I remember not being a big fan of “The Burning” when I first saw it way back when, at the dawn of the VHS rental. It wasn’t that I thought the film was worse than the average slasher; if anything, it was that much more effective and extremely gruesome – I just thought it was sort of a bummer.
You see, up until that point, the majority of the slasher flicks, especially the “camp” themed ones, featured lots of despicable/disposable hunks and hotties, all very obviously actors, and definitely not the boy or girl next door. With The Burning, the formula was changed, and the roles usually filled by brawny boys and buxom babes were instead given to young actors who not only passed for teenagers, but also looked a lot like…well…you and me. I think it was that, combined with the fact that film had a much less-polished look than, say, a “Friday the 13th”, is what made The Burning more disturbing to me than it was entertaining, at least back then.
Cruel camp caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David), gets a rude awakening when a group of campers place a candlelit skull by his bedside as part of a late night prank. Panicked and drunk, Cropsy knocks over the candles, sets his cabin ablaze, and nearly burns to death as the pranksters watch in horror.
Five years later, a hideously deformed Cropsy is released from the hospital, and seeks out a whole new group of campers and counselors to terrorize. When a large group of them venture off on a canoeing trip across the lake, to the place where his old camp once stood, Cropsy prepares to take his revenge for the burning!
I was a bit disappointed when I saw the R-rating on the DVD case, as I’d been hoping for a proper release of the “uncut” version of The Burning (which I’d seen, but only in a really lousy VHS transfer), but I was really just happy to see this film on DVD at all. I’m not quite sure what the holdup was, but this one had been a long time coming, and I’m happy to say that the wait was more than worth it as, strangely enough, the film contained herein is the uncut version, presented in all its bloody glory. I’m a bit puzzled as to why MGM didn’t advertise this fact on the packaging, but, then again, I’m certainly not complaining!
The transfer, while a bit grainy in places, is leagues better than my rubbish VHS copy, and the mono soundtrack is solid with the occasional (and expected) distortion. Extras include a feature-length commentary by director Tony Maylam, as well as a featurette/interview with FX supervisor, Tom Savini.
The Burning is one of the better slashers to emerge from the 80’s, thanks mostly to Savini’s over-the-top FX, and the oppressive atmosphere that seemed to come part and parcel with the film’s lack of a budget (with many of the kills happening in broad daylight, making them that much more intense). Oh, and keep an eye out for Holly Hunter, who, along with Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens, made her acting debut here.
Time hasn't been kind to most of the slashers I grew up with, but The Burning still holds up pretty damned well, with effective shocks and scares, convincing gore, and fair to good performances across the board. MGM's long-awaited DVD release of the film delivers on every level, and the unexpected bonus of an unrated edition is a welcome surprise indeed! Excellent stuff!