Shout! Factory // 1981 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 13th, 2013
It will take you further than fear.
There was a time when camp slashers seemingly ruled the world. From the ubiquitous Friday the 13th franchise -- which produced just a bit less than one film a year during the 1980s -- to films like Sleepaway Camp, it seems like the woods were the worst place to be during the Reagan administration. One of the most beloved of this particular subgenre is a little film called The Burning. Famous for its gore (from effects wizard Tom Savini) and fondly remembered for its well-named killer Cropsy, The Burning was AWOL on DVD for many years, with fans clamoring for a release and bootlegs of varying quality circulating widely. A DVD was finally released in 2007, complete with some extras, but fans can get rid of that disc, as The Burning (Blu-ray) ports over the extras and gives the film a solid hi-def makeover.
The film opens as a group of campers decide to scare their creepy groundskeeper Cropsy (Lou David). It all goes horribly wrong, and he's permanently disfigured. After five years of treatment, he returns to the camp to exact his revenge, mutilating camper after camper.
The main attraction for The Burning is nostalgia. It was made in those heady days when all a slasher needed was a sharp object, some random kids to kill, and some even more random kids to get naked and/or have sex. On that score, The Burning is the perfect prototypical slasher. Whereas Friday the 13th was essentially supernatural, and films like Sleepaway Camp seemed satiric from the start, The Burning takes hold of the slasher formula and plays it straight from start to finish. There's no supernatural mumbo-jumbo but a legit beef at the heart of The Burning. The gore is handled perfectly by Tom Savini, at the height of his powers, and the campers are the perfect mix of young people who are pretty enough to be believable but annoying enough for us to root for their imminent demise.
The other reason to watch The Burning is to see a set of actors who are just starting their careers playing roles they would never return to. Both Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter debut here and they would essentially ignore the genre for the rest of their prolific careers, never returning to the world of low-budget horror again. It's fun to see, even thirty years ago, that both actors had some star power even that early in their careers (and that far from the roles that made them household names).
The Burning also benefits from a solid Blu-ray upgrade. The source print for this 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks remarkably good. Though there's some damage in the form of speckling, overall the print is in excellent condition. Otherwise, detail is strong throughout, and the all-important black levels stay consistently inky. Colors have that early eighties tinge we all remember so well, and no compression artefacts are around to sully things. The DTS-HD 2.0 mono track is perfect for the film, maintaining the sound scheme of the original exhibition while upping the fidelity considerably over previous offerings. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the score is well-balanced.
Extras start with a commentary featuring director Tony Maylam, who is prompted by journalist Alan Jones. They cover pretty much everything a Burning fan could want to know about the productions, from origins to reception. Also ported over from the DVD is "Blood 'n' Fire," basically an overview of the effects featuring behind-the-scenes footage and a conversation with Tom Savini. A second featurette talks to editor Jack Sholder, while a third interviews Cropsy himself, Lou David (which is new to this edition). Also new is an interview with star Leah Ayres. We also get eight minutes of camcorder footage from the production, a stills gallery for the effects and promotional material, and the film's theatrical trailer (which is pretty amazing). A bonus DVD copy is included, and on that DVD there's a PDF of the film's screenplay. These two discs are housed in a single-width BD case, and the artwork is reversible -- the original poster on one side and a new interpretation on the other.
The flipside of The Burning's strength is that it is terribly, terribly generic. Of course at the time it was cashing in on the popularity of the genre, and it didn't seem like these elements had been cleansed of all their power to shock. Thirty years later (especially in the wake of Cabin in the Woods) and the checklist-style plot elements seem a bit too perfect, a bit too typical. That can mean that The Burning doesn't have the weirdness that makes Sleepaway Camp and Friday the 13th still so effective.
Lots of people remember The Burning fondly, and those viewers should definitely seek out The Burning (Blu-ray), even if they own the previous DVD edition. It's also worth seeking out for fans of camp slashers who've avoided it due to its unavailability, and for anyone interested in the origins of the genre.
Goofy, but ultimately not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Image Galleries