in Shocktober

The Burning (1981)

“How many movies are there about kids being hacked to pieces at summer camp?” It’s kind of sick when you consider this subject matter is a whole sub-genre of film. Maybe I haven’t seen every summer camp slasher, but I’ve seen enough to know it’s not a strong genre. That being said, The Burning is a nice treat. Like one of those marshmallows that’s all black on the outside but gooey on the inside.

I’m not saying The Burning is a landmark achievement in cinema that we should shower with awards and champagne–though that would be pretty cool, but considering how god awful film’s in this genre tend to be, it’s an accomplishment. If Friday the 13th is the Citizen Kane of summer camp movies than The Burning is I don’t know… Casablanca? Except with more melted flesh.

The Burning is a film with likable people being hacked apart by who else but the best: Tom Savini. I should note this completes my Tom Savini trilogy of slashers this year that started with Maniac and was followed by The Prowler. Like those other two, The Burning is an impressive feat of practical gut-busting makeup effects. Unlike those films, The Burning has cast members that had careers afterwards. I’m talking about HUUUGE STARS like; Fisher Stevens, Jason Alexander, and Holly Hunter–she has one line of dialogue, but she makes it count. Top that off with a score from Rick “I might be a wizard” Wakeman and if you have a slasher where the fun outweighs the faulty.

The Burning begins in the mid-70s when a group of campers pull a prank on the caretaker Cropsy by putting a burning skull inside his cabin. Cropsy wakes up, knocks the skull over, and is burned to near death. That’s a funny prank. Five years later, a deformed Cropsy is released, finds another summer camp called “Camp Stonewater” and decides to wreak his terror there. You figure Cropsy would go after the kids that almost killed him but nah, these other kids are fine. From there on out it’s your typical one-kid-killed-at-a-time slasher but with great gore effects. Of course Cropsy’s weapon of choice is hedge clippers which provide for creative kills.

An interesting side note is this one of the first films produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films. Yes, the same guys that went on to be some of the biggest producers in Hollywood started with a shlocky slasher film. As a matter of fact, Bob Weinstein co-wrote the script. When it comes down it, The Burning isn’t original, though it’s a helluva lot better than most of its camper killing peers. I’d like to say this is the end of the slasher subg-genre for Shocktober but of course not. This is the 80s! Play me out Rick Wakeman!

Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens in their younger and more vulnerable years.