The Burning

September 18, 2012 at 2:06 am (6 Heads, Burning, The) (, , , , , , , )

The Burning – 1981 – United States

The Burning is a slasher flick imitating Friday the 13th (1980). Although derivative, it’s made notable by its cast and crew. It’s an early effort of producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who now have hundreds of mainstream credits. It was Jason Alexander’s (of Seinfeld) first role. Plus, Tom Savini did the effects. Abundant professional talent gives The Burning some class, but as the killer stalks screaming teen campers, déjà vu is inescapable.

In the prologue, teens pull a lame prank on a drunken summer camp caretaker. The tomfoolery goes awry and the caretaker is hospitalized with disfiguring burns. One doctor says to another, “Take a look man! You ain’t never seen a freak like this!” 5 years later, the caretaker leaves the hospital, stabs a hooker, and goes to camp to wreak havoc with some garden shears. Lively teens brawl and ball as the killer prowls, biding his time until a canoe trip where he goes bananas. In the climactic showdown in an abandoned mine, the killer menaces campers with a flamethrower until a handsome counselor smashes his skull in.

Summer camp is a slasher cliché (see Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp) that I’ve always found puzzling. In reality, I’ve never heard of a secular teen coed camp. Are they a bygone product of a more innocent age? If The Burning is any indication, their demise is understandable since the teens are utterly preoccupied with sex. Since the killer doesn’t appear until the end, much of the flick concerns the campers’ sexual relations. They shower, skinny dip, and screw, awarding the audience with plenty of bare breasts and asses.

Frisky teens are at least more interesting than The Burning’s tedious gory stabbings and irritatingly frequent fake scares. But most intriguing is the flick’s relationship to the New York urban legend of Cropsey. One version of the varied folktale relates the events of The Burning. Another involves child kidnapper Andre Rand, as detailed in the documentary Cropsey (2009). Utilizing this established legend gives The Burning some gravity that probably resonated with New York youth.

If The Burning predated Friday the 13th, it would’ve been a classic. In fact, the pacing, writing, and acting are superior. But the flick is doomed by a lack of originality. Without the historical significance of seminal slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and Halloween (1978), The Burning will only ever be remembered by undemanding slasher fans.

Rating: 6/10 Shrunken Heads. When they smoke cigarettes, the teens look really badass.

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