Blu-ray Review: The Burning (1981)

The Burning BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Tony Maylam

Starring: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, Lou David, Shelley Bruce, Bonnie Deroski

Out of all of the Friday the 13th clones that arrived in the wake of Sean S, Cunningham’s seminal slasher, 1981’s The Burning rates as one of the best, mainly thanks to strong production values and the fact that it sticks very closely to the established slasher movie formula and keeps things simple, the only deviation being that the film spends quite a long time setting up its characters before any of the killing starts, In a lot of slasher movies this would be – and has been on many occasions – a problem as there is a theory that says you shouldn’t go for more than 15 minutes without a kill, but The Burning manages to overcome this by introducing a group of ‘teenagers’ (as we will call them, despite some of them clearly being a lot older) that you want to spend some time with before the inevitable happens, making their eventual demise a little more impactful than the usual practice of making them irritating as hell and waiting for the killer to wipe them out quickly.

Presented fully uncut in the UK for the very first time (amazing, isn’t it?), The Burning ticks all the boxes for everything that you would need from a slasher movie – a disfigured killer (in this case a caretaker called Cropsey who got seriously burned when a prank against him went wrong), an isolated location, good-looking teens frolicking in the summer sun, etc – but gives it to you in the most brutal fashion thanks to some superb special effects courtesy of effects legend Tom Savini (Friday the 13th/Maniac/Day of the Dead) that come about during the second half of the movie, by which time you’ve built up some sort of liking for the characters, who include the archetypal muscle-bound bully Glazer (Larry Joshua – Unforgiven), bullied weirdo Archie (Brian Backer – Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol), sporty Woodstock (Fisher Stevens – Short Circuit) and group leaders Todd (Brian Matthews – Santa Barbara) and Michelle (Leah Ayres – Bloodsport). The pacing of the movie is pretty spot on too, with the introductory scene showing us how Cropsey became to be so burned and disfigured (along with a bizarre scene of a hospital orderly showing off to a new trainee doctor by showing him Cropsey’s charred body in the hospital burns unit) and then we’re off to Camp Stonewater where the aforementioned teenagers are having their summer break. From then on in it is ’80s slasher heaven as we meet all of the characters amid scenes of bullying, swimming in the lake, sexual liaisons and the usual tomfoolery that comes with the territory in these movies, shortly before the kids realise they’re being picked off by a killer with a huge set of gardening shears, giving Tom Savini the chance to run riot with the fake blood as Cropsey stabs, snips and slices body parts in some of the goriest kills from the time, now thankfully restored after most of them were cut by the BBFC way back when.

The Burning remains one of the better slashers of the era it came from and it still has a certain something about it when watched today. Whilst it does not have the whodunnit element of Friday the 13th and we know from the start who the killer is – despite a slight attempt to point the finger at one of the kids who always happens to be in the vicinity when something is going down – it makes good use of the camp fire legend element (which was also used in Friday the 13th Part 2 that came out the same year) and POV shots so the reveal of Cropsey’s burnt face is kept until the end of the movie. The fact that The Burning did not get a sequel also plays in its favour, meaning that Cropsey did not become a pop culture icon like Jason or Freddy and the film never got diluted by the increasing absurdity that a string of follow-ups would undoubtedly have done, and all credit to Miramax founders and The Burning co-creators Bob and Harvey Weinstein for not milking that particular cash cow as they could easily have done and have done so with so many horror franchises since (Hellraiser, Halloween, Children of the Corn, etc.). This particular release does the movie justice as not only is it a dual format package but the discs are housed in a rather fetching Steelbook along with a poster and collector’s booklet with notes written by author Justin Kerswell. Kerswell also appears in the brand new commentary track provided by The Hysteria Continues podcast team, which is worth hearing, and there are also commentary tracks by director Tony Maylam with author/critic Alan Jones and stars Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski, featurettes with Tom Savini and composer Rick Wakeman plus the usual trailers and stills galleries. It’s an excellent package of a film that deserves a little more credit than it gets, mainly thanks to its similarity to the more popular Friday the 13th (although, according to Tom Savini, Harvey Weinstein would be quick to tell you that this film was written before Friday the 13th was made), and although it has taken its time to get a deluxe release like this it was well worth the wait as age hasn’t really diminished its enjoyment at all. Damn shame then that the Steelbook has sold out but fear not, as the film will be getting a standard dual format release from Arrow Video this December so you can still get to enjoy it in all its bloody glory.

The Burning

Special Features: Audio commentary with director Tony Maylam and critic Alan Jones, audio commentary with stars Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Deroski, brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues, Blood n’ Fire Memories featurette with special effects artist Tom Savini, Slash & Cut interview with editor Jack Sholder, Cropsy Speaks interview with actor Lou David, Summer Camp Nightmare interview with actress Leah Ayres, brand new interview with composer Rick Wakeman, behind-the-scenes footage, theatrical trailer, make-up effects stills gallery, poster & stills gallery, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Justin Kerswell (first pressing only).

UK Release Date: 10th October 2016

Arrow Films Website

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