September 19, 2007

DVD Review: The Burning

Way back in 1981 the age of slasher film was really beginning to gather steam. Following the virtual invention of many of the conventions in 1978's Halloween and 1980's Friday the 13th, the market was preparing for a flood of summer camp killers and holiday themed blood spillers. Among the string of films was 1981's The Burning (which was re-released under the name Cropsy at one point) kicked off the careers of a number recognizable names in front of and behind the cameras. Among those names are Harvey and Bob Weinstein, this pair was responsible for the story and screenplay, they have gone on to become a pair of the most well known producers, founding Miramax and now The Weinstein Company. In front of the camera you have the debuts of Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, and Fisher Stevens. Is the film any good? It has its moments.

Before it arrived on my doorstep I had never heard of The Burning. I was but a wee child when it came out and was mostly interested in Star Wars. I did not discover horror films until much later, so there are many films that have escaped my line of sight. Now I can scratch this off of the invisible unseen list. For fans of 80's era slashers, this is going to be a must see. Even the curious may get a rise out of it. It is definitely buys into the formula and goes for the gusto.

The Burning starts of the activity named by the title. A group of kids at summer camp want to play a prank on the grounds keeper, Cropsy. In the middle of the dark night they sneak into his cabin, leaving behind a worm covered skull (where did they find that?) with candles in the eye sockets. The prank works almost too well. Cropsy wakes up and freaks out, knocking over the flaming skull, in the process setting himself and the cabin on fire. He survives, but is very badly burned, spending the next several years in the burn center of a hospital.

Jumping ahead five years from the initial burning the story picks up with Cropsy being released from the hospital, and proceeding to carry out the first kill. Obviously, Cropsy is rather pissed at what those pesky kids did to him years earlier. Not to mention the best efforts of the doctors were not able to help him much and he was faced with a life of loneliness and rejection as no one will want to spend time with a burned freak.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, a new batch of summer camp kids making friends and causing trouble. This is where the story grinds down to a slow pace for a bit as we get to meet a bunch of the campers. You get the nerdy guy, the tough guy, the know-it-all, the cool kids, the outsiders, the couples, and the rest of the bunch. Mixed in are a few false scares as the tension builds in the background. Unfortunately, it is a good forty minutes before anything starts to pick back up again. This is a flaw that afflicts many horror films, I guess I can't really complain then, as we actually have some decent development among the characters. We get more character than in many of modern horror films.

Anyway, when the action picks back up we are treated to a number of nicely bloody kills. Among the kills is a fantastic multiple kill on a raft. Generally slasher film kills are one on one deals in the dark of night, while this was a bunch of kids in the light of day. The tension builds up through the finale with the reveal of the killer and the final showdown.

Many of these horror films are easy to pick apart and cut down to size, The Burning is no different. I could go into the use of the Cropsy burning as a campfire tale by someone involved. I could say that I sympathize with Cropsy because we have no idea why these kids anything against him that would make them want to prank him. There are also a number of dumb character decisions and such that would cause this movie to fall apart.

While that would be easy, the film can be admired to. It has a killer that doesn't resort to wearing a mask, it has some great gore (by the master Tom Savini!), and it has Jason Alexander! There is also a pretty good score by Rick Wakeman which reminded me a little bit of Goblin.

Audio/Video. Both are pretty good considering the age and low budget roots. It looks like an 80's horror film. Colors are good, if a bit washed out and the audio is a little on the hollow side. Still, it is bound to be better than the boots and imports you are likely to find on Ebay.

Extras. Not fully loaded, but more than you are likely to expect from a relatively obscure slasher film from decades ago.
  • Commentary. The track features director Tony Maylam and journalist Alan Jones. It is a rather dry track, though there is plenty of information to be had. It does feel like Maylam was not terribly interested, as the film is not a featured part of his filmography. They discuss the creation of the script and getting Savini and some of the performances.
  • Blood 'n' Fire Memories. Introduced by Tom Savini who tells you to make sure you watch the movie first lest you be spoiled. This featurette has Tom tell us his thoughts on turning down the first Friday the 13th sequel in order to do this film. This is a great featurette with a very personable guy who would probably be a blast to hang out with. He reminisces on making the film, good and bad. (18 minutes)
  • Theatrical Trailer. The original trailer is included, which is nice to have. It is also a fun trailer that may have been the inspiration for the Don't trailer in Grindhouse.
  • Photo Gallery. A number of production stills that you can step through.

Bottomline. I like it. Original? No. Still, there is a definite warm and fuzzy feeling to be had while watching a classic slasher film, especially one that I had not yet seen. The blood is plentiful, the budding slasher clich├ęs were in place, and, again, you have Jason Alexander. Seriously, it is like George Costanza Goes to Camp. I have to recommend it, goofiness and all.



Anonymous said...

That's a good (and fair) review of my all-time favorite slasher. Not sure why it's my favorite but I've probably watched it more than any other horror movie. It's like a favorite pair of jeans. Just feels right, I guess.

Chris said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I strive to be fair.

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