If you think that sounds like Friday the 13th, trust me, you're correct, it does. The fact that the killer stalks the camp, not wearing a Hockey Mask, but a Fedora sounds even more familiar. The fact that the fedora (and matching trench coat) hides the fact that he is horribly burned makes this one seem like it has to be a rip off of two of the most successful horror Franchises in history, right?
Well, not really. While the Friday the 13th homage is unmistakable (one of the taglines reads: "Today is not Friday the 13th. But if you see this movie alone... you'll never be the same again!"), the connection to A Nightmare on Elm Street is much easier to deny, seeing as how Freddy Krueger didn't actually debut in his first film for another two and a half years.
The Burning is noteworthy for a few other things as well. For one, the men behind the film. Namely, Bob and Harvey Weinstein who reportedly made this movie to cash in on the Slasher craze (again with the Friday the 13th) in order to fund their then pet, now giant project: Miramax. While Bob served on the Editorial Staff, Harvey produced the film and also co-wrote it with director Tony Maylam, Peter Lawrence and Sopranos (and much, much more) producer Brad Grey. The crew even included Miriam Weinstein (the "Mira" half of the Miramax name) in her only screen credit. Incidentally Weinstein dad Max (the other half of the "Miramax" name) wasn't a credited participant. Rick Wakeman of prog-rock band Yes actually was a credited participant, providing the scary, if overly synthesized, score. And, lest we forget, Makeup Maestro Tom Savini turned down the gore job on Friday the 13th Part 2 to provide Special Makeup Effects for this film (which, incidentally, was released one week to the day after Friday the 13th Part 2).
How about the Cast? Jason Alexander makes his screen debut as Dave, the camper who can get you anything. Ned Eisenberg is Eddy, the sex-crazed playboy of the group while Fisher Stevens plays Woodstock the prankster, Larry Joshua plays Glazer the Bully and Brian Backer plays Alfred the nerdy loser perv. And if that's not enough for you, watch the ensemble closely and you'll see Academy Award Winner Holly Hunter blending into the crowd as Sophie, her first screen credit.
Lastly, The Burning is noteworthy as one of the 74 films banned by the DPP as a VIDEO NASTY! The reasons why in this bloody slash-fest are obvious. Five years before the main events of this film a rotten drunk of a camp caretaker nicknamed Cropsy for the sharpened garden shears he carries around with him, is pranked by a group of the meddling kids hanging out there over the summer, just for a good scare. Naturally, when he finds himself engulfed in flames he most certainly looks a little scared, I'd say. Miraculously he survives and is released after years of physical therapy, sending out a twisted and ripped up burn victim into the streets to play Jack the Ripper.
Meanwhile back at the camp, Todd (Brian Matthews), one of the kids involved in the prank, has come back, now grown and working as a counselor. Lucky for him, so has Michelle (Leah Ayres), the hot blonde of his fancy. Not so lucky for him, signs start to pop up that Cropsy (usually played by Lou David) might have come back as well.
Naturally, with so many of the Meatballs-esque shenanigans going on Todd and Michelle have their hands full trying to keep kids from beating the crap out of each other, trying to keep the boys out of the girls' shower and trying to get a little alone time, sharing a single sleeping bag. Not that it's ever a terribly convenient time for a slasher to show up or anything, but Cropsy's return is pretty much the last thing they need.
One of the things that keeps The Burning feeling fresh even with so many familiar aspects is the fact that where and when the killer will strike is just as unknown as who the killer might be. Is this really Cropsy back to get his shears wet? Maybe somebody else might have caught the homicide bug! True, this is one of the staples of the bad entries into the Camping Horror Subgenre, but Maylam handles this relatively well, using many of the same techniques as the other films of this kind, but also adding a new element or two here and there.
Still, this isn't a genre-redefining forgotten gem or anything. There are still a ton of false scares and gratuitous moments, many of which got this one landed on the Video Nasty list. While the firm, natural nude scenes by Carolyn Houlihan (as Karen) and Carrick Glenn (as Sally) are greatly (and I mean greatly) appreciated, Savini's somewhat excessive gore (in a scene or two) pushed this one into the territory of the banned, banned, banned.
All told, The Burning is better than it had to be, but still not great and still firmly stuck in a genre of borrowed ideas with Sleepaway Camp and Bloody Murder. Unoriginal is unoriginal, and fun is fun. This is a combination of the both, resulting in Two and One Half Stars out of Five! It may not be a true classic, but its inclusion on the Video Nasty list has added an air of notoriety that will ensure it a place in film history from here to Ya-Ya! I only wish the careers of Carolyn Houlihan and Carrick Glenn had the same immortality. Sadly, Carrick had only two other screen credits and Carolyn only one. But, hey, the Sleepaway Camp series has two new ones supposedly coming out soon. Maybe we can get The Burning Reunion, featuring the return of Carrick and Carolyn stalking the campgrounds looking hot. The Burning indeed. You think Holly Hunter would sign on?
For more SHEAR excitement
And a whole CROP of frights,
SEE what lurks behind this Link
and read more CAMPY reviews.