The Burning (1981)
WRITERS: Original story by Harvey Weinstein, Tony Maylam, Brad Grey
Screenplay by Peter Lawrence and Bob Weinstein
DIRECTOR: Tony Maylam
STARRING: Brian Matthews as Todd
Leah Ayres as Michelle
Brian Backer as Alfie
Larry Joshua as Glazer
Jason Alexander as Dave
Ned Eisenberg as Eddy
Carrick Glenn as Sally
Carolyn Houlihan as Karen
Fisher Stevens as Woodstock
Lou David as Cropsy
QUICK CUT: Hey, a bunch of kids at summer camp! What could possibly go wrong? Look! A guy with a sharp weapon!
Todd - A camp counselor who seems to be a pretty nice guy, and while he tries to keep the kids following the rules, he also knows kids will be kids and gives them a bit of rope to hang themselves with.
Michelle - Todd's girlfriend and another counselor, and does everything she can to protect the kids. When she's not sneaking off into the woods with Todd.
Alfie - A lot of the kids are pretty generic, but they stand on their own as well, so I'll give them what I can... Alfie's the quiet sort, a bit of a loner, and some of the kids try and include him in their fun, but the introversion is usually more powerful.
Glazer - The chief bully and tormentor of the camp. Particularly of Alfie.
Dave - The jokester of the group.
Eddy - One of the older kids, and a close friend of Todd's. He's also a borderline creep, and wants to push his girlfriend more than she's comfortable with.
Karen - Eddy's girlfriend, and she's probably smart to use the word no around him as much as she does.
Sally - Glazer's girlfriend, and also of interest to Alfie. Also likes the word no. Also dating a guy who doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word.
Woodstock - Another joker in the group, although he'd probably be described more as a sidekick to Dave more than anything else. He's also a crack shot with a pellet gun.
Cropsy - The man with the improbable name, and a groundskeeper at another camp who was horribly burned over his entire body years ago in a prank gone wrong, because he was a bit of a dick.
THE GUTS: Is...is it safe? Can I just have some nice, simple horror after...whatEVER THE HECK Repligator was? Like, maybe a nice and simple summer camp slasher, for the kick off of summer? That would be nice!
So we swing on down the road to Camp Blackfoot for "The Burning", where we kick the festivities right off with a group of kids plotting revenge on the caretaker. And I am not going to remember a single one of their names, am I? And no matter how many times y'all say Tonight's the night, none of you will ever hold a candle to Dexter Morgan.
The chosen kid takes their surprise into the caretaker's cabin, and they all proceed to knock on his window with the creepiest rythmic tapping that there ever was.
Which of course leads him to wake up and find their surprise, a rotted, maggotty skull with burning matches in the hollow eye sockets.
At least that sets a clear tone right out of the gate. But it does beg the question of where the kids found such a monstrosity.
So naturally, the poor guy freaks the heck out, because hey, Ghost Rider on his night stand, and half awake. He reaches out to try and put out the skull or something, and oops! Knocks it right over onto his very-likely liquor soaked bedsheets.
Which catch fire. Which catch him on fire. Which makes him run screaming out of his cabin because the freaking out is really just getting worse at this point.
The kids all watch him do his fire dance and tumble down the hill before running away from the scene of the crime like this was I Know What You Did Last Summer Camp.
A week passes and we find ourselves at a hospital with a new doctor getting the initiation razzing, and being dragged to the burn unit.
He's instantly hesitant to see the horrors awaiting within, and the speech his pal is giving him about how horrible and monstrous the guy is doesn't help. And just as his friend is saying how he'd rather be dead, a crispy-fried hand reaches out and grabs him.
Ask and ye shall receive!
The credits fast forward us through five years of therapy, and I love him being told, "Don't blame the kids". Well, where would the horror genre be then??
Instead, he heads out and picks up a hooker, who doesn't find out what he looks like for a good long while. And when she does, it's HER turn to freak out. Yeah, that'll help him with his feelings of revenge, surely.
She begs him to leave, but instead he grabs a huge pair of scissors and stabs her in the gut. And with bonus strangling AND smashing a window. All kinds of destruction abounds!
Which takes us back to camp, but this time it's Camp Stoneheart...er, Stonewater. Now, this is either just a random camp that's gonna get targeted, or the original camp got renamed to escape being connected with the fiery terror. Place your bets!
Anyways, typical camp hijinks are ensuing as we get to meet what will likely be some of our future victims as the kids are goofing off playing baseball or whatever they feel like and...
Holy crap, George! GEORGE COSTANZA?? IS THAT YOU?!
Anyways, where was I? Right, baseball. The ball flies into the woods and a girl goes after it, which leads to her being stalked from the shrubbery by a dude with hedge shears.
But before we can have another little death, we get kill blocked by her finding the ball and running back to her friends. Way to ruin the moment...
All hope is not lost though, as we move quickly past some relationshippy drama and have one of the girls going off to take a shower all alone. That's surely a recipe for doom in a horror movie.
Or not, instead we get another fakeout with it just being a horny teen peeping Alfred. Sigh. That's two, movie. You get one more.
There's some interpersonal stuff with Alfred not liking the camp bully, Glazer, so he was doing it to scare his girl. Which leads to Glazer shoving Alfie in the water when he can't swim, etc etc. The character building stuff is actually nice, but let's get moving here.
Later that night, the guys are back in their cabin continuing the character studies (Hint: They're all horny teens), and Alfie sees a face outside the window. No one believes him of course.
They head to the mess hall, but wee baby Fisher Stevens left his vitamin E in the cabin so goes back alone to get it. Oh, please let's get the plot back on track here.
Sure enough, we get some shots from killer-vision with the requisite music. But they've pulled this trick before, so I'm not holding my breath.
Especially when a shadowy figure creeps through the cabin towards Woodstock and OH look, it was yet another fakeout. I swear, this movie is the biggest tease ever.
They set out on their canoe trip the next day, and after they make camp for the night, Todd starts telling all the kids about the evil camp caretaker, Cropsy. Y'know, the guy from the start of the film. Nice way to turn the horror into a campfire story and make it some local folklore.
And I hate to say it, but Todd? Your story is more interesting than the last twenty minutes! Let's move this thing along already! With the help of his friend Eddy popping out behind the kids in costume, the campfire story has officially more knife-wielding maniacs than the rest of the flick.
Eddy and his girl go skinny dipping, but he gets a little too hands on, and they go their seperate ways. Karen returns to shore and finds her clothes missing, left in a trail leading deeper into the woods.
The killer-vision kicks in again, but I'm not falling for it this...oh hey! Thank you movie, for finally delivering! Honestly, it's well played. They fake out so many times, you get a bit lulled until it actually happens, plus the constant threat in the background helps to keep you interested during the character building moments. I poke fun, and the pacing IS a bit off, but it's handled nicely, truly.
Naturally, Karen doesn't show up in the morning since she's come down with a case of the deads, and the camp counselors wanna know where she went. While interrogating Eddy, they get told by some of the kids that the canoes have gone missing. Oh ho, now the fun begins.
Can I say how bloody refreshing it is to have Todd and Michelle use their brains? And realise that the missing Karen being responsible for the equally missing five canoes makes no sense? Sweet Corman, someone who knows things are going south in a horror movie.
While those two also organise building a raft, Cropsy-vision returns for a moment as Glazer tries to find his own kind of wood with Sally. Oh, and it looks like Alfie's also in on the creepy stalking. This forest has way too many of those. Next, Cropsy is gonna run into Jason, then Leatherface is gonna stop by...
Todd and Michelle send Eddie off with a group of kids on the completed raft to try and find the canoes, and it's not long before they actually come across one. Hopefully they don't run into any repligators in the river.
One they get to it, the creepy music starts, and I am not disappointed when Flopsy pops out of nowhere and LAYS WASTE TO THE ENTIRE RAFT.
He seriously just slices his way through everyone, leaving not a single person left, a few missing fingers, and lots of slashed throats and heads. Holy potatoes that was a massacre. Now you have my attention!
But it does beg the question, was the killer just laying in the canoe all day, HOPING someone would find him? Sitting there in the boat, clutching his shears with a gleeful grin on his burnt face, praying someone would show up just so he could leap up and blot out the sun?
Back with the campers who didn't decide to die horribly on the raft, Glazer and Sally have once again snuck off and actually have sex this time. Very disappointing sex.
Glazer heads back to the camp to fetch some matches to make a fire for the girl, and the instant he's gone, Mopsy bounds out of the shrubbery with his trusty shears. I will give credit to Sally for not being an INSTANT victim. She holds the shears off for a good few seconds. Which is more than I can say for a single person on the raft.
Alfie follows the bully back to the crime scene, and they find Sally curled up in her sleeping bag! Oh, maybe she's okay! Things might be...oh. Nope, Plopsy jumps out of the bag and jabs Glazer through the neck, actually carrying him a respectable distance that way. And all while Alfie watches.
It's funny that you actually see a few moments where Alfie's actually kinda into it, seeing Glazer get some comeuppance, but it's not long before it dawns on him what he's just witnessed.
So he runs back to camp and wakes up Todd, saying he saw the guy he saw at the cabin window way earlier in the film, and that Glazer's dead. Todd's still half asleep, and it takes him a few moments to believe the kid enough to check it out.
But as soon as they find Glazer's body and Todd sees his face, he's a believer. And then Calliopsy jumps out and attacks. I am seriously beginning to question where this guy hides half the time. He would've made a killing at hide and seek.
Our slasher just knicks Todd before Alfie runs off, and he decides to chase the kid instead of finishing the job. Alfie hides, and Epilopsy looks around and recognises the location as where he became charbroiled.
Before we can find out the fate of those two, the raft floats back towardst he rest of the campers who haven't bought it yet. Wee baby George figures it's another prank, and Michelle swims out to investigate.
This movie keeps fading to red, and I remember another flick ages ago that did the same thing. I automatically award bonus points to The Burning for bringing this back.
Which is right about when Todd arrives, and they pull the raft ashore. I love that they show that all the kids are freaking *traumatised* by this. So rarely will you see a group witnessing almost half a dozen people they know wash up on shore, then curl up in the foetal position and bawl their eyes out.
Also, Alfie's still out there, so Todd takes an axe and tries to find him. Meanwhile, Michelle takes more kids on the raft to try and get help. Because that ended SO well for the last batch of kids. Here's how that conversation would go with me; "Hey! We need volunteers to get back on the raft of death and go back down the river! Jason?" "FUCK NO!"
Miraculously, the raft makes it back without incident this time. Probably thanks to Alfie, and no more canoes readily available to lurk and smirk in.
Alfie stumbles across some stone foundations that I thought were the remains of Camp Beganthefilm, but turn out to be some outlying buildings to a mine. He dodges in and out of the maze of masonry, and I figure it's only a matter of time before the killer jumps out and gets the Dropsy on him.
Which is exactly what happens, right on schedule. Fortunately, the screaming catches Todd's attention, and he comes running while Autopsy starts picking apart his latest victim.
Todd stumbles around a dark, cavernous barn somewhere in the mine-field, and stupidly trips a few times and generally bumbles about in the dark.
But he gets attacked by some mining cars and conks his head, but hey, he finds an old friend!
Cropsy finally gets tired of his favourite toys and breaks out the flamethrower. Hello, ironic punishment division!
While the Flaming Carrot gets closer, we flashback to the start of the film and the little conspiracy of kids. We learn that Todd was one of them, so... Huh, this ended up being surprisingly personal. He wasn't the one who left the skull though, and was kinda off to the side, so at the same time it feels random that Cropsy went after THIS guy.
See, this is how you do flashbacks. It's relevant to the plot, it's bookending the movie with parts of the same scenes, and it's imparting new, important information at the same time.
But anyways, Cropsy decides to turn off the torch, which is a bummer. Todd stumbles around some more trying to find Alfie from his cries. Instead he finds his old friend, and he's got the torch all ready to go for vengeance.
Alfie manages to pull himself free just as things are looking bleak for Todd. He jams the shears into the guy's back, adding more ironic punishment than we already had.
Corpsy thumps over like an overdone steak, but he's not done yet! Did you really think he was? He jumps up behind the guys as they're leaving, and grabs Alfie. Before he can do anything though, Todd buries his axe in the guy's face.
He's *probably* dead now, but I've seen worse. Just to be certain, Alfie sets him on fire some more. Deja vu, Cropsy?
So we wrap up on another campfire story extolling the horrors of Cropsy, turning his tale into that of a ghost now terrorising the forests. We never go back to anyone after he becomes refried Cropsy, so I guess the few remaining people sailed off into the sunset on their rafts, and lived happily ever after. Except for everyone who died.
Video: Absolutely great, as I've come to expect from Shout!/Scream! Factory. The colour is nice, the grain is good, it's just the sort of thing you'd expect from a 1980s flick.
Audio: It's a 2.0 stereo track, but it has good seperation, and everything sounds really solid.
Sound Bite: "The way we built that raft, they're probably safer than we are!" said moments after everyone on the raft is executionaled.
Body Count: A very respectable showing this time out, after the woefully disappointing Repligator.
1 - 6 and a half minutes in leads to a dead doctor, is my guess.
2 - A hooker dies by scissors in the gut about 10 and a half minutes deep.
3 - Karen loses her life in the woods thanks to Cropsy
4 through 8 - The raft massacre where we lose Eddy and Woodstock and friends.
9 - Sally fights bravely, but is no match for Cropsy's blades.
10 - Nor is Glazer who gets surprised, jumped, stabbed, and carried by shears.
11 - Alfie gets Cropsy in the back with his own shears.
Best Corpse: Oh my, so many to choose from. Can I pick the entire raftssacre? If not, I'll single out Fisher Steven's because the gag of the gushing fingers is GREAT, and then when his corpsified body reappears later, it's even better.
Blood Type - A+: A decent amount of blood, gushing from throats, and fingers, and chests. And while it's limited to a few scenes, I then add more points to just the general quality of effects, as is to be expected with Tom Savini. From full body burns, to finger gags, to throat stabbings...so much goodness.
Sex Appeal: A summer camp slasher film is almost required to have nudity, and the movie delivers several times, both men and women. Although, more women, as usual.
Drink Up! Every time Cropsy jumps out of nowhere.
Movie Review: Keeping in mind that this is a summer camp slasher flick, this is pretty good. Also, since things had yet to become super cliche when this was made, it's even better. Today, the cliches are clear, but only because there's 30 more years of other movies. The story is good, it has some decent twists, and there is one important factor this movie has that so many lack. The characters are *likable*. You LIKE these kids. Well, maybe not Glazer, but nobody's perfect. Still, there's charm, humour, and a friendliness to them. The familiar faces who went on to greater success, you can see even in these early days that their skill is there. Just watching the tiny little acting choices Jason Alexander makes, his bits of business...it's no wonder he is where he is. And of course, caring about them when the bodies start to fall is even better. There's a few logic flaws, but far fewer than so many other flicks. This is easily a classic, and it absolutely holds up. If not for those few plot holes, and some pacing issues, this would be a perfect score. But there's nothing wrong with four out of five lost canoes.
Entertainment Value: I absolutely loved watching this. I'd honestly say it's better than Friday the 13th, both in terms of story, characters, and gore. Jason and his mother are by FAR the more memorable villains, but it's a shame that nothing more came from this. It's a treat to watch, the blood is amazing, and it's just got everything you would expect from a summer camp flick. It's such an early example of the subgenre, but is an early version that gets it almost 100% right. I also love that since the rules of modern horror had yet to be written down yet, this breaks a number of them, and is refreshing in that regard. Five out of five rotting skulls.