Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Flashback: The Burning (1981) : I Think I Need My Hedge Trimmed...

Based oh-so-loosely on the urban legend of Cropsey, The Burning is a film near and dear to my heart for its campy appeal and just as campy location.  Everyone knows my favorite killer-camp film is Friday the 13th (1980), but coming in right under F13 and its part 2 sequel is this little beaut.  It surprisingly even made the Video Nasty list, which I have to truly hesitate to agree with...

Well known for being the film debut of such talents as Jason Alexander, Holly (blink and you'll miss her) Hunter and Fisher Stevens, The Burning takes the simple idea of revenge for a prank to new levels.  Not exactly brimming with brilliance, it still packs a punch in the gore department and the characters are somehow as endearing as they are annoying. 

Five years prior, a bunch of teens at a summer camp pull a prank on the camp caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David).  The joke includes a fire-lit skull, and when things go bad, the cottage that Cropsy is in catches fire and so does the poor caretaker.  Horrified, the boys look on as Cropsy breaks the door of his cabin down and staggers down to the lake, consumed by fire and presumed dead. 

As in all good slasher films of yore, we know damn well that Cropsy isn't dead and he'll be back to seek vengeance from the little turds.  And as expected, five years later Cropsy is finally released from the hospital (damn, he must have a great HMO to allow him such an extended stay!) and is on the rampage disguised as The Invisible Man in a trenchcoat, dark shades, and a hat to cover his horrific disfigurements.  He freaks out and murders a prostitute (because the first thing he wanted to do before his revenge scheme is get laid - can you blame him?) after she shrieks in terror at his less than pretty looks. 

He then makes his way to Camp Stonewater (not the original camp, because apparently it burned to the ground), where he begins to do that sneaky, stalking thing that killers do so well. 

Meanwhile, the teen boys at this camp have bigger fish to fry.  They too, are trying to get laid, and are busy doing stunts like peeping into showers and convincing pretty girls to make passionate love amongst the poison ivy.  Alfred (Brian Backer) seems especially horny and goes through the entire film gawking at girls and getting in trouble for things he doesn't do.  He has few friends and seems creepier than he is, prompting counselor Todd (Brian Matthews) to give him the speech all awkward kids get about trying to settle down and act normal and only then can friends flock to your side and will you get girls to touch your willy.  Yeah, Todd would say that - he's the token hottie here. 

Adding to Alfred's troubles is Glazer (Larry Joshua).  If Todd is the token hottie, Glazer is the token asshole.  He makes it his mission to not only pick on Alfred endlessly, but to bed Sally (Carrick Glenn) - who may or may not actually like the guy.  Alfred's semi-quasi friends, Dave (Jason Alexander, with hair) and Woodstock (Fisher Stevens) try to keep Glazer away from Alfred while setting their sites on the other girls at the camp.  Boys will be boys.

Michelle (Leah Ayres - who is Jean-Claude Van Damme's honey in Bloodsport for those that can't place her face), another counselor, comes to the rescue one morning when Sally is disrupted in the shower by Alfred, who swears he was just trying to scare her.  Michelle has no choice but to believe it, and is already too busy with hearing the details of another counselor's plans to have sex with chump-of-the-week Eddy (Ned Eisenberg). Michelle is also counting the minutes till she can resume kissy kissy with her man, none other than Todd.  Because the beautiful people have to stick together.

Packing  their gear for an overnight canoe trip downstream, all the older campers revel in the joy of chasing the girls away from the confines of the camp. Michelle warns Karen (Carolyn Houlihan) to think twice about being with Eddy, but she goes off with him alone regardless.  Karen, still unsure of her feelings for Eddy, teases him by the lakeside by getting naked to skinny dip, but then once in the water she backs off.  Eddy basically calls her a dick tease (which she most certainly is - who gets naked and skinny dips alone with someone if they had no intention?...well, you get my drift) and yells for her to get the hell away from him. 

Sally, in turn, has made the tumultuous resolution to have sex with the ever-persistent Glazer (whom I would not touch with a ten foot pole). They pack themselves into a sleeping bag in the woods not far from the campsite and attempt to procreate.  Glazer ends things prematurely but Sally gives him a second chance and Glazer heads back to camp to get some firewood to keep his lady warm (since he apparently can't keep her warm in other ways).

So what do we have now?  Several people alone in the woods in various locations.  Prime hunting opportunity for our pissed off killer, whose weapon of choice is decidedly different:  garden shears.  He stalks around, and one by one finds each camper alone and offs them in fairly surprising ways considering all he has to work with.  Poking, slitting, slashing, name it.  He puts those shears to better use than any landscaper has ever done. 

Alfred swears to have seen creepy Cropsy on several occasions, but no one believes him until the next morning when Karen and all their canoes turn up missing.  They build a makeshift raft and a few of the campers head down the river to their ultimate doom.  The scene of the raftees (is that a word? I just made it up) getting murdered is pretty famous, and the screen goes red every time Cropsy makes another kill. Neato.

The final fifteen minutes of the film are my least favorite.  I really dislike extended chase scenes and when Todd goes off in search of an AWOL Alfred it really becomes tedious.  I could almost fast-forward to the big revelation in lieu of watching Todd explore abandoned mine shafts and Alfred climb down about a dozen rocky cliffs.  And let's face it, any revelation in this film is a moot point.  We already know Cropsy is the killer, and when they try to shock us with a minor plot unveiling, it falls utterly flat.  Yeah yeah, we say. 
More blood, please!

But all in all, The Burning is a fun flick for any random Saturday night.  You could do a lot worse than seeing Jason Alexander in a pair of too-tight shorts and Fisher Stevens with a slight shear problem. 
Tom Savini is responsible for the gore effects, and as usual, comes through quite sufficiently. 
What I do find rather humorous here are the musical cues stomping in unsurprisingly every time Cropsy is stalking a camper or ready to make a kill.  Even Friday the 13th's cues were more suspenseful than this one, sorry.  Sometimes you have to shock people (like when we kept hearing the da-dum, da-dum for Jaws but in the most pivotal scene they left it out and the shark scared the hell out of us coming out of the water, remember?)  Rick Wakeman's score is a good one, but the placement and editing is poor.

Thought to be (and is, most certainly) a direct rip-off of Friday the 13th, The Burning still stands on its own as a classic slasher film from one of the best years in horror-based film.


Doug Brunell said...

I remember liking this when it came out, but when I revisited it not too long ago, I was less than thrilled. I wondered what I ever saw in it.

Kaijinu said...

I find the two scenes where Rickman's score plays most prominently as my faves: the one where Cropsy was toast (literally) and the campfire tell tale (plus prank)

Marie said...

Haven't seen this but I loved the documentary Cropsey and I LOVE Urban Legends!