Trivia This the film that launched the careers of acclaimed producers Harvey Weinstein and Bob
Weinstein. Their mother Miriam Weinstein is also as a pre-production assistant on the film.
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The Burning (1981)
19th Oct 04
A disfigured camp caretaker takes brutal revenge on fun-loving kids at summer camp, as the campfire spook story becomes reality...
Review Before reading the following review please note that the word ‘camp’ is used in reference to the fun outdoor activity. The word ‘camp’ will not used in any other context. If someone’s "a bit gay" then I’ll just say they’re "a bit gay".
When I was between the ages of 8 and 10, my dad used to rent The Burning for me and then flick over to the news when the sex scene happened in an effort to avoid having to explain to me what was happening. Years later I discovered that the scene was in fact a premature ejaculation sex scene, so it was probably wise for him to switch channels, otherwise I would have asked “Why’s he saying 'sorry', dad?” or something like that.
This was a great horror movie for a kid. It had ‘Certificate X’ printed on the box and a ‘Thorn EMI presents’ intro just before the film started. Then straight into Camp Blackfoot at night to witness a group of teenage boys plotting a scare on the camp caretaker, Cropsy. The plan backfires, they set Cropsy and his cabin alight and he runs around in flaming circles before falling into the canal. Six years later, horribly disfigured (though we haven’t seen his face yet), he is released from St. Catherine’s Hospital. Cropsy was a mixed up sadistic alcoholic before he was burned, but now, he’s really mad. He’s a maniac. The Cropsy Maniac.
After scissoring an ugly hooker to death, the action cuts to Camp Stonewater where a bunch of all-American fun-loving teenagers are having the time of their lives. The boys are obsessed with the girls and vice-versa. They’re having a blast and, thanks to the strong performances from these gifted young actors, we’re having a blast too. One of the reasons why this film has endured is that it plays so convincingly as a summer camp / high school-kid drama. The characters are unusually well developed for slasher fare and there is a strong enough script to pull it off. Amongst the teens on show look out for screen debuts of Holly Hunter (The Piano, Raising Arizona), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld, Shallow Hal, Jacob’s Ladder) and that creepy kid from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Brian Backer. Backer plays the aptly named Alfred, the camp creep who certainly lives up to that role. Alfred is the only kid who’s seen Cropsy’s face when the maniac looks through the boy’s cabin window, though no-one believes him. What bothers me though is that we are asked to side with this cretin who eventually becomes a kind of hero. He’s a runt-faced little shit who spies on girls in the showers, and just stares at the volatile Glazer (who likes to pick on him, albeit justifiably if you ask me) all the time. Finding Alfred's redeeming features is no easy task.
The summer camp atmosphere gets more and more plausible as the film progresses and there are many moments in the film where, if your girlfriend were to walk into the room, she would sit down comfortably under the impression that you were watching some kind of great fun teenage movie (for a change).
Generally, the kids are a pretty likeable bunch. We laugh when they do and they’re so natural in their roles that we actually give a damn about them before they get treated to Cropsy’s own special brand of topiary. Which brings us back to Cropsy - a good movie maniac who never got a sequel and lets face it folks, from what we’ve had to put up with in terms of sequelage over the last two decades, that can only be a good thing. Imagine the increased respect Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street would have if it weren’t for the dire sequels that followed. We only see Cropsy as a figure in a black suit (and garden shears – his weapon of choice) until the last few minutes of the film, when we get to see Tom Savini’s amazing work on his head. Cropsy’s face (and indeed his entire head) is nothing short of disgusting. Every time I have ever seen this film there’s always been that little kid in me who’s waiting for that special treat in the final reel. But perhaps Cropsy’s not so out of line at all. Given his disfigurement, maybe he’s justified in mutilating kids with garden shears. They made him into a "fucking Big Mac - overdone" who has to hide in a derelict shack in the woods. Or maybe he got bored with trimming the hedges and decided to move onto something altogether more challenging.
After many false scares (one too many if you ask me), the killing begins for real and its worth the wait. The gore in The Burning peaks at the point where about six kids go out onto the river on a makeshift raft, looking for their missing canoes. When they find one, the soundtrack swells as they approach it (though it seems like they take forever to get to it! Just think John Cleese as Sir Lancelot, the Brave, running towards the castle in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail), and just as they grab hold of it, we see a silhouetted Cropsy jump to his feet, raise his shears in the air, proceeding to scalp, snip and hack the kids until they lie dead on the raft, the blood trickling down their arms into the river as the screen fades to red. This scene is so deftly executed that it should go down in slasher-film history as one of the best sequences ever. Savini’s effects are superb although when you see it again (you will want to rewind this bit!), you will notice that you see less damage than you thought you did, which is largely due to the unsettling soundtrack and snappy editing.
The music for The Burning was written and performed by none other than Rick Wakeman – grumpy old man and keyboard wizard for progressive rock band, Yes. Sometimes he actually wore a wizard’s hat when performing with Yes. If you let your imagination run a little wild, you can imagine seeing him in the wooded background, just out of shot, wearing his big wizard hat and playing a huge organ (oeerr, missus) like some sort of evil dervish, whilst also miraculously providing the soundtrack for Cropsy’s ‘roaring rampage of revenge’. That said, his score for The Burning is a nice touch even though it makes the film feel very ‘1981’. His cheesy motifs remind us of children’s nursery rhymes with a more sinister edge, and some parts of his score have an underlying ultra-low bass rumble / drone, which will vibrate your floor if you have a good sound system, thus heightening the effect of the scene no-end.
I have something to say about Vipco, who released this movie on DVD: Leave it to the professionals, you inept bunch of monkeys! The print is too dark, which makes some of Savini’s work quite difficult to see. The 2 versions available are both pan and scan screen ratio. And last but by no means least, the idiot who designed the DVD menu has assumed that you’ve seen the movie before, so he/she has put Cropsy’s face on it. I kid you not. It’s almost as bad as showing the image of the Wicker Man on the video cover of that film. Some day perhaps we will understand Vipco, but then again, maybe not...
At 91 minutes, The Burning won’t test your attention span, and there is enough going on between the gory action to keep you entertained. Granted, the film has clichés, such as the killer’s point-of-view (complete with blurred edges on his field of vision) and the ‘if you have sex you will be killed’ device, but if you want a superior, gory, genuine ‘video-nasty’ slasher flick, then this is definitely one to watch.
“You stay warm now, ya hear, coz I’m comin’ right back!”
Versions Two versions: one cut, one uncut. Don't waste your time with the censored version of this film. Unfortunately both versions are released by Vipco.