This week we’re taking a break from my usual barrage of Satanic cult and/or biker movies and instead jumping into one of my favorite genres: the slasher film, and a movie that in my opinion is a great example of a well-executed, cleverly written and acted movie in that genre: 1981’s THE BURNING. While I wasn’t an instant fan of it the first time I watched it (about half a decade ago) , and dismissed it as just another Crystal Lake ripoff, over the years I’ve grown quite fond of THE BURNING and would even go as far as saying it’s a superior film to the original FRIDAY THE 13TH . So watch out for those mischievous teenage campers or worse yet, Cropsy, and let’s head to Camp Stonewater for THE BURNING.
Mostly known for being the film debut for various actors such as Jason Alexander (George mothereffin Costanza!), Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens, and written/produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein of the Miramax film empire, THE BURNING tells the story of a teenage prank gone wrong and quite a bloody revenge inflicted because of that prank. The film opens with a group of teenage campers talking about how much of an asshole the camp’s janitor/groundskeeper Cropsy is, and planning a prank to get back at him for his cruelty to them. Unfortunately for Cropsy, the prank goes bad and the kids end up accidentally setting the guy on fire, almost killing him and burning him beyond recognition. Five years later, Cropsy is released from the burn unit in the hospital he was admitted to and sets out on a mission to avenge what happened to him. Soon enough, campers start dying by the handful in gruesome fashion until there’s a showdown between Cropsy and one of the now grown up kids who accidentally set him aflame.
From the first death of a prostitute that is grossed out by Cropsy’s appearance to pretty much every one that follows that kill, the effects in the film are top notch, and with good reason. Effects master Tom Savini declined to return for FRIDAY THE 13TH PT.2 in favor of working on THE BURNING and his work on this one is right up there with what he did in F13, MANIAC, THE PROWLER and every other classic slasher great he did the effects on. His design for Cropsy’s appearance is a sight to look at for sure, and I think in the hands of anyone else, THE BURNING would lose some of its charm.
Another ingredient to what makes THE BURNING so good, is the fact that the campers are so damn likable, quite the opposite of a lot of slasher films. Usually in these types of films, you’re waiting for the next kill to happen, because the villain is always way more interesting and the youngsters getting picked off are annoying enough to make you want them to get dispatched, but in THE BURNING there isn’t a character in it that I didn’t like. There are definitely stereotypes thrown in here (the nerdy guy who likes the girl, the macho tough guy, the comic relief, etc), but every single one of those stereotypes in this film are ones that make the movie more enjoyable and you actually feel bad when they fall in the hands of Cropsy. It reminds me of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, a film that is not only one of my five favorite films of all time, but one that I have always said that if the character of Jason wasn’t in it, it’d still be an entertaining coming of age movie, based on how well written the teenage characters were. The same applies to THE BURNING, and the great job Peter Lawrence and Bob Weinstein did writing it. If it had been a lesser script, then the fact that there’s absolutely no mystery as to who’s killing everyone would be a problem, but because of the character development and the great jobs the actors all did, knowing it’s Cropsy the whole time is not only fun but you’re rooting for people to escape.
All in all, I hold THE BURNING as one of the best slasher films of the 80’s and it’s a gruesome blast from start to finish. It definitely lives up to it being added to the video nasties list at the time and if you’re looking for a fun, gory as hell movie, check it out!