REVIEW: The Burning (1981)

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Some well-known faces in Hollywood made their debut in this horror film which became the first film from a new company called Miramax, comprised of the Weinstein Brothers.

In 1976, a group of teens decided they had enough of the camp’s creepy caretaker and decide to play a prank on him. They place a skull full of worms next to his bed with candles lit at the eyes. When they start banging on the window to wake up Cropsy, he caretaker wakes up to see the skull. Scared out of his mind, he accidentally knocks over the skull on his bed, which results in himself being engulfed in flames. The teens are mortified by the backfire of the prank as they watch the burning caretaker fall into the lake.

Five years have passed. Cropsy is now permanently disfigured due to the inability to receive skin grafts. Released from the hospital, he finds a hooker, who upon returning to her place, is shocked and scared of his deformity. Unhinged, Cropsy takes a pair of scissors and kills the hooker. He then sets off to a small camp where a group of counselors, led by Todd and Michelle, are about to set off on a rafting trip. The once fun camping trip soon becomes a nightmare when Cropsy arrives with garden shears in hands and begins offing the young counselors one by one.

The film may seem like a rip-off of a little film entitled Friday the 13th. This film, however, is loosely based on an upstate New York urban legend known as the “Cropsey” legend. Desperate to start up their new production company, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, along with future Paramount head Brad Grey, crafted this slasher film revolving somewhat around the legend but adds a major dose of slasher-dom. Bob and Peter Lawrence would write the final script that we see here and it can be viewed as a typical slasher film but it is actually a pretty good one at that.

The typical characters for the slasher genre are there: the amorous couple, the bully and his girlfriend, the standout who in this case is a bullied kid who just wants to make friends; and the lead counselor, in this case is Todd, played by Brian Matthews. Todd definitely helps the film in terms of acting as a “big brother” to everyone, but more towards Alfred, our bullied kid, played practically perfectly by Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Brian Backer. Future Hollywood stars Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, and Fisher Stevens make their debut in the film as three of the fellow counselors off on the camping trip but not to spoil things, but only one of these three future stars will become a victim. Meanwhile, Lou David is truly menacing as the evil Cropsy. While you see his face before the burning in the opening, it is not until the climax that you see Cropsy in full burnt form.

Tom Savini, a legend in the world of special effects whose most notable work includes Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, did the effects for this film and boy, does he unleash some pretty insane killings. The highlight of the film is a 45-second clip of a group of kids who are about to reach for an abandoned canoe in the river get massacred by Cropsy. And as mentioned, we do not see Cropsy’s disfigured face until the climax, but this is one hell of a make-up job that perhaps could have been an influence on a later character known as “Freddy Krueger”?

The Burning may seem like a clone of Friday the 13th, but it is actually an underrated horror film that thrives on the gore factor and for those fans of the aforementioned Hollywood stars, this would be a good chance to see them in their film debut.

WFG RATING: B+

Filmsway Pictures presents a Miramax Films production. Director: Tony Maylam. Producer: Harvey Weinstein Writers: Peter Lawrence & Bob Weinstein; story by Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, & Brad Grey. Cinematography: Harvey Harrison. Editing: Jack Sholder

Cast: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Lou David, Larry Joshua, Ned Eisenberg, Carolyn Houlihan, Carrick Glenn, Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter

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