9.27.2010

HORRORTHON '10: The Burning (Tony Maylam, 1981)

There seems some confusion regarding this one's timing. Many report it was filmed and released prior to Sean Cunningham's 1980 Friday the 13th and it was one of Cunningham's many inspirations. My own research (so, basically, my visits to Wikipedia and IMDb) shows that it was in fact produced soon after that premiere bloodbath at Crystal Lake, bearing a blatant lack of originality (and, as much as I adore it, Friday the 13th has precious little to boast in the originality department to begin with). What's worse, The Burning somehow managed to weasel the incomparable Tom Savini and his bottomless bag of magical makeup effects away from Friday the 13th: Part 2, only to shaft him with a detrimentally miniscule budget and less than a week to work his wonders.

The Weinstein Brothers had just started Miramax and, desperate to cash in on the American slasher craze before it was yesterday's news, Harvey produced Bob's own slapdash script about a dopey summer camp janitor named Cropsy (presumably after the Staten Island legend of the Cropsey killer the Weinsteins likely grew up fearing) who becomes severely burned in a cruel prank gone awry. This Cropsy returns from five years of medical treatment to seek revenge against... well, whoever he can find, I guess, seeing as his first victim is a prostitute and the perpetrators of his injury are long gone. He makes his way back to camp and begins to terrorize campers and counselors, shredding a few with his signature shears.

Admittedly, some of the death scenes are pretty decent. The shot of a silhouetted Cropsy raising his weapon is just about iconic. The film's key downfall, though, is that it wastes too much time building to false scares, where a pair of feet or a suspicious point of view turns out to simply be that of a randy tween. The scant nature of Bob's script is sorely apparent through all the lengthy drawing out required to attain a feature length. Simple as kindergarten though its premise may be, it falls to scattered narrative, the central conflict of which (potential victims feeling stranded and hopelessly river-locked, thereby fish in a barrel for the killer, after taking a mere stroll through the woods) is just one giant gap in logic.

Seinfeld fans will enjoy Jason Alexander in a supporting role, looking like a thirty-something George Costanza even at age 21, but apart from a few fleeting moments of bright, bloody quality, he may be the only thing to enjoy. Even the climactic reveal of Cropsy's disfigurement is yawn-worthy due to the short shoestring Savini was forced to design and create it on.

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