Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hot under the collar: THE BURNING(1981)

As much as I emphasize the importance of acting, story lines, cinematography and music scores when giving props to films I also think there is a lot to be said about practical special effects - not CGI(computer generated imagery) but good ole make up effects. Make up effects in science fiction and horror films really came into its own during the 1950's and 1960's and despite the decrease in reliance on these kinds of effects they are still in use and often put to excellent use. One period of time in cinema showcasing practical make up effects that I am enormously fond of is the 1980's, specifically the "slasher" horror movie genre. Slasher film franchises like Friday The 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street and the Halloween movies(which began in 1978) remain terrific showcases for practical makeup effects. I've always admired the work of guys like Rob Bottin and Rick Baker. Tom Savini is another guy whose makeup work and career in this industry deserves major kudos. Savini's makeup and gore effects work are featured in the subject of this "revisit", an American-Canadian slasher horror film originally released theatrically in the United States by Filmways back in May, 1981: The Burning, directed by Tony Maylam and produced by a then new company called Miramax Films.

The Burning, made on an estimated budget of $1.5 million dollars, was one of the first on screen film endeavors for brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the movie produced to cash in on the slasher horror movie craze that was going on at the time. This movie was a launching point for several actors including Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter.

The film's story: in 1974, a group of campers at "Camp Blackfoot" play a prank on the campground caretaker named "Cropsy"(played by Lou David). The prank quickly goes wrong and Cropsy catches on fire. The teen campers watch from behind nearby bushes in terror as Cropsy, now completely engulfed in flames, staggers outside his cabin, managing to leap into a nearby lake...

Five years later we see Cropsy still hospitalized, horribly burned and disfigured. His skin graft surgeries unsuccessful, Cropsy is wheeled out of the hospital literally by his lead doctor who tries to reassure the horribly burned campground caretaker that in time he will grow accustomed to his condition.

Yeah, right.

Cropsy disguises himself in overcoat and hat and immediately focuses his rage on a prostitute in a motel room who, understandably horrified after seeing Cropsy for the first time, is quickly butchered by the disfigured fellow. Cropsy predictably returns to Camp Blackfoot and, securing a pair of garden shears, begins methodically killing young teens at the camp. It takes a while before the camp counselors realize what's happening and who may be behind the carnage. By that time only a few remain and there is a final showdown between them and Cropsy. (no other spoilers)


Critics of The Burning label this movie a "Friday The 13th" rip off and to some extent I agree but this movie still establishes enough of its own "identity"(for lack of better word) to make this horror film well worth watching and a DVD(or Blu Ray) addition to any self respecting horror movie fan's collection.

Thumbs up:

1. the makeup effects used to render "Cropsy" post burn: Tom Savini's work is IMO top notch. Cropsy not only looks burned but even melted and to say that he looks absolutely hideous would be an understatement.

2. I like the fact that Cropsy employs one weapon for his kills unlike fellow slasher antagonist "Jason Voorhees" who uses everything but the proverbial kitchen sink to slaughter his victims. Cropsy employs those garden shears in a simple and direct manner, achieving the same amount of over the top, "meatball" gore.

3. the full reveal of Cropsy post burn doesn't take place until later in this film: to be sure there is a brief(a second or two) shot of his face in a cabin window earlier in the movie but the viewer catches only the briefest glimpse when watching this film. By not revealing Cropsy's grotesque appearance too early in this movie, director Tony Maylam definitely heightens the suspense and dread.

4. the now famous "raft massacre" scene: edited out of some VHS releases of this movie, this sequence is a favorite among the fan following of The Burning and why not? It's sick and very well done and features an impaling and one camper getting all of his fingers chopped off.

5. the score by Rick Wakeman which, like other slasher horror movies of this era, is heavy on the keyboards.

Thumbs down:

1. the overall acting in this movie leaves something to be desired and is sub par even for the movie's budget.

Overall: a solid slasher horror film that should absolutely be in every gore hound's DVD or Blu Ray collection. Shout! Factory released The Burning(1981)  on R1 DVD, uncut and in widescreen, back in 2007 and this release has a lot of extras. I own this DVD and it's marvelous.

The Burning(1981)  was also released to Blu Ray by Shout! Factory in May, 2013 as a BD/DVD combo release.

The film's trailer:

To see the Shout! Factory Collector's Edition Blu Ray/DVD release of this film for sale at Amazon click the link: THE BURNING Collector's Edition BD/DVD