Directed by Tony Maylam [Other horror films: The Sins of Dorian Gray (1983), Split Second (1992)]
For a long time, this has often been one of the first slashers I recommend when asked by someone who doesn’t have a background in 80’s classics, as I’ve always found The Burning a very solid film. I still do, and though it may not be spectacular, it’s very much worth a look.
It has that classic slasher feel that fans of 80’s horror would love – a pretty solid opening origin, memorable special effects (that raft scene is the most referenced sequence in this film for a reason), and a pretty good antagonist in Cropsy (and Cropsy’s choice of weapon – garden shears – was inspired).
To an extent, I do think many performances are of the more forgettable variety. True, Dave (Jason Alexander, known mostly for a long-running role on Seinfeld) was pretty solid, defending both Alfred (Brian Backer) and Woodstock (Fisher Stevens) on multiple occasions. Glazer (Larry Joshua) definitely feels like a dickish bully (I love how he tries to drown Alfred, and flaunts it to the girls on the raft), and Alfred (who amusingly reminds me of a younger David Krumholtz) is okay in his own awkward way, but everyone else is either undercooked or merely average.
Admittedly, I did like Todd (Brian Matthews), but I don’t know if he stands out that well, and it’s the same with a lot of the women, such as Michelle (Leah Ayres), Karen (Carolyn Houlihan, who graces us with one of the few nude scenes in the film). I wish I could have liked Eddy (Ned Eisenberg) a bit more, and I wish we had more scenes with Tiger (Shelley Bruce) and Sally (Carrick Glenn, who gave us a quick nude shower scene), so there was some room for improvement.
The raft scene in the film is great, with quality tensions and fantastic special effects, with fingers being cut off and the like. It’s easy to see why it stands out – while the other kills are decent, Cropsy’s massacre of five, what with the cinematography, was glorious (and of course, a lot of credit also goes to Tom Savini). This said, the ax to the face at the end is quite good also.
It might also go without saying, but the music – a sort of funky electronic style that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Italian film – is on point, especially during the opening credits.
As far as camp-based slashers, The Burning doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means. I always enjoyed it more than Madman, but it doesn’t have the same pull as many of the Friday the 13th films. Still, it’s a solidly-made slasher that hits many of the right spots, and is definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan of classic slasher films.
This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this classic slasher.