The Burning (1981)
What’s it About: Some campers at Camp Crystal La…. I mean, Camp Blackwood decide to teach the caretaker, Cropsey, a lesson for some reason by pulling the timeless prank of putting a rotting skull with flaming eyes in his cabin. Of course, the caretaker freaks out and knocks the skull onto his bed, which apparently has sheets made of matches, setting his legs on fire. Then wouldn’t you know it, he knocks over a can of gasoline onto his flaming legs, and PLOOM! his whole body goes up. So all in all, the prank was a success.
Five years later, Cropsey is released from the hospital as a voice-over of several doctors explains how screwed he is. So naturally, the first thing he does is kill a hooker. That brings my Schlocktoberfest “Movies with a Disgusting Hooker In Them” count up to 3.
Then we’re back at the camp with George Costanza and Mark “Rat” Ratner! (Did Jason Alexander ever look like he was younger than 40 in his life?) They’re playing a softball game, shirts versus bra-less. And hey, Cropsey is back! Unfortunately, they didn’t hold his job for him.
Mark Ratner gets busted peeping in on one of the girls in the shower, which angers her boyfriend, Glazer, who is the camp Fonzie. (If I ever hear the name Glazer again I’ll set myself on fire. His name is said roughly 137 times in this movie.) Rat can’t do anything right and is a huge wuss, so it makes total sense that he would attend summer camp. At this point, we’ve stopped the slasher movie and are watching a Meatballs sequel.
Ah, but we soon get the classic killer P.O.V. shot outside the boys’ bunk, and Rat catches a glimpse of the caretaker’s disfigured face in the window. Like everything else, this upsets Rat.
So we’re in the mess hall and they’re… hey is that Holly Hunter?
The Indian guy from Short Circuit goes back to the bunk by himself, so you know he’s dead. But no! It’s just the head counselor, Todd. Take THAT cliches.
So some campers and counselors (I’m not entirely sure if all of them are counselors, and a couple of them are campers, or they’re all counselors, but it doesn’t matter, but why is it only a dozen or so of the whole camp?) head off in canoes on a trip to a remote part of the woods for an overnighter. Later that night, the counselors are sitting around a campfire and the Todd is telling them a spook story (where have I seen this before?), but this is the true story of Cropsey! Despite being told in the story that his name is Cropsey, they’re still scared. Cropsey sounds like either the world’s cutest bunny or a venereal disease where pieces of your wiener fall off, along with a Burning sensation. Ha!
Two of the counselors go skinny dipping, which means death, much like oranges in The Godfather. After refusing to have sex in the filthy lake, the girl swims back to land only to find that her clothes have been scattered around by Cropsey. She searches for them fully nude until she finds her shirt and Cropsey’s garden shears across her throat.
All of the canoes go missing, courtesy of Cropsey, that scoundrel, and the counselors quickly make a raft in order to find them. The group on the raft finds one of the canoes, but IT’S A TRAP! Cropsy mercilessly slaughters them with his garden shears, which are unbelievably sharp and awesome.
Later, Glazer and his girl are having sex in a sleeping bag in the middle of the woods, so at least one of them has to die. As luck would have it, both of them do, and Rat sees the whole thing! He runs back to tell Todd, and they go back to find Glazer’s body and Cropsey’s shears! But Todd just gets a small cut on the forehead while Rat scurries away. Meanwhile, the death raft floats down to the other counselors, and they’re understandably freaked out when they find the bodies of their friends. So they kind of just go back to the camp after that.
Cropsey is still chasing Rat through some concrete mining ruins in the woods, and captures Rat to lure Todd, who he does not like, since Todd was one of the kids who set him on fire and all. Even though Cropsey has a flamethrower, he just kind of stalks Todd with it, REALLY savoring the moment, but that turns out to be a mistake, because Rat stabs Cropsey in the back with his own garden shears. But of course he’s not dead, and jump-scares them one more time, but gets an axe to the face and set on fire (again!) for his trouble. So the elaborate prank finally comes to an end, and it was indeed the greatest prank in Camp Blackwood history.
Is it Actually Scary: I think this movie needs a curve. The slasher genre was pretty fresh in 1981, but it’s been so overdone by 2011 that I’m pretty desensitized to it. But 30 years ago, The Burning was creative enough with its kills and jump scares to be pretty effectively scary.
Scariest Moment: Cropsey’s sleeping bag shear surprise on Glazer, which also doubles as the most relieving moment.
Gore Level: Big time. The first hooker kill has a pair of scissors to the gut that’s pretty graphic, and it keeps up from there with garden shear gore, climaxing with the raft scene. This movie is “slasher” in every sense of the word.
Dumbest Moments: A couple of canoes go missing during a trip to a remote part of the woods, and Glazer accuses Rat of doing something with them, even though Rat was with them the whole time and what the hell would he do with five canoes, hide them in his sleeping bag?
Also, in the finale, Todd is supposed to come across the body of the skinny dipping girl, but her “body” is clearly just a freeze frame from her death scene. It’s incredibly awful-looking and should have just been edited out.
Best Part: The raft massacre is an absolute classic slasher movie scene, with Fisher Stevens’ fingers being lopped off as the highlight.
Best Line: After Rat is caught in the girls’ shower: “He is a sexual pervert!” “What do you want me to do, cut his balls off?”
Nudity: Things looked promising from the get-go when it was clear that none of the girls was going to be wearing a bra. Then there’s a shower scene, then some full-frontal skinny dipping.
Overall: In the opening credits you can see that there were some quality people involved for an early ’80s slasher flick: Harvey Weinstein, Brad Grey, Tom Savini, Rick Wakeman and Corky Burger. And it doesn’t disappoint, doing the Corky Burger name proud.
The movie moves pretty slowly in the first hour, with just two spread out kills, but it’s never really boring. Everything goes into overdrive in the last 30 minutes though, which is a big payoff. Even though there were approximately 2,736 summer camp slasher flicks in the ‘80s, The Burning is definitely one of the best. Great suspense, great kills and a pretty cool cast. The Burning took the flame lit by Friday the 13th and turned up the heat. But for some reason, The Burning rarely gets mentioned in the same conversation with Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc., which is a shame. I suppose because the basic plot and setting were so similar to Friday the 13th that many probably just wrote it off as a ripoff (Harvey Weinstein claims that he wrote the script before Friday the 13th even came out, but you can’t trust a word that guy says). Tom Savini really upped his game here from Friday the 13th and Maniac with the gore effects, further cementing his awesomeness.
It didn’t have 37 sequels, and it hasn’t been remade with some Disney Channel kid as the hero. But that’s a good thing, and makes The Burning even more of a treat.
My Wife’s Observational Quotes:
- “Stop, drop and roll, anyone?”
- “Why do all [hookers] look like men?”
- “Look at her areolas, they’re awful.”