Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Burning (1981) Review

The Burning poster
Director: Tony Maylam
Stars: Brian Matthews, Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens
Genre: Horror, Slasher

The Burning is a Horror film released during the Slasher Boom of the early 1980s, made to capitalize on the success of Friday the 13th from the previous year.

The story is as you may of guessed: a bunch of teenagers at summer camp being chased around the woods by a murderer. This time the murderer happens to be an old camp caretaker (nicknamed Cropsy, based apparently on an urban legend) who was involved in a burn accident years ago when a prank went wrong.

The plot is standard and most everything about the film is very conventional for the genre. The characters are what you'd expect them to be, the killer's motives are typical. It's a slasher film after all.

At first we don't get a good look at the killer, Cropsy, we only see parts of his body at first and never his face; similar to how 1950s monster movies never revealed the monster until the end. The killer doesn't even talk in this movie. This all creates a bit of mystery and suspense and build-up, but it hardly makes for a memorable slasher villain. Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger he is not.

The special effects were done by the fabulous Tom Savini (notable for his effects work on titles such as Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Friday the 13th). He does, as expected, a splendid job with the gore. And there is quite a bit of gore in here, so much so that this film is even sometimes labeled as a Splatter film. The raft scene, perhaps the film's best scene, has decapitated limbs and fingers flying around. It's pretty great and it looks awesome too. There aren't really any stand-out kills I can remember. All the kills are pretty average and forgettable, aside from the wonderful gore that accompanies them. 

The Burning special effects by Tom Savini

The killer's design is nothing special--like I said, it's not exactly a memorable villain. He kind of reminded me a bit of Vincent Price in House of Wax. I guess because they're both burn victims. Again nothing special. Savini said he was only given three days to work on the killer's design which is perhaps why it's not all that it could of been.

Slasher films are notorious for their bad acting, but with The Burning that stigma doesn't exactly hold true. Don't get me wrong, there's no stellar performances here but all of it is pretty solid. This film also marks the screen debuts of three renowned actors: Jason Alexander (who went on to play George Castanza on Seinfeld), Fisher Stevens (went on to have roles in films like Short Circuit and Hackers), and Holly Hunter (who is perhaps best known for her roles in a number of Coen Brothers films). It's pretty cool to see these stars before they were stars. And so young too! Jason Alexander is definitely the charm of the film. He's a joy to watch and not only is his acting good but his character is also likable (due, likely, to the energy that his acting brings to the character).

A young Jason Alexander in The Burning

The score was composed by Rick Wakeman (former keyboardist for the band Yes). It's a very good score though a very conventional one. It's the type of score you'd expect to see in a lot of slashers and gialli. It's good though and very listenable.

The Burning killer Crosby

Overall The Burning is not the worst that the 1980s had to offer in the way of slasher films, though not the best either. A pretty average film with some cool moments. Definitely watchable and potentially enjoyable for fans of slashers. 

2.5/5 stars

Purchase The Burning on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD
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