The Burning (1981)

APRIL 4, 2007


Slashers are my favorite subgenre of horror movie, particularly the ones that followed my beloved Halloween in the late 70s/early 80s. And while I saw most of them by the time I was 15 or so, for some reason The Burning always eluded me. And I have no idea why, as slasher enthusiasts almost always point it out as one of the better examples of the subgenre. Well, I finally saw it today and all I can say (in addition to the following paragraphs I guess) is: I wish I saw it back then.

Because it rips off (or is just plain weaker than) so many other films that I have known and grown up on, this one borderline bored me. Watching it now is sort of like when you’re the poor kid who gets a PS1 around the time the PS2 comes along and no one cares.

That’s a terrible analogy.

Anyway, it’s not a total loss. Savini’s makeup effects (make sure if you watch the film that you are watching the unedited version, damn your eyes) are among his best, and it’s nice to see a killer in the woods who hasn’t apparently brought along half of a hardware store with him, as he uses only one weapon throughout the entire film.

But there are a lot of problems with it. For starters, the Weinsteins (I love how Harvey gives himself the otherwise unheard of and hilarious credit of “Created and Produced by”) are so intent on ripping off Friday the 13th that despite the fact that the killer’s identity is not a mystery (and judging from the 2 seconds we can see it, has a pretty sweet makeup on his head), he is only shown from the waist down until the last scene of the film. Whatever, Harvey. Go ruin Halloween or the Black Christmas remake or something.

Speaking of the killer: what the fuck is up with the pace of this movie? Every slasher that followed Halloween had one agenda: lots of kills. This one has an average body count, but more than half of them occur all at once… at the 60 minute mark! Prior to that, only 2 kills occur, one in the first 5 minutes. A CORPSE EVERY SEVEN MINUTES, PEOPLE! Halloween only had a kill or two in the first hour too, but there the characters were far more interesting and likeable (and Michael was at least fucking with them. The only reason we know Cropsy is around is because every now and then we get a POV shot while he watches someone and then does nothing).

While Cropsy takes his time…. doing anything at all, we are treated to a myriad of sequences of our main group (half of whom don’t even die; another early slasher oddity) playing pranks on one another. Three of our guys are sexual deviants (1 perv and 2 would-be rapists), which has to be a record. Delightful! Actually I must give kudos for the one true kill in the first hour – Cropsy doesn’t kill the asshole who throws his would-be conquest out of the lake for refusing his advances, he kills the girl instead. Nice work. And the raft sequence is pretty great, but it almost seems like it was done in order to ‘catch up’ on kills.

Another oddity – the lead girl is left totally out of the climax, while a guy who is revealed to have been part of the group that fucked Cropsy up in the first place, and also apparently looked totally different five years earlier (it’s only five years guys, just use the same actor and give him a wig) takes him on in a mineshaft that comes out of nowhere. Who wants to watch a dude take on the killer (unless they are going through TV stations in the process)?

It’s admirable that they tried to think outside the box, but their ideas mostly sucked, or were handled poorly (the director also managed to make a bore out of Split Second, a film that features Rutger Hauer as a cop who drinks so much coffee that he becomes attuned the alien monster killer in the sewers. I mean COME ON! How do you fuck THAT up???). And it’s especially aggravating when they squandered having a memorable and iconic killer by almost never showing him (the one thing they rip off directly is the one thing they should have applied their creativity to).

It’s fun at times, and certainly earns some of its praise, but I’d have to say that of all the slashers of the period, this is one of the weakest. Up against something like My Bloody Valentine, it’s not even a blip on the radar.

P.S. Holly Hunter looks incredibly cute in her one scene, er… shot. Literally a blink and you’ll miss it role.

What say you?


  1. Phantom here. I'm pretty sure Harvey is pretty embarrassed that this is the first narrative Miramix film. Then again, I bet he's not embarrassed by Blue In The Face or Holy Smoke so screw that guy.

    Also, no mention of Rick Wakeman's awesomely crap score?

  2. I was going to, but I knew mentioning anyone from YES would lead to me discussing Trevor Rabin, who of course composed Con Air, Armageddon, and the non horror Jack Frost, and thus I would still be writing.

  3. I came across this movie while channel surfing and thought "Who aarrre these people?!!" Don't forget that Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame is in this film. It is listed as his first film credit as an on IMDb.

  4. I enjoyed this movie. I heard about it through various sites but I saw it on my TV last night. Unfortunately, it was the edited version, very recognizable by how the death scenes have so many quick cuts and very little gore. Many actors I knew such as Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens. I noticed the credit for Holly Hunter but never caught her in the film.

    It didn't feel very slasher movie to me, it felt like a camp movie. There wasn't too much focus on the horror part and even those parts were less than interesting (probably from all the editing). The effects were good, and I enjoyed the scoring, but it felt like it was overused in some parts and unnecessary in others. I could watch it again and probably multiple more times. I;m going to need to anyway to see an unedited version and catch Holly Hunter's two-second shot.

  5. Umm, the script of this was written BEFORE Friday the 13th was made, the Weinstein brothers said themselves they did not rip off the movie at all. The Burning just took longer to maker.

  6. that comment is not meant to sound like im being a dick

  7. I don't believe anything the Weinstein brothers say... if someone can produce a WGA submission for the script prior to May of 1980, fine. Otherwise I have to cry foul at that notion; they've always just gone with what's working and tried to copy it (they did it again just last week - Final Destination beats H2 at the boxoffice, and suddenly they are announcing Halloween 3D)

  8. lmfao are you serious? i didnt know about the Halloween 3d. thats a horrible idea...

  9. I bought the amazon vhs back in 2002, when i was in the navy likable movie, I wouldn't mind seeing it remade with Savini coming back for effects.

  10. a good fun 80's slasher film. the ending was really an ending!

  11. Deep Red--This may have been written after "Friday The 13th", but Mr. Savini declined work on "Friday The 13th Part 2" in order to do "The Burning", so it was definitely filmed after"FT13th", if not written after.

  12. Great review. I think you nailed the films strength's and weaknesses. The weaknesses are as you say, but I believe the movie was a success over. I'd give it a mild thumbs up. It's pretty rare when a jump scene is actually effective on me, but when "The Burning" jumps from behind a tree, it got me really good. I think the music in that scene was very effective, and I say this with an ambivalent attitude towards Yes.

    I just saw this last night so it's pretty fresh on my mind. You mentioned "...the one true kill in the first hour..." was the would-be conquest. The first kill was the completely arbitrary prostitute kill scene. Remember? After "The Burning" is released from the hospital he picks up a hooker who takes him back to her apartment where he kills her with a pair of scissors. Did you forget about it or do you not consider it a "true kill" because it wasn't at camp? Jus wunnerin'.

    I completely missed Holly Hunter's two second shot. But it was great to see Jason Alexander as a teenager.


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