Review: The Burning (Blu-ray)

2013/05/21 19:30:57 +00:00 | Derek Botelho

Freddy Krueger is king of the singed maniacs, but before he came around, there was Cropsy. 1981's The Burning gives birth to the lesser known charred killer as a direct answer to the popularity of  Friday the 13th. Bob and Harvey Weinstein jumped into the slasher game with this film, and the cult following around the movie has grown ever since. Bolstered by a surprisingly recognizable cast and some great make up effects by Tom Savini, the film is a slasher fan's dream come true.

The story is fairly straight forward as with most films of this type. A group of teens decide to play a prank on the camp's maintenance man, named Cropsy, and they accidentally set him on fire and leave him for dead. Several years later, at another summer camp, with the legend of Cropsy firmly in place in local lore, people start dying. Is the story of Cropsy true? Or is it just another campfire tale to scare the youngsters?

An ensemble piece, if there is a main character, it would have to be Todd (Brian Matthews), a camp counselor who seems a bit more level headed and knowledgable than his peers. A few of the campers are now familiar faces; Holly Hunter shows up and utters maybe two lines of what appear to be improvised dialogue. Fischer Stevens, Jason Alexander and Brian Backer of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame, have larger parts and the nostalgia factor with these now famous faces helps to keep the film on its feet. Although it has a largely forgettable script that is virtually plotless, the actors do what they can with the pedestrian proceedings. Tom Savini and his effects are the real star here, and they're quite good. For every poor decapitation he gave us in Dario Argento's Trauma, there is a great mutilation here at the hands of Cropsy and his gardening shears.

It's safe to say The Burning has never looked this nice at home. The natural environments of the island in the second half of the film and the camp locations look great. Detail level is decent, And color reproduction is natural. For a horror film, especially a slasher, surprisingly much of it takes place during the daytime. The video presentation presents the natural beauty of the locales, in contrast to the bloody horrors. On the audio side of things, the dialogue is always easy to understand, the music never gets in the way, but it is a fairly hollow audio experience. It's adequate, but nothing to show off your home theater set up. The real selling point of the disc is the clarity of the picture, even when the limitations of the production are visible with some occasional soft spots and excessive film grain inherent in the film stock used to capture the image.

Now, on to the bonus features: Film critic/journalist Alan Jones and director Tony Maylam provide a commentary that was available on the previous MGM disc. A new commentary with actresses Shelley Bruce and Bonnie Derosky is up next, the two provide a nice track, full of information about the shoot. “Blood N' Fire Memories”, a featurette from the MGM disc is an interview with Savini about his make up effects. It's a fun, breezy talk, that is a must for fans. A new featurette titled “Slash and Cut”, with editor Jack Sholder about putting the film together. An interview titled “Cropsy Speaks” with Lou David, about portraying Cropsy. “Summer Camp Nightmares” is the last of the new featurettes on the disc, and it is a chat with actress Leah Ayres. Savini has provided some behind the scenes footage for the disc which records his make up tests and the shooting of some of the gags. A nice gallery of makeup work accompanies the usual stills gallery. A fun trailer, and a PDF of the shooting script on the DVD round out the fun.

Friday the 13th has a nasty little cousin in The Burning, and the film has never looked better. A slasher of the most derivative order, the film is still sure to please fans of the sub-genre thanks to Savini's effective gore effects. There is a moment when a character is pinned to a tree with Cropsy's ever present shears that is very impressive, and I can't figure out how it was done. Early performances from Holly Hunter, Fischer Stevens and Jason Alexander add to the fun, especially Stevens playing a precocious prankster. Again, Shout! Factory has gone above and beyond, with a nice slate of extras that are the icing on this bloody cake. The Blu-ray/DVD set is a must have for fans of slasher films and something every horror fan should see at least once.

Film Score: 2.5/5 Disc Score: 4/5