Directed by Tony Maylam
Distributed by Scream Factory
The second of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray releases this week (the other being The Town That Dreaded Sundown [review here]), The Burning hails from the early 80s, just as the glut of post-Halloween/F13th slasher flicks started rolling down the pike. And while it suffers from some of the pitfalls of the worst of that subgenre, it still stands as one of the better flicks of its ilk from that era. But the big question is – will it be worth it for fans to upgrade from their previous DVD release to Scream Factory’s Blu-ray?
But first, let’s take a look at the film itself (lest people out there lead themselves to believe that I haven’t actually, y’know, watched the damn thing). Loosely based upon on actual New York state urban legend, The Burning tells the tale of Cropsy, a camp caretaker we’re told is an alcoholic and sadist. As the film opens, a group of kids set up a mean-spirited prank that goes horribly wrong, setting Cropsy ablaze and nearly ending his life before he manages to throw himself into a nearby lake.
Five years later, after languishing in a hospital unable to properly treat his burns, Cropsy is released back out into the world – where he promptly takes his fury out on an unwitting prostitute in the most unhealthy of fashions (a rather large pair of scissors figure into the poor hooker’s demise). Soon after, we’re introduced to the heroes of our film, the counselors and kids of Camp Crystal La-…er, Camp Stonewater, including all of the requisite stereotypes we’ve come to expect from this sort of tale. Perhaps what sets The Burning apart from its “dead teenager cinema” brethren is the simple fact that most of the characters are quite likable (an opinion also noted by makeup effects guru Tom Savini in one of the many bonus features on Scream Factory’s disc). It’s a surprising change from the norm, that this slasher flick takes the time to let the audience get to know the victims-to-be before the boogeyman starts knocking them down one by one.
However, sadly, there is almost too much time spent with these kids, as the film seems to forget what kind of story it’s telling after the end of the first act. Sure, there is the occasional glimpse of Cropsy in the woods, or from his POV as he lurks about, but for long stretches the film seems to be primarily concerned with being an actual summer camp flick. Fortunately, once the blood starts running, it does so in spectacular fashion. The gore gags (provided by Savini in his prime) are quite impressive, especially during the film’s big “raft” setpiece (where a set of shears hack and slice away, turning a group of teenagers into lake chum in mere seconds). From here on The Burning becomes typical slasher fare, though it is undeniably a handsomely mounted film.
And that’s perhaps where the film succeeds the most. Though its story is well worn and mostly depth free (and is an early creation of the Brothers Weinstein – with Harvey producing, Bob co-writing), director Tony Maylam’s ability to keep the energy high (even during sections that probably should’ve dragged), coupled with Harvey Harrison’s lovely cinematography and Rick Wakeman’s intense score, makes The Burning one of the more technically impressive slasher films from this period (certainly more so than the first several Friday the 13th films). In addition, the cast is pretty damned impressive across the board, with not a terrible performance to be found (even from the briefest of supporting players). Though the film is noteworthy in this respect for being home to early turns by “Seinfeld” veteran Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens (both great, and incredibly young here), credit must also go to leads Brian Matthews and Leah Ayres for carrying the film and always making their characters believable. And, as noted, Savini’s gore FX are quite impressive throughout (though the burn makeup on Cropsy, when revealed during the film’s climax, fails to enthuse).
Ultimately, while The Burning is far from perfect, it remains one of the more memorable slashers from the subgenre’s heyday. Now back to that question – is it worth it to you, the potential buyer, to upgrade from your out-of-print MGM DVD to this new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory? Absolutely. The image on this new Blu is a definite improvement, with gorgeous colors and inky blacks throughout (especially during the film’s climax in an abandoned mine). The image can be quite soft at times, though it appears this may be due more to the film’s look rather than any issues with the transfer. The stereo DTS track is perfectly adequate, though not amazing by any stretch. Still, it gets the job done.
As expected with most Scream Factory releases, the bonus features package is superb. First up are four Red Shirt-produced interviews: Blood ‘N’ Fire Memories, an eighteen-minute look at the film’s makeup effects with Tom Savini (featuring a great story concerning Savini’s botched attempt at lighting Cropsy on fire); Slash & Cut, a twelve-minute interview with Burning editor Jack Sholder (who eventually directed Freddy’s Revenge and The Hidden), wherein the veteran notes the film was stitched together from various slasher tropes (and seems to have once had a bit of disdain for our favorite genre); Cropsy Speaks, eleven minutes with Cropsy actor Lou David; and Summer Camp Nightmares, with the still beautiful Ayres speaking about her time making the film.
Next up is an eight-minute collection of full frame VHS behind-the-scenes footage of the stunts and effects work (most of which can be glimpsed in the other bonus features), along with the film’s theatrical trailer and two brief slideshows focusing on the makeup effects and promotional materials. Finally, there are two audio commentaries to choose from: one with director Maylam and film journalist Alan Jones, the other featuring actresses Shelley Bruce (“Tiger”) and Bonnie Deroski (“Marnie”) as they reminisce about their time on the film.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the film or of slashers in general, this will be an essential piece for your collection. However, if you’re only a casual fan, or a horror fan with no great love for 80s gore flicks, you’d do well enough to pass this one by. All the same, hats off from this reviewer for another great package from Scream Factory!
…now if only they’d commit to releasing Psycho IV on Blu-ray, grumble grumble…
3 out of 5
4 out of 5