On this day in horror history, director Tony Maylam’s slasher cult classic The Burning starring Brian Matthews, Brian Backer, Leah Ayres, and Lou David was unleashed on audiences in 1981. The plot tells about a summer camp caretaker named Cropsy who is horribly burnt from a prank gone wrong. Years later, after being released with severe disfigurements, he seeks to target those responsible at a nearby summer camp.
Featuring early appearances by Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit), and Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona) and killer special effects work by none other than Tom Savini (Friday the 13th), the film is one of the shining examples of early 80s slasher shenanigans.
The film was produced in response to the success of low-budget horror films such as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and John Carpenter’s Halloween. British director Tony Maylam, known for rock music documentaries, was hired as director in the summer of 1980. From there, things moved very quickly. The screenplay was written in just six weeks, showcasing a murder every ten pages. It was Maylam’s idea to make Cropsy’s weapon-of-choice gardening shears. The budget is reported to have been between $500,000 and $1.5 million.
The Burning was shot in the late summer of 1980 around Buffalo and North Tonawanda, New York. Savini only had three or four days to make the Cropsy make-up which was based on the look of a burnt beggar he had seen as a kid in Pittsburgh, as well as textbooks on burn victims. However, due to time constraints, the resulting mask was more of a melt than a burn.
The film was edited by Jack Sholder, who went on to direct such classics as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge with Robert Englund and Mark Patton, and the awesome body-hopping alien flick The Hidden with Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) and Michael Nouri.
The Burning was heavily trimmed to receive its R-rating here in the States, but in an infamous fumble, the British home video release was “accidentally” released uncut by Thorn EMI and the tapes were seizure and became one of the infamous video nasties.
At summer camp, some teenagers pull a prank on the camp’s caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David). But the joke goes terribly wrong, and the teens leave Cropsy for dead after setting him on fire. But no one keeps Cropsy down. A few years later, the burned and disfigured caretaker returns to camp equipped with his trusty shears, ready to unleash his particular brand of vengeance on a whole new group of teens. The murderous Cropsy stalks the campers in the woods, one by one.
Budgeted at $1.5 million, the film was directed by Tony Maylam from a screenplay written by Bob Weinstein and Peter Lawrence based on a story by Brad Grey, Maylam, and Harvey Weinstein (yeah, that dirtbag) who also produced. It starred Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, and Larry Joshua. Rick Wakeman provided the killer score while Harvey Harrison served as cinematographer, and the above-mentioned Jack Sholder edited it all together. Miramax Films and Filmways Pictures unleashed the slasher cult classic into theaters back on May 8, 1981.