Director: Tony Maylam
Script: Bob Weinstein & Peter Lawrence
Cast: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Lou David, Fisher Steven, Carolyn Houlihan
Running time: 91 minutes
Maybe it’s because I had to work a bit harder to see The Burning than I did with some of the other slasher pics from the 1980s, or maybe it’s because of its more memorable/rewindable ‘nasty’ scenes, but I’ve had a soft spot for this rather formulaic ‘slasher’ film – from the peak era of that particular sub-genre of the horror film – for quite some time; hence me wanting to review it here.
Set in Camp Blackfoot the film begins with a serious student prank that goes horribly wrong for creepy caretaker Cropsy, and then moves forward in time to when he’s finally released from the hospital that he’s just spent the last five years recuperating in. The first thing he does is head down to the red-light district to get himself some action (as you do!), but even the prozzie he shacks up with almost loses her lunch when she’s sees him so he decides, after killing her for her disrespect, to head back to the scene of the life-changing prank to enact some pay-back on the attendees of the summer camp where his normal life was ended.
Next, we see lots of youngsters messing around on their camp-based activity holiday, with the camp councillors trying to corral and control the unruly bunch. A group of the older kids later head downriver, in some canoes, to a second site for a bit of adventure with a few of the older guides. It’s there that things start to get more interesting, and bloody!
Being a teenager when the original ‘video nasty’ phenomenon happened, I was naturally drawn toward the kind of films and music that my parents most disapproved of. Some of my friends rebelled by taking up smoking and drinking (and even drugs), but my kick was watching horror films. Much better for you, if you ask me! Anyway, sadly, my folks didn’t see the advantage of getting a video player so to get my ‘nasties’ fix I had to visit a friend’s house and persuade him to hire the films out for us to watch. Most of the time he was up for it – although he preferred watching porn (he was older than me though) and comedies – but in the case of The Burning he flatly refused to hire it out so I didn’t see it for another couple of years, at another friend’s house, but, sadly, only in its cut form. And, because we watched it on a small portable during the daytime, with his mum buzzing around, I didn’t really get into it. It wasn’t until much later, when I finally saw it at a film festival that I decided that I really quite liked it.
Produced by Harvey Weinstein, written by his brother Bob, and edited by Jack Sholder (director of The Hidden), The Burning helped put Miramax on the Hollywood map and made use of a certain special effects artist by the name of Tom Savini, who later became the go-to-guy for ultra-gory on-screen murder and mayhem. Plus, it even has an interesting film score by keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman. Oh, and a cameo by future star, Holly Hunter.
With so much behind the cameras talent involved, The Burning should be a lot better than it is, but these were early days in the careers of most of the people mentioned so we can forgive them for some of the mistakes they made here.
The film has a rather simplistic plot (not unusual for a slasher movie) and the killer is not really given much in the way of a backstory, although he’s given a substantial motive for wanting to get his own back. However, he somewhat annoyingly and unconvincingly preys on a new generation of kids, not those from the prologue.
The level of acting is variable – there are some good performances from most of the central characters, but some of the smaller roles are not so ably filled. What I do like about the kids though is they’re all quite normal (looks-wise and behaviour-wise), and have normal conversations that feel quite natural, and not overly scripted.
The film is nicely shot, and director Maylam makes good use of the locations, especially during the final chase sequence. However, the main reason for seeing a slasher film is for the kills and, in this uncut version, there are a couple of cool ones, including the infamous finger-slicing scene, and a nifty impaling sequence. Even Cropsy’s burnt and melted face make-up is done well for the final reveal.
The Burning won’t be to everyone’s taste, that’s for sure, but if you’re a fan of horror films, and enjoy the odd ‘slasher film’ from time-to-time, you should make an effort to track this one down; you won’t be disappointed. Plus, this is a nice release of the film with very good picture and sound quality.
Arrow Video are distributing The Burning on DVD and Blu-ray. As per usual with Arrow Video there are numerous extras on the disc including:
Blood ‘n’ fire memories (18 mins) – a documentary that looks at the visual FX with Tom Savini, who reveals that he turned down Friday the 13th Part 2 to do the effects work on The Burning. He also talks about the burning sequence where it’s his own legs that are set on fire for Cropsy’s cabin scene. He looks back with fondness on working on the film, although acknowledges that there were plenty of disagreements between the producers and the director.
Slash & cut (12 mins) – an interview with the film’s editor Jack Sholder; now a recognised director in his own right. He reveals that he wasn’t a big fan of horror films originally, as he was more into art-house stuff, but after Newline got him editing trailers for their films he became more interested in them. He talks about the raft sequence being the most challenging sequence to edit, and on how he grew to like Harvey Weinstein for his passion for movies.
Cropsy speaks (11 mins) – an interview with actor Lou David, who played the villain in the film. He prefers to do comedy, but says: ‘if I can’t play the fool, I’ll play the ghoul!’ He reveals that he’d have liked more backstory for the villian as he felt the character of Cropsy was an interesting one, and he had a lot of sympathy for him.
Synthly the best (11.5 mins) – an interview with Rick Wakeman, who composed the film’s distinctive electronic score. He talks about his involvement and how he really liked the director. They wanted to offer him a percentage for the film music rather than to pay him, but he preferred the cash as he didn’t really think much of the film. He regrets it now as the film was the highest grossing film in Japan the year that it was released!
Behind the scenes footage (8 mins) – mainly shots from the early burning sequence, mostly made up of Tom Savini’s own SFX footage, which we also saw during the interview with Savini.
Trailer (1.5 mins) – which contains the tagline: ‘This summer, if you’re thinking of camping – don’t!
Image galleries – 22 posters and stills from the film, and 29 make up effects photos.