Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: The Burning (1981)
Starring: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Fisher Stevens, Ned Eisenberg, and Jason Alexander
Written By: Bob Weinstein, and Peter Lawrence
Directed By: Tony Maylam
Synopsis: After a prank goes wrong, setting the caretaker of Camp Blackfoot on fire and leaving him horribly scarred, a group of teen campers begin to be picked off one by one.
The 1980’s, what an amazing and glorious decade for the horror genre. Specifically, slasher films were on the rise during this time. Chances are fairly high that if you are reading this review, you grew up on the films of this decade or are actively seeking out reviews for films to watch from this amazing time in the genre. Whether you are in the mood for some good practical gore effects and deaths, or are seeking out some of the films that helped to shape the slasher film, Tony Maylam’s The Burning is a classic film that helped set the stage and hone the elements that are now considered staples in the horror genre. I recently had the pleasure of giving this classic flick another watch and these are my thoughts on The Burning.
Loosely based on an east coast summer camp ghost story, the film gives us the story of a group of teenagers attending a summer camp who begin to get picked off one by one at the hands of Cropsey and his blood-drenched gardening shears. Upon first release, the film brought in mixed reviews and didn’t make as much at the box office but The Burning is now considered a cult classic and in my opinion should be considered mandatory viewing for horror fans and film fans.
I have to be completely honest though, the film does have its flaws. The writing seems a bit off but at the same time it adds to the charm of The Burning. The writing itself is decent but it feels like it could have been restructured a bit. There are some lags here and there but overall, the story keeps you entertained and it’s not terrible which is what is important. When you sit down to watch The Burning you get a decent self-contained story that has a distinct beginning, middle, and end.
The only other complaint, if I could even call it a complaint (again, adds to the charm) would be some of the acting. The film has familiar faces from earlier in their respective careers, but the acting seems a bit stilted at times and if you are not in the mood for a little bit of cheese it can be a little bit irritating. Namely, you have Jason Alexander early in his career and his character is incredibly annoying, you be the judge though. It could have just been me. Like I said though, it is charming. The actors give decent performances despite being over the top at times. Part of me wants to believe it was intentional but maybe I am an apologist to some degree.
The Burning came off of the heels of both genre classics Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) utilizing some of the techniques that these films brought to the table while adding other elements. There are some great POV shots and the backdrop of the camp is a classic within the slasher sub-genre and adds beauty and depth to the film. The Burning is shot beautifully and the recent release from Scream Factory has truly done an amazing job of presenting this film in a gorgeous way.
The practical effects in this film are absolutely phenomenal coming from Tom Savini. Name sound familiar? Savini brought his work from Friday the 13th (1980) and stepped it up, pushing the envelope and let’s be honest, his work is the best thing about this film. The raft scene alone is worth watching the film. If this is your first time watching it, then you might disagree with me unless you are into the aesthetic of practical effects from the early 1980’s though.
The Burning is successful in drawing the viewer in and keeping them entertained. This film is on rotation year-round in my home but especially in the summer season with films like the above mentioned Friday the 13th. I have said it a couple of times in this review but I cannot tell you enough how charming this film is. Yes! I said it again, The Burning is charming. If you are in the mood for a great slasher flick that has some cheese and amazing special effects- look no further!
I didn’t grow up with this film but had heard about it for years. I honestly thought it was just a ripoff of the Friday the 13th franchise trying to cash in on its success and to some degree that may be true. However, I took the chance and picked up the Scream Factory release and dove in head-first without even watching the trailer. I was and still remain to be completely satisfied with the film. From the promotional artwork to the finished film itself it completely deserves its spot in the cult classic status. Are you still with me? Why? Go seek out and watch The Burning right now!
Rating: 3.5 out 5
Joshua Macmillan is a lifelong horror fan. He grew up in Texas but currently resides with his wife Audree in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Joshua has published articles on the award-winning horror website Dread Central while working on his fiction. Joshua is currently working on his first novel and is also working on a couple of screenplays and a graphic novel with his twin brother, Jeremy. When he is not writing or at his day job, he can be found at home relaxing or at the local movie theater taking in as much horror as humanly possible.
I, too, enjoyed this campy (pardon the pun?) slasher film. Having been in my mid-to-late teens in the ’80’s, cheesy horror is, at times, to my liking. However, I must say that there are some flicks that take the ‘cheese’ too far; example: Sleepaway Camp. All 4 of the originals. I haven’t seen “Return…” and am not anticipating the remake. blech
January 28, 2018 at 4:34 pm
It’s a delicate balance – laying on the cheese.
January 28, 2018 at 11:13 pm
I have a much higher tolerance for inept storytelling in early 80s slashers than any other genre. 81 was such a great year. Three of my absolute favorites (Friday 2, The Burning, and My Bloody Valentine all came out then.
March 29, 2018 at 6:02 pm