Celebrating B Movies, Cult Films, and Indie Classics.

The Burning (1981)

by  |  June 9th, 2011  |  Horror

Here’s another one from the “Summer Camp & Teen Slasher” genre. The Burning actually has some flair. Of course, it has all the usual ingredients that make for a well balanced blood-fest.

It all starts out 5 years earlier, when a group of campers attempt to play  the usual “prank gone wrong” on their mean groundskeeper. To make a long story short, they set him on fire, and horribly disfigure him (hence “The Burning”). After that, he spends the next 5 years recovering and freaking out the hospital staff with his horrible grotesque scars and burns. In fact, some of the staff even dare each other to go in and look at him.

Upon his release, one staffer advises him to just let it go and forget about the boys that did this to him. Easy for you to say, you weren’t burned and horribly disfigured. Regardless, Cropsey’s (that’s his name) first stop is to find the closest lady of the night. I think he chooses an ugly one, so that even she wouldn’t reject him. To bad for her, it didn’t work. Once she sees his horrible face, even she begs him to leave amidst her drunken stooper. Luckily for Cropsey, the prostitute happens to be, I’m assuming, an avid seamstress. She keeps all her sewing gear on the table by the window, which provides Cropsey with a convenient pair of scissors to jam into her belly and swish around. Cut to…

Summer Camp! All the kids are running around having fun and enjoying the good life. Here you’ll find “The Cool Guy”, a performance deftly executed by a teenage Jason Alexander (Seinfeld & Dunstin Checks In). Yes, that’s right… Jason Alexander plays the cool, suave and athletic ladies man with a full head of hair. Every girls wants him and every guy wants to be him. You’ll also find… “The Cool Guy’s Sidekick”, played by a teenage Fisher Stevens (My Science Project, 1985) in what could best be described as a Tour De Force performance.

Jason Alexander & Fisher Stevens join forces to battle evil in Miramax's The Burning, 1981.

You also have “The Weird Kid” played by Brian Backer (a whole year before he knocked up Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). The weird kid’s job is to be weird and creep out all the girls at camp, but he also serves as the target for the camp bully. Which reminds me, there’s also “The Camp Bully”, his job is to pick on the weird kid and try to get the girl.

To be honest, once the prostitute is killed, it’s a long time before the next person gets it. It’s like okay, now we’re making Meatballs, and the next 45 minutes is a touching coming of age dramady, save for a few “I’ve gotta walk to the outhouse… in the middle of the night… by myself… and get stalked by the killer for 5 minutes” type sequences. Or the classic, “I didn’t know anyone else was here while I was creeping around the bunk by myself because everyone’s supposed to be eating chow”. You get the idea.

Nobody does gore effects like Tom Savini.

However, once the killing starts, the body count rises… and fast. And it is bloody, really good fun bloody and violent. Now The Burning, goes right back into being a horror movie. And all the campers are trying to survive the blood bath and get back to camp while Cropsey picks them off one at a time, using, presumably his old hedge clippers to get the job done.

Which eventually leads us to the killer and the head counselor battling it out mono e mono, while the “weird kid’s” life hangs in the balance.

An unusual credit in The Burning tells us that Tom Savini directed several sequences in the movie.

What makes the horror sequences so effective is the skilled effects by F/X legend Tom Savini. Savini creates some very compelling gore and splatter scenes. Aside from doing the make-up and effects in the film, Savini has one of the strangest credits I’ve ever seen in a movie “horror sequences designed by Tom Savini”. I wondered what that was all about, so when I met Tom a while back, I asked him and he had this to say…

Which movie? Oh The Burning. That’s because of my magic. Not a lot of director’s understand what I do. So I have to direct the sequences to hide the illusion. It was always in my contract’s that I direct my sequences so I can perform the slight of hand needed to make the effects work. Did you know that was Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s first movie?

~Tom Savini

Interesting, so Tom’s also an accomplished filmmaker as well as a talented actor? That’s cool. they probably should have let him just direct the whole thing, because like I said, it’s 2 different movies and the one Tom Savini was making is great! And I love that he calls what he does “magic”. Because that’s exactly what it is… magic.

Sure enough, The Burning is Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s first movie. In fact the credits tell us that The Burning is based on an original story by Harvey Weinstein and the screenplay by Bob Weinstein (who’s also a cool dude for the record). Bob also served  as Editorial Consultant, whatever that means. The Burning as it turns out, is Miramx’s first film.

The Head Counselor vs Cropsey: Who will get The Weird Kid?

Rick Wakeman gives an electrified music score that compliments the tone and pace of The Burning, which may have been influenced by the Italian horror like Bava and Argento.

Last thing, Holly Hunter is also in this movie as one of the campers, but I couldn’t tell you how, when or where.

I won’t spoil the surprise twist ending for you, that you have to get to on your own…


Matthew Dowling, a native Philadelphian, now residing in Los Angeles, is an actor, writer and film maker. Matt's training with 2nd City, and numerous appearances in TV shows, movies, theater, infomercials, and most importantly... B movies, has prepared him for making B Movie recommendations.

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Maniac Cop (1988)
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