The Burning (1981)
A legend of terror is no campfire story anymore!
Year of Release: 1981
Also Known As: Cropsy
Running Time: 91 minutes (1:31)
Director: Tony Maylam
Brian Matthews ... Todd
Leah Ayres ... Michelle
Brian Backer ... Alfred
Larry Joshua ... Glazer
Jason Alexander ... Dave
Ned Eisenberg ... Eddy
Carrick Glenn ... Sally
Carolyn Houlihan ... Karen
Fisher Stevens ... Woodstock
Shelley Bruce ... Tiger
Sarah Chodoff ... Barbara
Bonnie Deroski ... Marnie
Holly Hunter ... Sophie
Kevi Kendall ... Diane
Lou David ... Cropsy
On a moonlit evening many years ago, a group of young campers played a trick on Cropsy, the camp caretaker. The trick backfired, and Cropsy became a horribly disfigured maniac, a mutilated killer with a thirst for revenge...
The Burning, remindin' us that there's a rarely used loophole in the legal system that states you can burn a man into a pan of spam casserole an get off scot-free; provided it was just a prank that got outta hand.
An speakin' of business that'll get outta control an likely be the end of you, if you've never been to a lesbian wedding I strongly recommend checkin' one out someday just for the cultural experience. Thing is, actually gettin' two women hitched in a place with more shooting ranges than Atheists can be a dang tricky business.
The first sign of trouble came when Sadie an... Mrs. Sadie showed up at the church for the rehearsal, cause when Reverend Dollarhide finally figured out both parties were members of the female persuasion he collapsed to the floor an started floppin' around like a gut-shot duck an recitin' Leviticus backwards until Mavis Crenshaw hadda dump the bird bath fulla holy water on 'im so the Holy Spirit'd quit makin' an ass of itself. I'm not gonna repeat what the Reverend said when he finally regained control of his vessel, but let's just say he used a word commonly associated with the fingers of little Dutch boys, an bottom line - there was no way they were gettin' married in Jesus' vacation home.
This didn't mean diddly to Sadie, but her gushing bride was so intent on gettin' married beneath the stained glass portrait of John the Baptist convertin' savages against their will that she locked 'erself in the confessional an refused to come out until Billy Hilliard an Tetnis were able to jimmy the lock open an drag 'er outta there by 'er Birkenstocks while she screamed the lyrics to "Jesus Loves the Little Children."
"What'n hell're we gonna do now?" Sadie growled once 'er self-loathing other half'd been stuffed securely back in the Ramcharger.
"I dunno. Could always dump 'er back at 'er parents' place an marry me instead," I suggested.
"I'm serious jackwad, and besides that you ain't got nothin' I want," she replied flippantly.
"What?! I got 5000 movies an the key to the Grime Time projection booth! What more could ANYONE want?!" I whined.
Sadie just made this gesture like she was squeezin' a coupla cantaloupes in the produce section until I'd once again resigned myself to a life of permanent bachelorhood.
"Fine have it your way... I suppose I could check with Reverend Kurasaki at the Land of the Rising Son, they use so much pot in the sacramental tea that they're pretty cool about... well, everything," I offered.
"Nah, it really needs to be a place I won't feel guilty about trashing," she explained.
"Trashing? Why would... you didn't invite your old roller derby team, did you?" I squinted.
"Course I did, why wouldn't I?" she asked incredulously.
"Sadie, the last time you invited them to town 13 marriages broke up an they got Apollo so drunk he bobbed his own tail - they're basically Hell's Angels with nipple piercings!" I objected.
"I ain't got time to reminisce, so either help me come up with a plan I can actually use or shut up so I can think, and bear in mind we've gotta wrap this up by 5 tomorrow afternoon so Terri can make it home in time to meet 'er parole officer," she continued.
"Terri's coming? You mean Terri "the Shiv" Chevalier?" I winced.
"Look, that was a long time ago and I'm sure she's gotten over it, now THINK runt!" she snarled.
"Well... your balless chain ain't gonna like it, but I'm sure Skunky'll let you use the Grime Time," I mumbled.
Sadie mulled the idea over a few minutes an finally said: "make it happen, we'll just have to make due," before headin' towards the Ramcharger.
"Me?! Where the hell're you goin'?!" I hollered.
"To warm her up to the idea - it's gonna take about six hours and an old Cat Woman Halloween costume," she yelled over 'er shoulder before peelin' outta there.
Course it couldn't be that simple, just askin' Skunky an havin' him graciously agree to host the blessed union of these two kinky rug-munchers, oh no - he expected to be paid a venue fee even after I'd explained that the place'd be crawlin' with Road Warrior cosplayers buyin' disgustin' greasy food from the concession stand, an THEN he played the Catholic card an refused to perform the ceremony.
Now, you might be wonderin' how Skunky came to be eligible to preside over a wedding an what moron was processin' applications at the time, an the short version is that he filled out a form from the ad section of Nexus magazine back in 1988 to the Church of the Sacred Pop Tart or some damn thing so he could marry off the 167 members of his immediate family to various desperate, middle-aged white chicks with thighs big enough to rent out as car compactors to get 'em their citizenship. Anyway, I finally got so tired of arguin' with 'im that I forked over the $12 an told 'im to be ready by noon an to have Juanita hose 'im off so nobody'd get high offa his aroma de tank top an pass out in the catfish pond.
I was pretty surprised at how smoothly everything went durin' the actual ceremony, an I gotta admit - Sadie's friends came in real handy when the protesters showed up - specially this one gal who wrestles under the name "Lezzy Borden" on the independent circuit. She grabbed Oscar Buckhalter by the mullet an pressed his face to the cattle guard til it started to sizzle an then forced 'im to lick her stiletto heels until he promised to be more tolerant in the future. Unfortunately I think she mighta enlightened the poor guy a little too much, cause after that he trailed after 'er for the rest of the day callin' 'er "Mama." I think that was about the point where the folks in the pickup with the "Give Penis a Chance" banner taped to the tailgate realized they were in over their heads an decided to go share memes about female soccer players on Facebook where it was safe, an so Pastor Skunky agreed to get the show on the road once the free entertainment was over.
"Okay, you two staind ope here by me," Skunky instructed.
"Do we have to?" Sadie asked, turnin' a little green upon noticin' my demand for Skunky to move his bi-annual shower up a few weeks had gone unmet.
"Ees your buck, but eef I's you I'd leesen close to what you ees agreen to," Skunky shrugged. The two brides took a step forward an immediately backed up about six more.
"Sadie, dos you take... um...," Skunky looked through the crowd for help with the broad's name but nobody seemed to know it. "Uh... the preetie one as you mostly lawful wedded wife even though she prolly gonna cry every time you go out weeth freens ane smother you teel you go loco?"
Sadie barely missed him with a rock an eventually mustered: "Course I do you buttwad, why else would I be here voluntarily standin' down wind from you?"
"Okay, don' say I no warn you. Ane do you, uh... preetie one, take Sadie as definitely lawful wife even though stereotype of manly lesbian ane leepsteek lesbian kinda dated ane you cain probly do better?" Skunky asked.
Sadie got 'im in the lower back with the second rock an what's-'er-name squealed "I do!" like she'd been rehersin' it in front of a mirror for the last six months.
"Ock... dame it, Sadie, you marriage never last weethout seens of humor!" Skunky whimpered as he rubbed his posterior. "Wahtevar, ees not my problem. I pronounce you woman y... othare woman, go ahead ane kees for pathetic single men who ees only here to see lesbo smooch," Skunky declared, an from there on it was basically four hours of greasy food, cheap beer, hair metal, an numerous illicit sexual displays that'd normally getcha put on the national sex offender registry if it wasn't a special occasion.
Juanita was barely able to keep up with the demand for weddin' nachos, but Billy, Tetnis, Duke Tankersley, Cleave Furguson an myself all hadda pack away about nine hot dogs apiece to keep 'em from goin' to waste - I guess in hindsight phallic chunks of heavily processed meat were never gonna be all that popular at a shindig like this.
But the worst thing was havin' to stay after it was all over an project a coupla movies (the happy couple couldn't afford a real honeymoon) an listen to 'em make noises like the lead singer of Disturbed for the next three hours. I guess she's prolly outta my reach now; time to face the facts an accept that the promise of a lifetime of cinematic bliss is no match for an amazing rack. Guess I'll just hafta get over it an move on... or maybe threaten to throw myself off the deck of the projection booth, I'll play it by ear.
Apparently the perfect woman is a lesbian, go figure. Anyway, thinkin' about Rowdy's face sizzlin' on the cattle guard reminded me of this flick called The Burning, which is basically a bio-pic about the relationships between men and women as told by Harvey Weinstein on Friday the 13th. For me, I don't think anything's ever gonna beat the scene in Friday the 13th Part IV where Jason stabs The Last American Virgin through the projection screen while the stag film's playin', but it should be noted that a lotta intelligent, highly respected film school drop-outs swear by the raft massacre sequence in The Burning, so if you haven't gotten around to this one yet I'ma brief you on a few of life's little lessons you've been missin' out on by spendin' all your leisure hours at Camp Crystal Lake. First, Miss America contestants think it's hysterical to attend summer camp an skinny dip with pathetic chunkheads cause they know nobody'll believe us when we try braggin' to our friends. Second, in the '80s hedge clippers were considered multiple use tools that served as both murder weapons and an effective means of battling troublesome pubic hair. An third, if you can't work with unlubricated condoms, she's probably not that into you.
The movie begins at Camp Blackfoot just up the road from the Virginian congressional retreat, Camp Blackface, where these punk campers're plottin' revenge against this mean ole caretaker named Cropsy who's always gettin' drunk an turnin' the archery competition into an active shooter situation. Cept when they rig up Mrs. Voorhees' rotting skull with candles an stick it on the guy's nightstand he goes apeshit an accidentally knocks the flaming skull onto his bed an into a highly flammable cocktail of malt liquor an his own bodily secretions, which then ignites his pant leg an forces 'im to go rollin' down a hill like rednecks in a tractor tire 'til he plops into a creek. I thought for a second we were finally gonna find out how the Cayahoga caught fire, but I guess even a summer camp for teenagers with receding hairlines ain't as disgustin' as Ohio. Next thing it's five years later an Cropsy's bein' evicted from the hospital cause his insurance company went bankrupt payin' for all the unsuccessful attempts to graft skin from his scrotum onto his face. Needless to say the guy's just a little bit P.O.'d about bein' turned into Rumpelmeltskin by the privileged upper-middle-class offspring of burnt out investment bankers, an this situation is only exacerbated when he attempts to pick up a hooker to assess the functionality of his Jimmy Dean smoked sausage an she starts screamin' about how she'll never be able to look at a Sloppy Joe the same again til he loses it an stabs 'er to death with a pair of scissors. Meanwhile, at Camp Stonewater, this fox named Sally is scrubbin' the Deep Woods Off out of 'er cleavage in the outdoor shower while some nerd (Alfred) is peekin' at 'er an foggin' up the entire forest until he gets caught by the head counselors (Todd an Michelle). Todd tells 'im to get with the program an that if he keeps peekin' at girls in the shower sooner or later Nancy Parsons is gonna show up an pull his pecker off.
Then this guy with greasy Kurt Cobain hair (Glazer) starts hasslin' Alfred cause he's already called dibs on Sally, an Alfred hasta get George Costanza from Seinfeld an his friend whose parents named 'im after the location of his conception (Woodstock) to fire a paintball into Glazer's right butt cheek while he's tryna operate in front of Sally. George prolly coulda got Sally for himself but he was ashamed to talk to 'er cause he was in the lake. Then George passes out contraband an Glazer's P.O.'d cause the condoms he ordered aren't lubricated, an honestly it shoulda been obvious to anybody that he can't possibly expect a woman to lubricate 'erself on account of how repulsive he is, so he tells George to twist 'em into balloon animals cause he ain't payin'. While all this's goin' on Alfred notices the Toxic Revenger peekin' in from outside lookin' like a baked potato that got left in the microwave, only nobody believes 'im. That's alright though, cause the next mornin' all the kids who're there for one last summer of fun before they earn their bachelor's degrees get to paddle out to the campground across the lake in their douche canoes so Todd can duplicate the campfire scene from Friday the 13th Part 2 an make everybody crap their cutoffs. Then this creep named Eddie grabs Miss Ohio 1979 (Karen) an the two of 'em go skinny dippin', only Eddie starts gettin' a little pushy with his amore eel until Karen closes up the tuna cannery an goes to find a man who appreciates 'er for her acting ability. Unfortunately while they were makin' all the brook trout deeply uncomfortable, some pervy scavenger hunt enthusiast has gone an hid Karen's clothes strategically throughout the timber, an so she hasta whimper 'er way through the huckleberry bushes until Brutus Beefsteak steps out from behind a tree an spears 'er with his hedge clippers.
To make matters worse, when mornin' rolls around Michelle an Todd discover their transportation's been ripped off by terrorist kayakers from Colorado, so Todd orders everybody to make like a family of beavers an bring 'im all the wood they can find so he can lash some logs together an build a raft of shit that'll hold together long enough for some of his remedial forestry students to make it back to the camp. Course you know how ungrateful kids are, so when they spot one of their missin' canoes en route back to camp they paddle on over to upgrade their ride an find the Jellophant Man lyin' in wait for 'em an things go all Cropsy turvy in a hurry an he ends up turnin' all four passengers into Channel Catcciatore. Elsewhere, Glazer an Sally are havin' some extremely awkward an disappointing sex in the woods until Glazer hasta run back to camp for matches to thaw his wiener out, only by the time he gets back Sally's had 'er hedge pruned an when he pulls open the sleepin' bag to resume apologizin' he ends up gettin' tacked to a tree by Martin Slewther. Unfortunately Alfred's voyeurism has gotten the better of 'im again, cept this time instead of breasts he's met with only blood an beasts an there's simply no time to stop an mourn the loss of Sally's fantastic rack, so he runs his little asthmatic hinder back to camp an tells Todd there's a renegade landscaper gorin' people through the gizzards with gardening equipment an that their only chance is to get I.C.E. out there to haul the lunatic back to Matamoros. Then the empty raft comes floatin' back to camp an when Michelle swims out to check it out she gets molested by Woodstock's severed arm an finally decides the $5.50 an hour she's gettin' for this gig just isn't cuttin' it anymore an she loads up the rest of the survivors an leaves Todd an Alfred to enjoy their Weekend at Burnies. Prolly better can the chatter before I go spoilin' the twist ending, even though there're technically nearby stars from which you can see it coming.
Alrighty, well, The Burning has the rare distinction of being a Horror flick based on a piece of local folklore that doesn't ram the fact down your throat or plaster it all over the poster to drum up publicity. I suppose that if you're a writer you might prefer to let people think that you came up with this concept on your own, but at the end of the day somebody with way too much time on their hands is always gonna expose you, so honestly it's probably better to use the Texas Chain Saw Massacre approach and put something like "What happened is true. Now the motion picture that's just as real," even though Chainsaw's connection to reality is fairly tenuous as well. As for the actual legend, it originated in Staten Island and achieved local prominence via the campfires of Boy Scout troops and sleepaway camps, and generally involves a local figure who suffers the same fate as the villain in the movie and seeks revenge. Madman, which was about to begin filming just as The Burning was wrapping up, had originally planned to base their own story on the Cropsy legend, but upon learning of The Burning's existence and realizing there was no way they could beat it to theaters, the producers opted to modify their script a bit. In reality, it's still the same basic story, but there's no reference to Cropsy to be found even though both scripts were written independently of each other and a lawsuit probably wouldn't have gone anywhere given that both flicks were based upon local folklore.
The unfortunate thing about The Burning is that you *really* need to have seen it back in its theatrical run or to have rented it at the video store to maintain your affinity for it, because the content of the script and the knowledge that it was written in part by Harvey Weinstein is likely to make you read things into it that wouldn't have been so obvious in the '80s/'90s. Even without knowing what we now know about Weinstein, The Burning features no less than three pervy creeps/aggressive assholes where one would have done the job just fine. First we're introduced to Alfred who spies on Sally in the shower, and honestly that's not the least bit unusual for flicks from this era, except it's made clear that she's really weirded out by it, everyone *knows* she's really weirded out by it, and yet the other kids at camp buddy up with him and make it clear we're supposed to sympathize with him to such a degree that he is, in fact, our "final boy." Then you've got the pushy, douchebag Glazer who's essentially stalking Sally as she alternates between fear and attraction until she eventually sleeps with him in a scene that isn't the least bit sexy and comes across as pretty unpleasant... unless, ya know, you're a sexual predator and you're writing a script to appeal to your own version of what's sexy. She's fine with it afterwards too, which reeks of a writer trying to reassure himself he's not a monster. Then there's still a third guy, Eddie, who's essentially a toned down version of Glazer in that he's also a pushy dick, but only goes so far as to shit talk/run off his would-be conquest once she's pushed too far. So ultimately we've got three potential frat house rapists on our hands here where one would have sufficed, and I can't help but feel like Weinstein wrote this crapola with the assumption that this kinda thing is so normal that having *three* creeps is believable and par for the course, and that it's also titillating - spoilers: it ain't, and it's pretty telling.
I don't mean to be a downer like that cause I know a lotta people've loved the flick for almost 40 years now, but it kinda needed to be said. In any event, let's put that behind us and see if Tom Savini's special effects work can carry this sucker to a passing grade (Tom musta seen *something* in this script since he passed up on Friday the 13th Part 2 to do it). The plot is pretty much the same plot all these movies have, which is, as Joe Bob Briggs, patron saint of the drive-in would say - Spam in a Cabin. That said, The Burning lacks the atmosphere of your average Friday the 13th flick, Madman, or Sleepaway Camp, and feels really unfocused. I don't mean to sound cynical, but in terms of what goes on and how much of it is building to something significant, this script is almost as vapid as Don't Go in the Woods, but without the cheesy charm. The acting is alright, but everyone in the movie looks like they're in their mid-to-late 20s and that's because they are (only two of the primary cast members who are supposed to be campers are teenagers, the rest are all in their 20s, including a guy who's 28). If they were supposed to be counselors, as is the case in the Friday the 13th franchise, that'd be fine, but the casting is a pretty ridiculous thing to behold. It's not that anyone's giving a terrible performance, but there's just no buying most of the cast as teenagers and it's not long before that's all you can see. For cripes sake Larry Joshua's old enough to've voted for Richard Nixon and he's at summer camp in 1980? Come on you guys, get your stuff together here.
Here's who matters and why (less Holly Hunter and Jason Alexander): Brian Backer (Vamps, Steel and Lace), Larry Joshua (Spider-Man, The X-Files), Carrick Glenn (Girls Nite Out), Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit 1 & 2, Super Mario Bros, My Science Project, The Brother from Another Planet), Jeff De Hart (Spaced Out), Jerry McGee (Bloodrage), K.C. Townsend (The Age of Insects).
It's a pretty small list when you remove Hunter and Alexander, but the mainstream credits are as follows: Leah Ayres (Janice in Bloodsport, Valerie Bryson on The Edge of Night), Brian Backer (Mark Ratner in Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Fisher Stevens (Chuck Fishman on Early Edition).
The special effects, as you might have guessed, are the technical highlight of this, and just about every other summer camp slasher flick. It's not quite up to the high standards of The Prowler, but Savini gives us some pretty good stuff here, including multiple throat impalements (one uses precisely the same trick as the Kevin Bacon kill in Friday the 13th), a barbecued arm, forehead slashes, an excellent fire suit that doesn't make it plain that the stuntman's wrapped in 30lbs of fire retardant, and a severed arm. The only botched effects are the corpse of Woodstock, which looks to be a dummy, and Woodstock's hand after Cropsy nips off the top half of each of his fingers with the hedge clippers, although that second one is *really* bad. Savini has said that he wasn't satisfied with the overall appearance of the killer and that he only had three days to work on it, but based upon what actually made it into the movie I thought he looked pretty good. Tom's just being modest, cause he's a silly perfectionist.
The shooting locations are excellent and put to good use by cinematographer Harvey Harrison, who'd go on to shoot the last two Cheech & Chong flicks. The exteriors were filmed in North Tonawanda, NY, just north of Buffalo, and fortunately they were able to obtain access to a summer camp and begin filming just after the close of the season, thus avoiding the extra work involved in making the surrounding area look like summer when it isn't. As for the interiors, we've got the camp's cabins and mess hall, as well as an old abandoned copper mine that the crew was able to locate in lieu of a couple caves that proved a bit too dangerous (one actually collapsed shortly after being surveyed), and while the mine isn't really utilized to its full potential, the camp interiors are all very good and closely resemble the ones from Sleepaway Camp, which was also filmed in upstate New York. On the whole, I think the shooting locations add more to the movie's atmosphere than the script and the soundtrack combined, so props to the location scout. As for the soundtrack, well, the music itself is actually very good - it's lively, exciting, and structured around the synthesizer like all great '80s soundtracks, but sometimes it just doesn't sync up well with what's happening in the movie. There's just not enough going on to justify the level of energy this music tries injecting into the flick, and it comes across as really cheesy at times. The tracks are fairly varied too, and feature pieces that're classical in tone, others that sound as though they've been pulled from ancient burlesque shows, and one that's exceptionally gothic and sounds a lot like some of the music would later appear in Castlevania. It's all over the place, and simply put - it's a bit too dynamic, complex, experimental, and frankly, a little better than the movie in which it appears, to the point that it seems like they didn't really know what to do with it. Overall, I think The Burning is over-rated and maintains its place in history by being part of a subgenre of highly beloved flicks, of which it is only an average entry. Madman, Just Before Dawn, and The Final Terror, I believe, are better entries among the mid-tier of the subgenre, but there's no discounting The Burning's popularity or its significance as part of the slasher-in-the-woods subgenre, so if you haven't gotten to this one yet, you probably should.