The Burning is a 1981 slasher horror film directed by Tony Maylam and written by Peter Lawrence and Bob Weinstein. (Bob, of course, would go onto create The Weinstein Company with his brother, who also helped produce this film.) Made during the sudden surge of low-budget slasher films in the 80s, the film was lost in the shuffle and is mostly forgotten in the crowds. In recent years though, it has developed a cult-following and positive reviews from critics. Some have even went as far as calling it one of the best slasher films ever made. The issue with going by what critics or anyone else says about a low-budget film though, is there isn’t really enough numbers to form an honest consensus. I can give you the facts and my thoughts, but it’ll be up to the reader to decide who they trust and if it’s worth a purchase.
The film begins in Camp Blackfoot, where several campers try and pull a prank on the caretaker, whose name is Cropsy (derived loosely from an urban legend that became popular at summer camps in the ’60s and ’70s). The guy’s this massive jerk, a curmudgeon, of sorts, but their only intent was to scare him, but somehow, in a ridiculous event, when he wakes up to the sight of a wormy skull next to his bed, he freaks out. He freaks out and knocks over the skull, which has candles in the eye sockets, and it sets fire to his bed sheets and clothes. The end result is him being left alive, but badly burnt and disfigured.
A little later, we’re at Camp Stonewater and from there, it’s the familiar territory of a campground, with teenagers plucked off one-by-one. (Fun Fact: The antagonist in this film inspired the villain in the Clock Tower video-game)
The characters in the film are more like archetypes. The only issue is that none of the main-teenagers at the camp are really what I’d call likable. The bully’s a dick, of course, and the shy teen gives off a stalker-vibe that makes me sure he’ll somehow be the killer, the female characters are provided mostly for nudity’s sake or to build sexual tension.
They’re not all bad though, I mean, some of of the kids that are in the sideline seem like they’d have been better suited as the main-focal. Something worth acknowledging is that the teenagers in this film actually looked the part, and looked like the kind of kids you’d expect at a camp. The sight of seeing them interact and be waylaid all seem a little more authentic because of this.
The acting isn’t that horrible, for what it is. They focused too much on the chaos of the camp, which, I see what they were going for, but I believe it would’ve benefited from some more standard, focused character development. I find it odd that so many camp-related horror films make the characters seem so unhappy and without rapport, it’d seem like doing the opposite would offer a better contrast to a slasher character come in and wreck the place. But, I digress.
Make-up artist Tom Savini does work for this film, he, of course, is known for Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, and a lot of other films. You’d think this means the best factor about the film will be the kill scenes, but that isn’t the truth. The scenes haven’t aged well to say the least, but even without that, I found the scenes uninspired and generic. The only scene I will single-out is a boat-ride scene, and only because I liked the visual of the aftermath floating about the lake. Cropsy himself looks neither here nor there and while the shears may make for nice cover-work, are comical and awkward when it comes down to it.
The Burning’s most redeeming credentials are the glimpses that come close to depicting a wild, fun-loving experience of camp. Times when everyone looks like they’re actually having fun and enjoying themselves, these are the moments when a madman rampaging through would be at its very best. Unfortunately, much of their portrayal makes camp seem terrifyingly mean-spirited and miserable. Most scenes feels like a demonstration of how all the characters hate one another, they’re all rude to each other and it makes it feel difficult to care.
In conclusion, The Burning has little to offer as a slasher film, with uninspired and dated kills, a lack of character development, unlikable characters, and a narrative that had been done a couple of times before and has been done a million times since. I would call it an average slasher film from the 1980s, but a bad horror film in the long-run.