FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 8, 2007

Film Club: The Burning

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!

Micah's Movie Calendar
Askewed Views
Evil on Two Legs: Corey
Evil on Two Legs: Jon
The Film School Dropout
Emma Blackwood
Mermaid Heather
Something Wicked...
No, But I Saw the Trailer


Arbogast said...

I think THE BURNING is one nasty smackerel. I love that those kids just get slaughtered all at once! Oh me, oh my!

Jason Adams said...

Gah! I was totally gonna participate this time around but Netflix screwed me over - they've had the movie on the dreaded Very Long Wait status since it came out. Bastards! No Cropsy yet for me. :-(

Melizer said...

Shwew! Am I relieved to read your review! I was sure I was about to get my Final Girl Film Club card revoked. Yes, that DOES make sense, and I agree completely.

Much as the best part of Zombie's Halloween for me was Big Joe Grizzley, the hi-lite of The Burning for me was the intern (Mansoor 'Big Mac' Najeeullah). "Now that's burns!"

I got mine from Netflix right away - I joined only to rent this movie when this was assigned, which seems forever ago.

Anonymous said...

Only ten bucks for a Big Mac Treatment? Dang, Easy Iris is easy.

And, what? A pervy Final Boy? I don't know much about slasher flicks, but my impression was pervs get the Benihana Treatment...

Corey said...

two more 'burning' articles for your perusal... thanks!

corey on the burning (corey at evilontwolegs)
review of the burning (jon at evilontwolegs)

Anonymous said...

Freakin' Netflix told me there'd be a long wait for this baby, so I've yet to see it. Soon...

Sarah said...

Although I thought the time had passed for writing about The Burning, I wrote about it in my blog: Part I of the "Don't Go in the Woods"-ish: The Burning.

And my Netflix copy of The Burning came from another state. I put it back in the mail this morning though.

AE said...

I posted some thoughts here:

I don't know that I could defend this as having been a really *great* movie, but we had a lot of fun watching it. Mostly making fun of Jason Alexander and imagining him hogging every scene with his improv-riffing. It's pleasingly vicious, though!

Yeah, the Final Boy was weird. He would make an interesting chapter in a paper on Final Teens and repressed sexuality, but I don't feel like writing one.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE The Burning. It's one of my favorite slashers of all-time, and I think it's a million times better than Friday the 13th. I also kinda have a thing for Alfred... if I were a hot girl taking a shower, I'd let him peep at me any day. ;)

Stacie Ponder said...

The raft scene is really fucking cool. No one kills everyone at once! Classic!

Melizer, feel free to disagree anytime- unless it comes to fashion, where my taste is untouchable!

That's so not true, it's not even funny.

Every time Jason Alexander appeared on screen, I thought "He's a much better actor than the usual slasher fodder...however, he seems only to be able to do that one sort of character." Here I felt like he was Costanza-lite, big time.

A thing for Alfred, eh, Ryan? That's awesome. I think Glaser had a thing for him too. :D

-Chris- said...

Here's what I've got:



-Chris- said...

regarding the 'everyone gets killed at once' thing...I tried to think of another movie that did that and the only thing I could come up with was the pool party in Nightmare On Elm Street 2. Any others?

spazmo said...

Yeah, my Burning DVD plans fell through, too. Couldn't even grab a decent torrent.

I did watch the extended/restored raft massacre scene, though. Very effective - and highly efficient!

I wonder if Cropsy was trying to distingush himself from the "separate from the herd and pounce" breed of killer, or if he just looked at his watch and said "Aw man, I'm missing Solid Gold!" and hacked 'em all up on the spot.

Anonymous said...

It started like most other slasher films, with a nice "how it all started" scene, intro to all the hot, available campers (you're right, I couldn't tell staff from kids), and stalking POV shots.

What brought this movie around for me was my want for the guys to die. Eddy's "seduction" of Karen wanted me to see his death out of social justice. The same with Glazer. I wanted him dead because he was an asshole. Usually I'm rooting for the killer, just to get to the good stuff. This film actually made me cheer for the killer for he was pulling off some "Death Wish" justice ("there's no justice like mob justice!"). Maybe I'm using my PC goggles when watching it instead of my "it's 1980" goggles, but both their characters just rubbed me the wrong way...

Plus I kinda dug the whole Final Boy angle. Yes, Alfred is annoying and you want him dead, but I have to respect playing with the usual slasher convention. Todd's battle with Cropsy kinda sucks, but the fact Todd lived was also a bit of a play on social justice.

Of course, all this is overshadowed by the fantastic gore. Cropsy might look unconvincing, but the clippers through the throat sure didn't.

Did anyone catch the final image of Holly Hunter at the end? Was that added after she gained some fame?

Stacie Ponder said...

I love all these new faces submitting reviews...thanks, guys!

Don't get me wrong, I think the Final Boy angle is cool- for such a unique character, though, I would have liked someone I...well, liked.

Repo, I agree with you- Glazer and Eddy were total jerks. This film is really a nasty spin on the teen summer sex comedy; though slashers all have the rep of revolving around sex, this one actually has very little going on that doesn't concern sex one way or another.

"Did anyone catch the final image of Holly Hunter at the end? Was that added after she gained some fame?"

As I said, I haven't seen the DVD rerelease, but that's gotta be an added shot. I don't recall it whatsoever! She's definitely in the film (and even has a line or two), but it's more of a spot her if you know to look for her kinda thing. An added shot is hilarious- I'm sure Holly Hunter is thrilled!

Corey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Corey said...

"Did anyone catch the final image of Holly Hunter at the end? Was that added after she gained some fame?"

is this the girl/scene you're referring to? that's Karen... it's just a still image from her death earlier in the movie spliced in rather poorly in an effort to 'beef up' the finale. it's always been in the film...

i'm not sure what else you might mean unless there's some image of holly hunter after the credits that i missed?

Rob Gonsalves said...

Late to the party, but my nlog entry about the Burning trailer has a link to my full review of the flick from a few years ago.

Rob Gonsalves said...

Um, I mean "blog" entry. I do not know what a nlog is.

Melizer said...

corey - it's just a still image from her death earlier in the movie spliced in rather poorly

Oh, yeah! That looked SO phoney-baloney! My mouth was just hanging open after that - I just couldn't believe the crappiness.

Anonymous said...

My take on Alfred is that the makers where planning on pulling a Feldman and having him become the new Cropsy in part 2. The grin on his face while watching Glazer eat shears was a pretty big giveaway, as was his excuse about lurking around the girls' shower for creepiness rather than boobs.

I really dug Woodstock's fashion sense. And Tiger was such a badass.

Favorite moment had to be Karen's delivery of "Is there really such a thing as a Cropsy-Maniac?"

Stacie Ponder said...

"I really dug Woodstock's fashion sense."

Omigod I KNOW. That blue long-sleeved open-neck collar shirt? Please. Woodstock was the shit.

I loved Tiger. I loved that she was sort of the weird-looking jokey tomboy type, but no one made fun of her.

Melizer said...

After watching the raft scene again to refresh my memory, I have to second the motion that the "clippers through the throat" kill was pretty cool, but the kill immediately after...I didn't think that slash to the forehead that girl took would have killed someone instantly. It was really a glaring misstep for me.

Anonymous said...

I liked this movie, but halfway through I was like-am I watching meatballs? and no final girl?! come on, those two guys were lame!! I've been waiting years for the dvd so it was nice to finally see it-and you watched the tape!???!!!

Unknown said...

And remember Brian Backer had a great role the next year in Fast Times at Ridgemount High! The raft sequence is one of my favorites. A f'n Big Mac...overdone! LOL!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure no one is posting to this anymore but this hilarious movie is just about over on IFC tonight (& it's actually the 2nd time I've watched it). Jason Alexander with hair is too funny and Holly Hunter is adorable (the look on her face when her canoe sinks during the water fight is priceless). Maybe someone has noticed this already but in the campfire scene, when the counselor is telling the Cropsy story and Eddy creeps up on the campers in the monster costume--didn't that get-up look amazingly like the monster in Funhouse (also out in 1981)? What, were they sharing props? LOL!

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

Anonymous said...

I feel like I am just wandering through your posts and commenting on conversations people have long since given up on. But I did happen to blog about this about a full year before I found your blog, and a few months after this assignment.

This was what I wrot...

Anonymous said...

Holly Hunter's only line is, during the gathering of the group after the canoes went missing, "What happens if we don't find them?"