Be warned, spoilers ahead.
The Burning was one of the many films impounded in the UK in the early 1980s under the Obscene Publications Act, when the uncut version was “accidentally” released on VHS instead of the trimmed down version approved by the BBFC. The plot: kids at a summer camp play a prank on the creepy old caretaker, Cropsy. It goes horribly wrong, and he burns alive, leaving him horrifically scarred. Years later, he returns to seek revenge, stalking and preying upon unsuspecting precocious teens at a new summer camp.
Sound familiar? It should, because 1981’s The Burning began as a Friday 13th knock-off. One of the many films to imitate the famous slasher movie, before the genre began to fizzle out, The Burning was considered little more than a cheap cash-in. And it’s easy to see where the latter movie got most of its inspiration. However, I believe it surpasses its predecessor in every way.
For a start, Tom Savini really steps up the gore in this film. Despite the fact that the kills are limited to stabbings, slashings, and slicings with the same pair of garden shears, there are ample numbers of limbs lopped off and throats penetrated to satisfy. The titular burning scene is brutal to watch, and the climatic axe to the face is nothing short of spectacular. The infamous raft scene is also a sight for sore eyes.
The main thing that, for me, sets this apart from most other slashers, is the characters. At first glance these are cardboard cut outs, but they soon become fleshed out. The asshole jock is actually kind of sweet; the ‘funny’ guy is not only actually funny, but down to earth; the nerd is even brave and resourceful at the film’s end. There is no ‘slutty’ girl character, nor do we meet the traditional ‘final girl’ (and let’s face it, why would they hang out together anyway?)
At a certain point, when it is revealed there is a killer on the loose, the group fall about crying when they realise half of their friends have been killed. They build a raft and make it to safety. They call the police, and the police believe their story and actually show up without being dispatched by the traditionally much more wily killer. These factors added a sense of realism to the story which usually is left out, and hinders other movies. There was no point during The Burning where I shouted at the screen, “Don’t go in there!” or “You wouldn’t DO that!”
My only complaints about this movie would be the jarring score (which is a product of its time) and the Cropsy make up. Early in the movie we see a burnt arm, which looks fantastic, but when we later see his face, it looks rubbery and unrealistic. However it is only visible for a short time, and like the score, can be forgiven.
Like many of the other movies in this project of mine, this is not disturbing or ‘nasty’ in any way. But rather UNlike most of the films on the list, this was a joy to watch, and thoroughly recommend for any genre fans.