Peter’s Retro Movie Review: The Burning (1981)

June 30, 2011

The Burning movie posterby Peter Nielsen

”There used to be a camp not far from here, just across the lake. It was called Camp Blackfoot. No one goes there anymore. Everything burnt down. This camp had a caretaker, and his name was Cropsy. Now, this Cropsy was a drunkard… a sadist, and he got real pleasure out of hurting… scaring. And he had these garden shears. The kind with long, thin blades. He carried them all the time, wherever he went…”

It’s summertime and you have no worries in the whole world. No school and no obligations! What to do? Well, in the 80’s it was very popular to go to camp… and get killed! Not that that was the main reason obviously, but for some reason that always seemed to happen, right? So, the reasons to go to camp are more or less to cut loose, drink, have sex and get killed. The last one optional, of course! Well, maybe not in the slasher-genre, of which The Burning was one of the first. Another camp-movie was of course Friday the 13th which was released the year before. Also a good movie and more remembered than The Burning, I think, mainly because it has had a gazillion sequels.

What makes The Burning such a great slasher-gem is, one… Tom Savini did the special effects! And two… the characters are likeable and you don’t really want them to die. Not like in some later “slashers” were you actually root for the killer to slaughter the obnoxious teens.

Prank gone terribly wrong.

Prank gone terribly wrong.

But let’s go back to the beginning! The movie starts with a bunch of campers wanting to get back at Cropsy by playing him a little prank and thus scaring him. Well, needless to say, the prank goes horribly wrong and ends with both Cropsy’s hut and himself set ablaze. He spends the next five years in hospital and even the nurses have a hard time looking at him without being disgusted at how badly burnt he is. When he’s finally released he’s filled with anger and hatred and the only thing on his mind is revenge.

So, let’s go to camp! Meet Todd and Michelle, the two main counselors who tries to keep the teens somewhat in order and actually doing an ok job with it. Todd is played by Brian Matthews who’s also been in The Young and the Restless and Days of our Lives among other TV-shows. Michelle is played by Leah Ayres who was in the hospital TV-show St. Elsewhere.

Jason Alexander & Fisher Stevens

Jason Alexander & Fisher Stevens

You may also recognize some familiar faces amongst the campers. Brian Backer maybe? From Meatballs and Fast Times at Ridgemont High? He plays the slightly awkward kid Alfred. Or maybe you’ll recognize three other newcomers, who actually made their feature film debut in The Burning. Jason Alexander (George from Seinfeld), Fisher Stevens (Flamingo Kid, Short Circuit) and Holly Hunter (Arizona Junior, Broadcast News).

Well, the campers soon start to fall victim to Cropsy and his garden shears. There’s some pretty gruesome and gory kills in here, courtesy of Mr. Tom Savini. In fact, some of them are so visually nasty and brutal that The Burning was one of the first movies to be put on the UK Video-nasties list. One scene in particular to be singled out was the infamous “raft-scene”. And yes… it is pretty gory! There’s blood and body-parts flying all over the place.

I don’t really have to get to deep into the plot, do I? I mean, you all know what happens. Campers get killed, but in the end so does the killer and he actually stays dead in this one. At least that’s what I think, since no sequels were made, but then again… you never know.

Cropsy getting down to business.

Cropsy getting down to business.

I like the slasher-genre and mainly the movies made in the 80’s. They had a feel to them, a certain je ne sais quoi that I can’t quite put my finger on. It can’t be the poor acting skills (or lack thereof) or the fact that they were low-budget movies, because we have that nowadays too. I don’t know, but they just feel different and are, to some extent, better than many of the new generation of slasher-movies.

I’ve stated it earlier about the characters being real and likeable and they are, but of course they still behave more or less like teens do in these movies. There’s the jock, for instance, who gives Alfred a hard time for stalking and ogling his girlfriend, but to be fair, Alfred kind of brings it on himself, because his been told both by the counselors and the boyfriend to stop. The jock comes off as sort of a bully at first, but shares a surprisingly tender moment with his girlfriend, which I thought was kind of sweet. So, you don’t really want them to fall victim to Cropsy’s garden shears.

Cropsy is played by Lou David (The Last Dragon, The Exterminator) and is completely ruthless in his search for revenge.

The director, Tony Maylam, has mostly done minor things since then and in the last decade he’s only made a bunch of car-documentaries. However, he has also made another of my favorite movies, namely the futuristic thriller Split Second from 1992, set in a partly submerged London and starring the one and only Rutger Hauer.

But right now, let’s gather around the camp-fire for a little story, and remember… he might still be out there. So, don’t look, he’ll see you! Don’t breathe, he’ll hear you! Don’t move… You’re dead!

Until next time my friends…







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3 comments on “Peter’s Retro Movie Review: The Burning (1981)

  1. dumbricht Jul 5, 2011

    Nice write up Peter. Last October I attempted to watch 31 Horror Movies for Halloween. I stopped at #21 – why? Because as much as I love horror, that much can rot the brain. I was also looking for a job at the time, and let’s face it, spending time with Cropsy meant time not spent job hunting. But, alas, The Burning was entry #8, here is what I said then:

    What really goes on at summer camp? Whatever it is, it seems to have traumatized many Hollywood writers. For every “Meatballs” we have, there are ten camp-centric slasher films. Was it too many wedgies and not enough panty raids? Of the slashers, “Friday the 13th” is the most well known, “Sleepaway Camp” is the most disturbing, and “The Burning” is, well, just adequate.

    The movie takes you through all of the standard slasher paces. There has been a prank. Someone has been hurt, and now he wants his revenge. In this case, it’s Cropsy, the alcoholic caretaker of the camp. Cropsy? Really? That’s the name for a homicidal maniac? It sounds more like the drunk clown who ruined my six year olds birthday party. Besides, can you really blame Cropsy? Who wouldn’t be driven to drink if they had to clean up after a bunch of horny campers (particularly those who look like they are over 30).

    If you want a decent slasher film, you can’t go wrong here. However, it crosses over into must see territory based upon the talent involved. Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens – that’s a lot of Emmy nominations and two Oscars among the campers/victims (yes, Fisher Stevens won one for “The Cove”). And would you believe the tormented writer/producers of the film are Bob and Harvey Weinstein. To which hellish camp did Mira and Max send them?

    The movie adds nothing to the genre, other than breaking the record for longest time in between kills (40+ minutes). But, seeing a slightly younger, but no less randy, George Costanza is a lot of fun, and makes me long for a Festivus themed slasher flick.

  2. Hi Dave– Excellent review! I remember when you did that series. I believe that’s when we first met! 🙂 Honestly, as much as I wanted to watch THE BURNING before (it’s one of the few early 80s slasher flicks I’ve never seen), Peter and you have have convinced me it’s a must see. Thanks!

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