FEARNET Movie Review: 'The Burning' Blu-Ray


the burningIn honor of Shout/Scream Factory's new blu-ray special edition of The Burning, I pulled out the review I wrote several years back when MGM (to their sincere credit) released a long-awaited "uncut" version of the cult favorite slasher flick. Let's scan through that to see if I knew what I was talking about...

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. (new note: apparently / allegedly The Burning was shot before Friday the 13th, but released after. So maybe I'm dead wrong about that "ripoff" stuff.) But that's not to say it doesn't have its meager charms. First off, it was one of the earliest of the copycats (new note: ahem) 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) (new note: boy, are there) 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, and scored by "Yes" keyboardist Rick Wakeman, the fact that uber-producer Brad Grey gets "story by" credit is just another piece of old-school horror weirdness. (new note: I still love how many "names" are attached to this junky horror flick.)

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. (new note: aside from the stellar gore work, there's not much to love about this movie.)  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, (new note: once about 50 minutes of chatter dies down) the splatter comes fast and furious, and the whole dang formula feels strangely comfortable after all these years.

As mentioned above, the young Tom Savini really 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: it retains the "unrated" cut from the MGM DVD, only now it's all pretty and blu-ray-fied.

The supplements are a solid mixture of old and new: ported over from the old MGM DVD is a fine audio commentary between horror movie guru Alan Jones and splatter FX maestro Tom Savini, but there's also a new chat track between moderator Ed Samuelson and Burning actresses Bonnie Deroski and Shelley Bruce. The first track is, of course, much more informative, given the animated nature of Mr. Savini and the skills of the always-prepared Mr. Jones, while I can only gather that the second track is for the hardcore Burning-ites. As always, kudos to Scream Factory for simply providing something new here.
And there's more: about 50 minutes of new interviews with editor Jack Sholder, actors Lou David & Leah Ayres, and (of course!) Mr. Savini, a guy who never runs out of stuff to talk about -- including himself -- but never seems like an arrogant wank. Miscellaneous goodies include some old-school on-set footage, a bunch of photos, the original trailer, and a reversible cover that only horror geeks like you and me will ever care about.
Long story short? If you're a fan or a student of the slasher sub-genre, you're going to have to check out The Burning at least once. I'd never call it a great (or even good) horror flick, but it does deserve mention for its stellar gore effects, its bizarre cast and crew, and its few moments of actual creepiness -- and having it presented in a great blu-ray package is obviously a nice bonus.