Review: The Burning (1981)

It will take you further than fear.

It will take you further than fear.

THE BURNING (1981)
Rated R / Color / 91 minutes
Directed by Tony Maylam
Also Known as: Cropsy
Purchase it: Amazon.com (Blu-ray/DVD combo)

Growing up in the 80s, my movie diet consisted of a lot of slasher movies. HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST., and all of their sequels were required viewing for a kid like me. As I reached my teens and began surfing the web, I eventually discovered that there were other cool films from the sub-genre that I had missed out on, such as THE MUTILATOR, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, INTRUDER, THE PROWLER, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, and MANIAC COP.

I managed to eventually track down all of those titles (and then some), greedy for any and all slasher flicks I could get my hands on. It was during my own personal slasher craze that I heard about a film called THE BURNING. For years it eluded me, until it got a bare bones DVD release from MGM/FOX. I eagerly watched it, but at the time it didn’t impress me too much.

That all changed recently when I popped Scream Factory’s deluxe collector’s edition of THE BURNING into my Blu-ray player to revisit it. I now have a deeper appreciation for this criminally overlooked slasher classic.

THE BURNING kicks off with a group of kids playing a prank on Cropsy, the drunken and abusive caretaker of their Summer camp. The seemingly harmless prank, ends up going horribly awry after Cropsy manages to immolate himself. (Important Safety Tip: NEVER sleep with a canister of gasoline by your bed!)

QUICK! SOMEONE GRAB SOME MARSHMALLOWS!

QUICK! SOMEONE GRAB SOME MARSHMALLOWS!

Five years later, after surviving the ordeal and going through extensive (failed) skin grafts and surgeries, Cropsy is let loose on the world. He immediately murders a hooker, sharpens up a pair of his favorite hedge-clippers, and returns to his old stomping grounds for some payback. At first he seems content with stalking the campgrounds, but as soon a large group of kids and counselors head downstream for a weekend canoe excursion, Cropsy begins pruning the cast!

Helpless and lost in the wilderness, the campers must band together to survive Cropsy’s onslaught. Will they make it back to civilization in once piece, or will they all be hacked to bits by Cropsy’s favorite gardening implement? Well, you’ll just have to pick up a copy of this once rare slasher flick to find out!

THE BURNING is, for the most part, a by-the-numbers slasher movie that doesn’t do too much to separate it from all the rest of the pack. (Though penned before FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE BURNING was a year too late to exploit its summer camp setting.)

You get the typical stalker POV shots as the killer hovers just out of sight of the victims he’s spying on. The main targets are teens that sneak off to skinny dip and/or have “the sex,” and an unlikely hero manages to stop the horribly-scarred killer’s murder spree. We\’ve seen all of this before.

The only thing that really sets THE BURNING apart is that most of the characters are rather likeable. Usually slasher films are populated by obnoxious partying “teens” that we just can’t wait to see eviscerated. Here we get decent, almost down-to-earth kids that hardly deserve the awful fates that await them. (Except for Glazer. Screw that guy!)

No, seriously, screw this guy. Look at him, he's just dripping with douche from every pore.

No, seriously, screw this guy. Look at him, he’s just dripping with douche from every pore.

Also, all of the gore and makeup f/x was done by a young Tom Savini, who had actually turned down FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 to do this gig. His handiwork definitely raises the bar and gives us a few truly memorable moments.

In the end, THE BURNING is a good, one-shot slasher flick that was sadly overshadowed by the heralded greats and their resulting knock-offs. Though it’s pacing is a bit slow and it’s soundtrack is rather forgettable, the film boasts a solid cast and great f/x work from Savini. Plus its antagonist is based off an old urban legend, which is something the other modern cinematic boogeymen really can’t brag about. I’m more than happy to give Cropsy’s solo film debut:

BLU-RAY REVIEW

The Packaging: THE BURNING comes in a standard Blu-ray case with cardboard slipcover featuring Scream Factory’s new commissioned cover art. (See photo on top left of this review.) As is the case with most of their releases, you can flip the main cover art over and display the film with it’s original theatrical poster art!

Audio & Video: This Blu-ray does not contain a 5.1 audio track, so bear that in mind when you crank up your surround sound and wonder why the dialogue, sound effects, and music are only coming from the front speakers. (As I did, before I read the back of the Blu-ray case.)

THE BURNING Blu and DVD only offer up DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0! While not spectacular, there’s nothing to complain about here, as every line of dialogue, every scream, and every “snikt” of Cropsey’s weapon of choice comes through quite clearly.

The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in full 1080p HD. Though I no longer own the old MGM/Fox DVD to make a comparison, I’m pretty confident in saying that this is the best THE BURNING has ever looked. Kudos to Scream Factory for putting in so much effort to deliver a faithful restoration of this film. It’s really nice to see a company that doesn’t resort to the overuse of digital noise reduction on its releases!

The Extras: This disc is packed with extras and blows all previous releases out of the water! First up we have TWO audio commentaries! The first features director Tony Maylam and International Film Journalist Alan Jones. The second commentary features actresses Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski. I have yet to sit down and watch the film with either of these commentaries on, so I cannot comment much more on them at this time.

Cropsy looks like the lovechild of Rambo and Freddy Krueger's nutsack.

Cropsy looks like the lovechild of Rambo and Freddy Krueger’s nutsack.

The remainder of the extras are made up of interviews. The first one is with f/x guru Tom Savini, who shares behind the scenes footage and anecdotes about the stunts and effects. Do not watch this before the movie as it will spoil key scenes! The next features Editor Jack Sholder (the very same gent who directed A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE) and it proves to be the least interesting of the bunch.

The third interview is with Cropsy himself, Lou David, who shares some insight into his career of playing “fools and ghouls.” The final interview is with lead actress Leah Ayres (who still looks great!). She discusses what it was like working with her younger co-stars and reveals that she was a modern dancer prior to becoming an actress. As I watched her interview, I thought that she looked super familiar and I couldn’t quite place her face, and then it hit me: She’s Jean Claude Van Damme’s love interest in BLOODSPORT!

The rest of the extras on the disc consist of the film’s original theatrical trailer, some behind-the-scenes footage of several key stunts and effects sequences, a poster & still gallery (gotta love those foreign THE BURNING posters!), and finally a make-up effects still gallery.

Final Ruling: Scream Factory has done it again folks! The film looks and sounds fantastic, the custom cover art is awesome (and reversible if you don’t dig it), and the number of extras is truly impressive! While I would have liked an audio commentary with Tom Savini, Lou David, Fisher Stevens, and/or Jason Alexander, I am more than satisfied with what is supplied on the disc.

For years THE BURNING remained relatively obscure, and never got the love it deserved, but that’s all changed! If you’re a horror fan and love slasher movies, this is a must own title for your collection! This Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is a near perfect release and I hereby award it: