At first glance, Tony Maylam's The Burning looks like just another Friday the 13th knock-off. At second and third glance, too, actually. That's probably because this 1981 hack-'em-up really IS nothing more than just another Friday the 13th knock-off. But that's not to say it doesn't have its meager charms. First off, it was one of the earliest of the copycats to hit the scene, plus it came packing gore from the the master (Tom Savini) himself, so there's something right there the horror freaks can get behind.
But it gets even weirder: Keep your eyes peeled during the chatty bits (and there are plenty of 'em) and you'll see some early work from Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter, and Brian Backer (aka the weird kid from Fast Times at Ridgemont High who went on to be a Tony Award-winner). So there's some added amusement right there. But when you also consider that The Burning was produced and co-written by Bob and Harvey Weinstein (yes, those Weinsteins), edited by Jack (The Hidden) Sholder, scored by "Yes" keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Jeez, the fact that uber-producer Brad Grey gets "story by" credit is just another piece of old-school horror weirdness.
So the behind-the-scenes story is colorful enough, but what about the onscreen antics? Well, if you're a fan of the early days of slasher-mania, you'll probably want to add The Burning to your "seen it" list. Whether or not it deserves a spot in the grand collection is entirely up to you. Plot-wise, the drill couldn't be simpler: A freaky camp caretaker gets accidentally burned alive by some jerky campers, so when a bunch of new young idiots show up several years later -- guess who comes a'callin? Yep, the melty-faced and shears-wielding stalker known as "Cropsy." The body count is admirably high, the splat comes fast and furious, and the whole dang formula feels strangely comfortable after all these years.
The flick ambles around aimlessly for a good 30-some minutes before Savini gets a chance to shine. Once all the pointless character development and "time filler" chit-chat is over with, Cropsy pops up and commits all sorts of gory acts. Suspense and tension are in sadly short supply, but if you like your scares to be sudden, shocking, and splattery, then you'll like what's offered here. (The "canoe" sequence is justifiably infamous among the old-school gorehounds, and for good reason! It's nuts!) And here's what makes this release a little extra-special: The DVD case says Rated R on the back, but make no mistake. The 2007 MGM DVD release of The Burning is the full and uncut version, complete with all the gore you missed in the old VHS version.
And hey, some cool extras too! Director Tony Maylam and film critic Alan Jones sit down for a semi-dry-but-quite informative audio commentary. If you're a slasher historian, you'll enjoy the track. Also included is a 12-minute featurette in which slash-master Tom Savini shares his recollections from The Burning. Yep, the fuzzy old theatrical trailer is also included.
Bottom Line: Raise your hand if you own at least three of the Friday the 13th movies on DVD. OK, if you've got your hand up, you'll want to track this new Burning DVD down and give the flick a spin. And the collectors (like me) have another gory ol' guilty pleasure to add to their collection. Good job to MGM for delivering the flick uncut, good-lookin' and packing a few extra treats.