I have a confession to make. I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Burning when I first saw it way back in the hazy, lazy days of high hair, legwarmers, and VHS rentals. It wasn’t that I thought the film was any 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 disposable hunks and hotties, all obviously actors, most at least a decade past their teen years, 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 were teenagers (or very convincingly passed for teenagers), but also looked a lot like…well…you and me. There really wasn’t a glamorous looking guy or gal in the flick, and I think that, combined with Tom Savini’s incredibly realistic SFX work, is what made The Burning more disturbing to me than entertaining, and, even today, I’m still taken aback by just how horrifying this little flick is.
True to the slasher formula, The Burning opens on a prank being carried out by a group of young counselors against the cruel camp caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David). The counselors place a candlelit skull by his bedside and hope to scare the bejesus out of the passed-out-drunk Cropsy, but get more than they bargained for when the man awakens and, in a panic knocks over the candles, setting his cabin ablaze, and nearly burning to death as the pranksters watch in horror.
Five years later, a hideously deformed Cropsy is released from the hospital, and, after a murderous dalliance with a hooker, heads back to his old stomping grounds where he finds a whole new group of counselors to terrorize. Taking advantage of an overnight canoeing trip across the lake, to the place where his old cabin once stood, Cropsy prepares to take his revenge for the burning!
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.
The Burning is one of those films that took forever to come out on DVD. I’m not quite sure what the holdup was, but, eventually, the film was released by MGM in all of its unrated glory (despite the box clearly stating that this was the R-rated cut of the film)! The transfer on said DVD was definitely an improvement over my disintegrating VHS copy, but, to be honest, I was just happy to finally have it on DVD, so any grumbles I had with the transfer were an afterthought.
Now, my new favorite horror distributor, Scream Factory, brings us The Burning on Blu-ray as part of their Collector’s Edition series, and, after comparing my old MGM DVD’s transfer to the new HD presentation by Scream Factory, all I can say is Wow! This new 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio looks absolutely fantastic. Yes, the film’s gloomy color palette and seemingly perpetually overcast skies prevent this one from having the sort of eye-popping effect of a more vibrant production, but what’s here looks crisp, clean, and is teeming with fine detail. There’s a bit of excess grain at times, but that’s an issue with the source as I noticed that it was present in more abundance on the DVD in the exact same spots. The accompanying DTS HD 2.0 track perfectly complements the image, with a very clean and surprisingly robust mix that easily surpasses the MGM’s DVD release in terms of sheer fidelity. Rick Wakeman’s haunting synth score never sounded so lush!
Being part of the Collector’s Edition series, Scream Factory pulls out all the stops in terms of extras, loading this bad boy up with all manner of goodies (all in HD!), including a pair of commentary tracks; the first featuring the esteemed film journo, Alan Jones, who engages director, Tony Maylam, in a discussion that’s more of an interview than a commentary track, but no less informative. The second track features actors Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski, along with moderator, Edwin Samueslon, and is a much more playful discussion, filled with humorous reminisces and tales of behind-the-scenes hijinks.
Also included are several short featurettes, with the best of the lot belonging to Tom Savini and his “Blood ‘n Fire Memories”. This 18 minute VFX segment features Savini discussing the work done on this film, and also features some great vintage behind-the-scenes stuff that will thrill fans of practical effects work!
Other featurettes include an interview segment with Lou David in “Cropsy Speaks”; “Slash and Cut” looks at the process of editing the notorious “raft scene” while “Summer Camp Nightmare” features actress, Leah Ayres, reminiscing about her experiences making the film. Rounding out the extras are a collection of vintage behind-the-scenes footage, a stills gallery, the film’s original trailer, and, of course, a second disc featuring the film on DVD! As with all of the Scream Factory special editions, also featured is a reverisble cover, with new art by Nathan Thomas Milliner on one side, and the film's classic poster art on the other.
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 convincing gore. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation is, as always, fantastic, and should be considered a must-buy for fans of 80s horror and slasher cinema. Highest recommendations!