The Burning

Because “The Golden Browning” just didn’t convey the terror
★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1981
Director: 
Tom Maylam
Starring: 
Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander
The Setup: 
Charred dude is a little PO’ed at these camp counselors.
Discussion: 

I had read an online review that was really excited about this movie, and recently a friend of mine watched it and asked me about it, so it went to the top of my list. We open at Camp Blackfoot, where a bunch of guys, including future hero Todd, are planning a prank to get back at Cropsey, the mean old camp caretaker. They sneak into his cabin and are going to scare him by leaving a wormy skull with candles in its eyes at his bedside. It’s not terrifying. If you woke up with it at your side, you’d go “Ewww!” and start calling out for whoever must have done it. But not Cropsey, he freaks and knocks the flaming skull onto his obviously kerosene-soaked bedsheets. You can tell that he must have doused his sheets and pajamas in highly flammable material prior to retiring by the way they instantly flare up at the merest proximity of fire. So Cropsey stumbles outside, burning up, and stumbles out into the lake while the horrified campers run away.

Then the credits start and we see that the music here is by Rick Wakeman, the effects by Tom Savini, and the story written by Harvey Weinstein and Brad Grey.

Five years later the doctors at the hospital tell the still-charred Cropsey that they’ve done all they can do—the skin grafts just didn’t take—and show him to the door. He goes out and promptly picks up a floozy hooker. It would seem that she practices seamstresship in her off hours, and has a rather long pair of shears just laying about next to her needle and thread. I think it’s so important for hookers to have a hobby. Anyway, the shears are used in a way they are not intended for, and the hooker buys it.

We now join the scantily-clad teens at some other camp near the first one. Among them is Jason Alexander, with a full head of hair and in wiseass jock mode. Also present, apparently, is Holly Hunter, although I made it through the whole movie without recognizing her. The kids engage in a softball game, and young Tiger runs into the woods to retrieve the ball. Tiger, below, clearly hails from the lost tribe of the mushroom people, and is at camp as part of an inter-tribal exchange program.

In the very next scene you will notice that Tiger DRESSES like a tiger, and this is disturbing, but is only for this one scene. I found her pretty delightful in an obnoxious 70s way. She also has a notable shot later—widescreen, to encompass the full width of her Portobello mushroom-inspired hair—where she tries to smoke a cigarette. So they all retire to bed that night, and in the morning one of the girls wakes up and goes to the shower, and hears a creepy noise, and spends what seems like 32 minutes going "Hello? Who's there? Hello? Who's there?" while your life slowly drains away. I haven't mentioned that we've already had a significant number of false scares in here, and they've all gone on way longer than they need to. And here's just another one—it was just Alfred, the nerdy guy who hates camp because everyone makes fun of him. He's also the target of scorn of Glazer, the big muscle moron who is the girlfriend of the lady he just peeped on. Because Alfred must know this, some kind of homo subtext starts to poke its head out of its wrinkled foreskin, as Alfred would have to be pretty out of it not to know that his course of action would only make Glazer [and, uh, GLAZER? Why not "Pearlnecklacer?"] come after him. So when they're all going swimming, Glazer pushes Alfred in! But Alfred can't swim! Then Alfred shoots a BB at Glazer's ass while he's posing for the ladies in his Speedo! Then Glazer complains that Alfred "keeps staring" at him, causing one of the girls to say "maybe he wants your body." So there's this bubbling homo subtext, for a while, but it goes nowhere and it isn't interesting.

SPOILERS > > >
Around this time I have written in my notes "10 million false scares—getting irritating." Then this guy takes a girl skinny-dipping, but gets pissed when she won't put out. When she gets back she finds that the lurking psycho [who thus far has done nothing BUT lurk—isn't he getting as bored as I am?] has taken her clothes, but since ALL these kids do is play pranks on each other, she just dismisses it. So then they all go on this long canoeing trip, and after wandering around for a while, find the rafts are gone! So what do they do? They whip up a raft! Seemingly in an HOUR! That Todd sure paid attention in Eagle Scouts. So some of them take off in the raft and after a while they come upon one of the canoes. Someone on the IMDb referred to this as "the infamous raft scene," so maybe it enjoys some sort of cachet, although I honestly can't understand why. The killer leaps up out of the raft and dispatches the three kids in one fell swoop with his garden shears. The blood is incredibly fake, garden shears are not the most terrifying of weapons, and—this guy is able to go from lying down to jumping up in a canoe in one sec without upsetting his balance? All I can say is "Wow." That's why I could never be a maniacal killer.

And at last someone fucking DIED! Took them a fucking HOUR.

Now the lame killings start coming thick and fast, but I had already checked out, and my thumb was permanently depressed on the fast-forward button. First this chick Sally and Glazer go off to do it, and Sally is not all that sensitive and understanding about the fact that Glazer apparently has no lead in his pencil. Then Alfred watches excitedly as Glazer gets it. Then Alfred runs off into the woods and soon finds this old concrete bunker—what the hell is that supposed to be? His snooping around there, like everything here, goes on forever. It's as if the rough cut of the film came in at 35 minutes, and they had to go back and extend everything to bring it up to feature length. Part of their strategy for that is to include the opening immolation—yes, the ENTIRE thing—again at the end. Alfred emerges as a kind of final boy, wow, and soon he and Todd are teaming up to take the killer out. And what do ya know—turns out the killer is STILL soaked in kerosene, all these years later!
< < < SPOILERS END

I thought it was terrible. Most of the comments on IMDb arrive at the conclusion that it's better than most in the slasher category, and the other review I mentioned was really excited about it that we had a final boy instead of a final girl. That may be, but for me the set-up isn't that compelling—we never get to know Cropsey at all, so we can have no feeling for what a bastard or how misunderstood he is—then the movie fritters away MUCH too much time in offensively long and useless false scares, and when he does start killing people, it's quick and stupid. Not to mention that there's only one person involved that was in the original incident that the killer is supposedly getting "revenge" for, and the killer is pretty much leaving him alone!

One small point of interest is that the trailer for this film is probably THE one that inspired Edgar Wright's "Don't!" trailer in Grindhouse, as this one follows the pattern used in that fake trailer: "If you're thinking of gong for a swim… DON'T!" But that's hardly worth renting it for. Ugh. This would have been a total bust on its own, but since I had heard so much good about it, and had my hopes up, it turned out to be a mega-bust. You can do better.

Should you watch it: 

I wouldn't bother.