Director: Tony Maylam
Starring: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer; Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander
Don’t look, he’ll see you. Don’t breathe, he’ll hear you. Don’t move… you’re dead!
The Burning is loosely based on Cropsy (which was also the original title of this film), an urban legend tale that has been told around camp fires for many years. A prank goes wrong when the caretaker of Camp Blackfoot ends up being horribly burned and hospitalized for five years. When he is released back into society, he is badly disfigured by the burns and has to hide himself to avoid scaring others.
As anyone would do after five years in a hospital bed he goes down some sleazy big city streets (New York?) and finds himself a hooker. Even the hooker can’t stand the looks of him and at that point he gives up any hope of being a regular guy. He murders her in a brutal way and then heads back the Camp Stonewater (not sure why they changed the name though) to take revenge on any teens that sets their foot at the place.
I love The Burning. It’s only fair to anyone who reads this (is anyone out there?) that I give my reasons for having such a big affection for this slasher movie. When I was younger, about 12-13 i think, I used to save up money and buy videos in Sweden while we went there to shop food (cheaper than Norway!). The video stores usually had a horror shelf where all kinds of weird movies where places. A few of them where damn expensive and didn’t even have subtitles (unheard of here in scandinavia). One of these where The Burning, released by Vipco in an awesome VHS cover. This piece of videotape would cost me 299 kr (today that equals 50 us dollars)!
Now that was a lot of money for me back then (shit, still is!) and the choice would be to either buy one of the expensive video’s (I remember that they also had The Slayer, The House by the Cemetery, Shogun Assassin and others aswell) or 4-5 other more common movies. The Burning blew me away, I feel in love with it instantly. It had great kills, hot chicks, fun characters, everything I could possibly want at that young age. A lot of movies that you love as a kid however don’t hold up when you watch them at an older age. The Burning however is still great and 30 years later it’s deserves to be called a true cult classic horror movie. I still have that VHS tape in my shelf by the way.
The camp is filled with cheerful and carefree teens. Well, except Alfred (Brian Backer), who is a little weird and a bit of a peeping voyeur. He is bullied by Glazer (Larry Joshua), the typical big older kid who probably is allowed on grounds after having to take some grades over again. Alfred does find comfort with his new pals, the funny guy Dave (Jason Alexander), the tiny vitamin-eating Eddy (Ned Eisenberg) and just a regular bloke named Fish (J.R. McKechnie). The film focuses mainly on the guys, but some of the girls do get some moments aswell including Sally (Carrick Glenn), who both Glazer and Alfred got an eye for and Karen (Carolyn Houlihan), a sweet and innocent girl who is unsure of herself even though she is quite a beauty. Karen is the love interest of Eddy (Ned Eisenberg), a rough city boy who is also a friend with the rest of the guys.
They are mostly taken care of by the two main camp counsellors Michelle (Leah Ayres) and Todd (Brian Matthews), two typical counsellors who enjoys being around the youths and tries to be their friends. Even though all the characters are written like stereotypes, the young actors did a great job at trying to give each of the them some authenticity. They look like regular kids, they act like it and you don’t just sit and wait for them to die like you normally have to do in these type of movies.
Cropsy only gets screen time when he’s up for killing and he can pop up anywhere! Even though he went through something truly horrible, we still don’t get any sympathy for the character. He is simply there to kill and spread terror. His looks isn’t really great. It worked far better in a dark and muddy looking VHS tape then the modern day DVD with crystal clear picture. Thankfully, Maylam is a fan of Alien and of the old school way of shooting monsters – less is best.
The infamous murder scenes in this movie is brutal, original and great. They had Tom Savini on board for the effects and he does a great job. Although perhaps not as shocking today as thirty years ago, it still brings enough for gorehounds to be satisfied. Several of the kill scenes are among the best that Savini has done.
Director Tony Maylam had mostly done commercials, documentaries, a concert movie of Genesis and an adventure movie called Riddle of the Sands before this. He also hasn’t done a lot of feature films after this either, the only one I recognize from his filmography is Split Second with Rutger Hauer and The Sins of Dorian Gray because it’s of course based on the novel of Oscar Wilde. It’s a shame that Maylam isn’t a bigger horror fan and had desire to work in the genre cause his performance with The Burning shows that he understands it. He does deliver some good visuals, makes the characters timing work great and seems to do almost everything right with a very basic script and inexperienced cast. He also steers it away from all the cliché’s of the genre without abandoning it completely. There’s not a brave young girl who has to fight the monster alone at the end, you don’t have a lots of twists and turns and even if you don’t have sex, drink beer and get high, you can still end up sliced and diced.
There’s also other talented people involved in The Burning. Jack Sholder did the editing, he should be recognized for directing such movies as Alone in the Dark (1982), Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and the underrated The Hidden. Harvey Harrison was the director of photography and he ended up being involved in movies such as V for Vendetta, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and most recently The Expendables 2. The project was created by the now famous Hollywood producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein. The great score is done by Rick Wakeman, who is mostly known for his time i the band Yes in the 1970’s and also the casting director Joy Todd who is still working today aswell.
The Burning isn’t perfect though. The last 15 minutes, including the ending of Cropsy could have been better. It doesn’t give you a big, thrilling ending that would make this nearly perfect. Even though I’ve praised the actors in this, I can’t honestly say that all of them are all that great even though they deserve credit for trying to bring something to the table. Cropsy doesn’t bring anything to the movie, he is just another killer and doesn’t set himself apart from the rest in the same way that Jason and Michael Myers does. I also never cared much for the title, but at least it’s better than the working title of Cropsy.
In the end, The Burning is still one of the best slasher movies of all time, perhaps the greatest slasher movie that never got a sequel? It deserves to be in the shelfs of every horror fan and it also deserves to be even more known than it is.