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The Burning (1981)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 9/11/2007, Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/21/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/14/2007, Updated 5/16/2013
One of the best things about DVD is that the popularity of the medium has inspired home video companies to release many older, obscure, and in some cases forgotten movies to the public. Most of these films had been available on home video at some time in the past, but through company changes, had gone out-of-print. Thus, there can often be a clamoring for these movie to appear on DVD. 1981's The Burning is one such film which has gained a cult following and fright film fans have been looking for a Region 1 DVD release for years. The movie has garnered a reputation for its shock value, but seeing it today, the individuals involved in making the film are far more interesting.
The Burning opens at Camp Blackfoot, where we find a group of boys planning to play a prank on the ill-tempered camp caretaker Cropsy (Lou David). (We never learn if "Cropsy" is the man's given name, or a nickname. Either way, it's a horrible name.) Given Cropsy's drunken harassment of the campers, the boys plan to scare him by placing a glowing skull in his cabin. But, the prank goes horribly wrong and Cropsy is suddenly engulfed in flames.
The action then jumps ahead five years. Cropsy is released from the hospital and we hear the doctors telling him that he shouldn't think about vengeance. He then promptly kills a hooker. OK... Meanwhile, at Camp Stonewater, the kids are having a great summer, under the watchful eye of their counselors, Todd (Brian Matthews) and Michelle (Leah Ayres). Todd and Michelle decide to take a group of campers on an overnight trip down-river. They set out in a group of canoes and soon make camp for the night. There, Todd tells them the legend of Cropsy. Soon, a black-clad killer begins to pick off the campers one-by-one, using a pair of garden shears to hack and slash his way through them. Stranded, miles away from camp, will anyone survive this onslaught?
Again, while checking out chat forums on the web, I've seen many mentions of The Burning and read about the excitement that many have over a DVD release of this movie. However, the bottom line is that The Burning really isn't that special. On the lone featurette on the DVD, Tom Savini states that those behind the film claim to have written it before Friday the 13th was released. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant. The Burning was released nearly a year to the day after Friday the 13th, and thus the film feels like a clone.
If nothing else, it's undeniable that the movie follows the slasher film template set up by Halloween and Friday the 13th. The film opens with a tragedy from the past and then leaps to the present where we see a series of murders take place. The movie introduces us to the group of standard teenagers, and we watch them get offed one-by-one. Something which makes The Burning somewhat unique is the amount of time which it spends with these characters. Unfortunately, this only slows the film. Following the murder of the hooker, it's over 40 minutes until the next killing. In the interim, I felt that I was watching a Meatballs sequel as we see the hijinks and couplings of the campers. The murders in the film are fairly routine and special effects make up artist Tom Savini shows none of the flair which he displayed in Friday the 13th. The finale offers a twist which doesn't really work and the last battle is lame-ass. In the film's defense, I must say that there's a scene on a raft which is quite shocking and effective, but it's the high-point in an otherwise mediocre movie.
The real reason to watch The Burning isn't because it's a great movie. Rather it's due to the talent involved in this film who went on to do bigger, better things. The Burning features the feature film debuts of Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, and Fisher Stevens. It's especially interesting to see Alexander, not only because he looks like a younger George Costanza, but with more hair, but because he's one of the popular guys at the camp. (?!) An even bigger surprise awaits behind the camera, as The Burning was the very first Miramax production. That's right, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the brothers who would go on to make Oscar-winning films were the brains behind this one, with Harvey giving himself a "Created by" credit. What does that even mean?
In the landscape of slasher films from the early 1980s, The Burning is a slightly above average entry at best. The movie swipes the summer camp setting from Friday the 13th, but its attempt to give us somewhat complex characters is admirable. The gore is routine and the ending is somewhat dull. But, again, it's the familiar faces that make this one worth seeing. This would make a great double feature with The Final Terror.
The Burning ignites DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the age and relative obscurity of this movie, the transfer looks pretty good. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and negligible defects from the source material. The colors look fine, most notably the greens of the forest, and of course, the red blood. The action is always visible in the night-time scenes. The image remains stable and I noted only a slight amount of artifacting and no video noise. The DVD features a Dolby Digital Mono audio track. This track features clear dialogue and sound effects and the musical reproduction is fine. Of course, some stereo or surround effects would have been nice, but this track is passable.
The Burning DVD houses a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Tony Maylam and journalist Alan Jones. I've found that retrospective commentaries are usually good, because the participants are so far removed from the project that they will be terribly honest and this chat doesn't disappoint. Maylam discusses the making of the film, giving an insider's view of what it was like to work for the Weinsteins. He talks about the openly commercial nature of the film and how he made it simply to get into narrative filmmaking. He talks about the locations, actors, and shooting conditions as well. We are treated to an interview with special effects make up artist Tom Savini in "Blood 'n' Fire Memories" (18 minutes). Here, Savini shares not only his recollection about the making of The Burning, but some behind-the-scenes video as well. He describes specific effects and talks about the burn stunts. The extras are rounded out by a THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film, letterboxed at 1.85:1 and 16 x 9, and a PHOTO GALLERY. Please note Exhibit B in the awful DVD cover art from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s September ‘07 horror releases.
On May 21, 2013, Shout! Factory released The Burning on Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is fairly sharp and clear. However, it does show a fine sheen of grain throughout the film and there are some minor defects from the source material -- white and black dots, small scratches The image gets a tad dark at times, but the action is always visible. The level of detail is OK, but the transfer is having to deal with a movie which has some soft shots, so that doesn't do it any favors. The level of detail is adequate. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The As a mono track, we don't get a lot of dynamic audio effects here. However, the track is well-balanced and the dialogue is never over-powered by the music. The dialogue is not muffled and there is no hissing or popping on the track.
In addition to the extras listed above for the DVD release, The Burning Blu-ray Disc includes some new special features. We get an AUDIO COMMENTARY from actresses Shelley Bruce (Tiger) and Bonnie Deroski (Marnine). "Slash & Cut" (12 minutes) is an interview with Jack Sholder, who edited The Burning and then went on to direct The Hidden and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. He talks about how his career path lead him to the film. (And I learned that I need to hang out with Bob Shaye.) In "Cropsy Speaks" (11 minutes), we get an interview with actor Lou David who played the killer, where he discusses his career. "Summer Camp Nightmare" (7 minutes) delivers an interview with actress Leah Ayres. "Behind-the-Scenes Footage" consists of 8-minutes of on-set video showing stuntwork and Savini applying and implementing the special effects makeup. The last new extra is a "Make-up Effects Still Gallery" which offers lots of close-ups of Savini's work.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long. Updated 2013.