty shitty. Todd was part of the group that disfigured and nearly burned the poor bastard to death in the first place. They talk about how surly and mean he was to the campers, but is that worth a prank that nearly killed him. Take it up with the camp owners, for chrissakes. So Cropsy came back for revenge and wound up getting finished off by one of the same kids who fucked him up in the first place. Hunky counselor = 1. Cropsy = 0.
At least Scream Factory has given this nasty little amoral film a fantastic Blu-ray release. Slasher fans should be doing backflips for this release – highly recommended!
Scream Factory presents The Burning with a 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 widescreen. Contrast and detail in close-ups are strong and besides a few minor blemishes, there’s nothing to bitch about. It’s an obvious upgrade from previous home video offerings of the film, that’s for sure. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sounds really god too – nothing negative to report here.
Audio Commentary with Director Tony Maylam and Film Journalist Alan Jones: This very entertaining commentary track features Maylam dishing the dirt about the Weinsteins and telling many other engaging anecdotes. It’s a lively track and definitely worth a listen.
Audio Commentary with Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski: While I’m bummed they didn’t (or couldn’t) get Jason Alexander or Fisher Stevens to participate, this commentary track is a decent listen nonetheless.
Interview with Editor Jack Sholder: Sholder talks about how he got into editing and how he originally had no interest in horror films.
Interview with Actor Lou David: In this 10-minute interview with Cropsy himself, David talks about how his unique looks get him typecast as creeps. He also tells a nice little anecdote about his child, who came into this world right before filming The Burning.
Interview with Tom Savini: The effects legend talks about why he left Friday the 13th Pt. II for The Burning. He covers many of the film’s key effects, including the prank scene and the design of Cropsy’s disfigured face. He’s such an enthusiastic, animated gentleman that’s a pleasure to listen to. In one bittersweet moment, Savini does mention how one of the film’s key stuntmen passed away at far too young an age.
Interview with Actress Leah Ayres: She talks about how she transitioned from modern dance into movies and what it was like working with such a young cast.
Behind the Scenes Footage: There’s some great footage in this 8-minute montage, including Savini performing the burning legs scene in the beginning of the film. There’s lots of fire and lots of awesome stunts.
Overall Score: 4.5 outta 5