First off, a confession: though I chose The Burning (1981) for the Film Club because it's been recently released on DVD in all its uncut glory- uncut glory I've never seen- I procrastinated, ran out of time, and ended up watching my dusty old VHS copy. I'm such a big lame.
Mean old camp caretaker Cropsy is trying to sleep off a bender when some fed-up kids decide to play a prank on him. As can be expected, the prank goes awry- Cropsy ends up engulfed in flames, but he miraculously survives. The poor guy spends five years in a hospital subjected to unsuccessful skin grafts and smack-talk from the least sensitive nursing staff ever, who refer to Cropsy as a freak, a monster, and a Big Mac. If you think that's bad, though, you should hear how they talk about the peeps with renal failure!
Eventually Cropsy is deemed fit enough to return to society, though he's got a bit of mental scarring to go along with his physical scarring. By "he's got a bit of mental scarring", of course, I mean "He's filled with anger and bloodthirsty rage, and he'd going to seek vengeance on lots of innocent teenagers frolicking at summer camp- not even the same summer camp where Cropsy used to work, but whatevs."
Yes, indeed, Cropsy kills a prostitute after she gives him the Big Mac treatment...uh, by which I mean she's horrified by his appearance. "The Big Mac treatment" isn't a euphemism for some hooker specialty, although now that I think about it, that would be kind of cool. Witness:
Easy Iris: I feel so gross! That last guy demanded The Big Mac Treatment.
Onion Annie: Damn, girl, you gots to draw the line somewhere. The Big Mac Treatment? Hells no!
Easy Iris: Hey, ten bucks is ten bucks.
Anyway, Cropsy leaves the big city for summer camp, garden shears in hand. At this point, The Burning becomes Meatballs as we're treated to a good 40 minutes of horny teens, full frontal nudity, and lite pranks galore- pranks which culminate in what has to be the official Least Appetizing Moon Shot ever, thanks to Fisher Stevens's ass.
Eventually one of the kids and counselors (it's difficult to tell which is which, because there are ample actors doing that I'm 25 but I can totally play 16! thing) head downriver on a canoe trip, and Cropsy finally gets his groove back. Friday the 13th-flavored hijinks ensue.
Well, not quite Friday the 13th-flavored, I should say. As Stop & Shop brand "Cola" isn't Coke, The Burning is not Friday the 13th. The ingredients are all present and accounted for- and The Burning is nothing if not as straight-up a slasher flick as they come- but it seems that as the years have passed, Cropsy ain't as scary as he used to be and this film strikes me as being a little...I don't know. Soulless? That seems to be an odd choice to use to describe a slasher film, of all things, but that's all that comes to mind. This film feels like one of a countless number of post-Friday cash-ins, but it's lacking that special something to make it an interesting film in its own right.
Undoubtedly, however, The Burning is an interesting film, one that's earned a spot on the list of "must-see" slasher cinema, an inclusion that stems more from the unique aspects of the movie rather than the movie itself. Does that make sense? I haven't had my fill of coffee yet, so it may not. What I mean is, The Burning's plot is basically inconsequential; the film's notorious reputation (the infamous "raft scene", in particular, rendered the movie banned in the UK and heavily cut-up elsewhere) and massive "before they were stars" factor mean that The Burning will be sought out for years to come despite its rather pedestrian story.
Sure, Friday the 13th has its Kevin Bacon-ness, but there's never been a little horror movie as filled with people who would go on to much bigger and much better than The Burning: I already mentioned Fisher Stevens and his terrifying derriere, but the film also features Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter amongst the campers. Behind the scenes, The Burning boasts an even more extensive list of future filmmakers: this is the first movie from Miramax, founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein (The Burning's co-writers and producers); editor Jack Sholder would go on to direct a slew of horror films including Alone in the Dark, Arachnid, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2; writer Brad Grey has become a big producer muckity muck, his resume including shows and films such as The Sopranos and The Assassination of Jesse James. Then, of course, there's FX guru Tom Savini- he'd already established himself as the premiere goremeister by 1981, but this film is a notable point in his career.
Oh, and the Final Girl in The Burning is actually a Final Boy. I'm not talking about some sort of Crying Game shenanigans, either- it's just a nerdy, creepy, pervy boy. I'm not sure if it's the pacing of the film (Final Boy Alfred [Brian Backer] spends a lot of time running through the woods alone), the fact that Alfred is fairly unlikeable, or the fact that he's a Boy and not a Girl and how the amount of audience investment correlates to character gender (which is an interesting topic that deserves some...dare I say it...pondering), but...not to get all erudite here, flat out- Alfred sucks and I couldn't have cared less what happened to him.
So, Film Clubbers, what's your take on this flick? Yup, it's a slasher classic, though I find myself pining for Baghead Jason...which is totally ironicalistic since Tom Savini passed on Friday the 13th Part 2 to make The Burning.
Film Club Coolies- post 'em if you got 'em!
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