Or, Friday the 13th Part 1 1/2.
After the success of Sean Cunningham’s financially groundbreaking film, there was a great demand for two things: cheap slasher flicks, and the services of Tom Savini on cheap slasher flicks. Enter Bob and Harvey Weinstein, two concert promoters who were ready to make a splash in Hollywood with their newly formed company, Miramax. The company that would dominate the Oscars race for Best Picture 15 years later started off with a much more meager goal: to make a Friday the 13th knockoff, and to use that film’s special makeup artist to draw in the audience.
The Burning begins with a group of boys at camp. They’ve decided to punish the caretaker Cropsy (though the reason for their venom is vague). The prank goes wrong, and Cropsy suffers serious burning. Released from the hospital five years later with no job or family but a whole lot of anger still in his system, Cropsy makes a quick kill in the city before heading back to the summer camp to get his revenge.
Herein lie a few problems. First off, on whom is Cropsy going to get revenge? Why does he stop to make a quick kill in the city? The woman he murders doesn’t even know him. Same for the kids at the camp, who are not the ones who burnt him. Okay, one is (I’m not really spoiling anything here), but the rest have never done anything to Cropsy. The killer’s motivations are muddled, which weakens the movie. As does the fact that after Cropsy gets to the camp, nobody gets killed for a long time. Once the killings start, the movie picks up, but it’s a tedious affair for about 45 minutes in the middle.
So what does The Burning do right? Amazing special effects. Savini copies some of the same effects from his earlier films (he remakes the Kevin Bacon arrow effect from F13, with a change of murder weapon), but the gags are impressive. A very early performance from Jason Alexander is very good; in fact, the acting is decent across the board. Also, there’s a lot of nudity (female fans should appreciate that it’s not just girls getting naked). And Cropsy is a cool variation on what Jason Vorhees could have looked like had he died by fire instead of by water. All in all, The Burning is an entertaining slasher that overcomes its deficiencies.
Because I’ve had bad experiences with meeting Savini, I’m loath to admit it, but the best of the limited special features on the disc is Blood ‘N’ Fire Memories. It serves as an 18 minute discussion with him about his effects for the film. Because the special make up field passed him by a long time ago, it’s easy to forget that Savini had some real cache in the early 1980s, producing effects for a whole slew of films in a very short period of time. It’s also easy to forget that Savini had some real talent back in the day, and deserved all those jobs. Here, he draws back the curtain and talks about the tricks behind the effects. He also displays an utter disdain for the Friday the 13th films, but seems to like Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. It’s a short piece, but Blood ‘N’ Fire Memories is definitely worth a look.
The commentary is a little less interesting. Director Tony Maylam sits down with fellow Brit Alan Jones, “international film journalist” as the special features screen claims (to which I say, Who?). Maylam discusses how his direction of a concert movie led the Weinsteins to hire him. One problem is that he doesn’t seem to have much interest in the horror genre; the job appears to have been a work-for-hire for him, and so he doesn’t seem to be too enthusiastic during the commentary. Jones seems more than enthusiastic about the film, but he leads Maylam to rather circular discussions, so things get repetitive quickly. The two men address just about all the production stuff one would expect on a commentary, so it’s informative. But it’s far from great.
As for the other extras, the film’s trailer gives away a little too much. The photo gallery is just a collection of still from the film, which makes it superfluous. Trailers for MGM horrors and the two Jeepers Creepers flicks round out the extras. I was hungry for a little more, but it’s a decent package for a low budget horror flick.
If you’ve seen the first few Friday the 13th’s, you’ve already seen The Burning. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from the DVD. The movie stands up as an entertaining knock off, with some superior work by Savini, and the disc sports a great conversation with him. Definitely worth a look, if only as a reminder not to abuse poor campground caretakers.
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