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My Favorite Scary Movie: The Burning (1981)

For the month of October, JoBlo.com staff will be gearing you up for the Halloween season with My Favorite Scary Movie, where we will share our favorite scary flicks, be it gory horror, supernatural thriller or bloody slasher flicks, lending the personal touch for each film and why it stands as one of our all-time favorite spooky flicks of the season.

THE BURNING (1981)

What’s it about? When a group of campers decide to teach Camp Blackfoot caretaker Cropsy a lesson, the prank goes terribly wrong and leaves Cropsy disfigured with horrible burns. After spending years in hospital recovering, Cropsy returns to a nearby summer camp armed with his trusty garden shears to seek bloody vengeance on those responsible.

Who’s in it? Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, Ned Eisenberg, Larry Joshua, Lou David, Carrick Glenn, Carolyn Houlihan, and Holly Hunter.

Who made it? Directed by Tony Maylam. Written by Peter Lawrence and Bob Weinstein. Based on a story by Brad Grey, Tony Maylam, and Harvey Weinstein. Music by Rick Wakeman of the progressive British rock band Yes. Special effects and makeup by Tom Savini.

Why it’s my favorite scary movie:  My parents were pretty strict when it came to which movies I could watch while I was growing up, so while everyone else was experiencing FRIDAY THE 13TH or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET for the first time during their pre-teen years, I was stuck smack dab in the land of PG. Despite the ban on more adult movies, I was still able to get a small taste of that forbidden fruit thanks to my friends, and it was during a sleepover at a birthday party that I was first exposed to THE BURNING. After a long evening of movies and too much sugar, most of the kids drifted off to sleep, myself included, but a select few stayed up to watch more movies. At a certain point I was woken by a scream and opened my eyes to the sight of someone or something butchering a group of teenagers on a raft. Throats were cut, fingers were severed, and it seemed as though the blood was gushing off the screen. Not being quite as desensitized to the red stuff as I am today, that was about all I could take, and I spent the rest of the movie with my sleeping bag pulled up over my head. What a dork.

Although I never knew the name of the film at the time, that brief snippet of grisly violence stuck with me, and when I finally began to explore the world of horror movies for myself years later, I knew that I needed to track it down. Thankfully our local video-store (yes, those were still a thing) had a fairly healthy horror section and I went through each and every film on the shelf until I stumbled across THE BURNING. This was it. The image on the front cover of someone wielding garden shears above their head immediately struck a chord. Was it going to be everything I dreamed it would be? Well, as my experience with THE BURNING amounted to all of sixty seconds prior to this, I had the benefit of going in with both zero expectations as well as a smidge of nostalgia.
 
Following the release of FRIDAY THE 13TH in 1980, many studios quickly developed their own low-budget slasher films with the hopes of capturing the same box-office success. One of these films was THE BURNING, although it's been said that the film originated before the release of FRIDAY THE 13TH. While THE BURNING doesn't offer anything entirely new compared to the legions of other slasher films which were released during the early '80s, its treatment of the characters has always stood apart for me. They actually took the time to give the campers and counselors slightly more development than usual, fleshing out their relationships and letting us live in their world for a little while before Cropsy begins his rampage. Hell, the first camper doesn't even met the business end of Cropsy's garden shears until nearly 50 minutes into the film. Another part of what makes THE BURNING special is that it represents the feature-film debuts of Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, and Holly Hunter, and although Hunter's role isn't very substantial, both Alexander and Stevens are easily the highlights of the film and provide most of the laughs. It's a little hard to believe that Jason Alexander (with a full head of hair at this point) would be stepping into the role of George Costanza for Seinfeld in less than a decade. THE BURNING may not be the best slasher of the '80s, but it nonetheless occupies a special place in my horror-loving heart. So if you haven't seen the film, I'd say that you owe it to yourself to give this much under-appreciated slasher a chance.

"That scene took a few hours and was a little hairy to shoot for two reasons. First, and although I don’t recall it being addressed directly, we only had one take. That was my sense anyway (even if they had another set of wardrobe in reserve). Second, they swung a pair of garden shears right in front of me, so a slip could have been a problem.

As for Tom [Savini], this was still pretty early and I wasn’t a big horror film buff, so he wasn’t “legendary” to me. He was pretty cool, though, and clearly knew his stuff. My scene was pretty low tech: they cut a slice in my t-shirt, taped a condom filled with dyed corn syrup to my chest with a fishing line attached to and running out the bottom (or maybe my shirt sleeve), and wet the slice a little to adhere it closed. With the killer’s back to me, a swing of the shears a foot in front of read like it hit me, and just as they came across my chest, Tom yanked on the fishing line, exploding the condom rig. The right music and me screaming like a ten-year old girl and VOILA!" J.R. McKechnie (who played Fish) on the the raft massacre scene.

Scariest Part: Without a doubt, the best/scariest sequence in THE BURNING is the raft massacre. After spotting one of their lost canoes, a group of five campers row out on their makeshift raft to investigate. It's a slow burn with the tension steadily rising as they draw closer and closer to the seemingly empty canoe, which obviously isn't empty at all. As Woodstock (Fisher Stevens) reaches out to grab the canoe, Cropsy suddenly explodes into view, and, in a series of quick brutal cuts, each member of the raft is killed. Just as shocking and memorable as it was all those years ago when I first saw it.

Best Lines:

Hospital Orderly  - "You ain't never gonna forget this man. As long as you live, you never gonna see a freak like this."

Dave - "There will be four commands: Ready, aim, fire...and run."

Woodstock - "Dave, did you get my Hustler?"
Fish - "Hustler? What do you want with Hustler, Woodstock? You're too small."
Dave - "Hey, size never stopped Woody. That's the world bantam-weight jerk-off champ over there."
 
Glazer - "Look, I asked for lubricated rubbers. These aren't lubricated rubbers, you understand that?
Dave - "What am I? Masters and Johnson? You want lubes, buy your own!"
 
Eddy - "If we're not back by tomorrow, send in the Marines."
 
Glazer - "It'll be better next time, baby. Trust me."
Sally - (mockingly) "Trust me, baby."
 
Camper - "They never found his body but they say his spirit lives in the forest. This forest. A maniac, a thing no longer human. They say he lives on whatever he can catch. Eats them raw, alive maybe. And every year he picks on a summer camp and seeks his revenge for the terrible things those kids did to him. Every year he kills. Right now, he's out there. Watching. Waiting. So don't look, he'll see you. Don't breathe, he'll hear you. Don't move, you're dead!"

Gore and Nudity: Given that THE BURNING takes place at a summer camp with a bunch of horny teenagers running around, it's a safe bet that the film contains its fair share of nudity, with showers, skinny dipping, and hooking up in the woods all providing glimpses at the human form. With Tom Savini providing his expert special makeup and effect services for the film, you know you're in for a gore-filled good time. Savini, who turned down the chance to work on FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 in favour of THE BURNING, definitely brought his A-game to the film as the gruesome effects led to it landing on the infamous video nasties list in the UK. Slashed throats, hacked-up body parts, axes to the face, and of course, burning flesh, you really can't go wrong.

Sequels, Spinoffs or Follow Ups: As the film has become something of a cult classic in the decades since its release, it's a little surprising to learn that there was never a sequel to THE BURNING. There was reportedly talk of a potential sequel as production wrapped, but director Tony Maylam was apparently leery of being type-cast as a horror director, although I would say that the film's lackluster box-office certainly played a bigger part in the choice not to move forward.

"I sculpted Cropsy in three days, it was a rush job... I don't think Cropsy's colouring and the physicality of his face is a true burn victim. I mean, the nose tip would be gone. The eyelids would be gone. The lips would be gone. All I did was pull stuff up and stretch it... Every burn is like a fingerprint, it's different... With the burn victims I've seen since then, he should have looked more like that I think, but a true artist is never satisfied, it's just time is up. And in that case time was up." - Tom Savini.

Scare-O-Meter Score: What scares one person may not even register for someone else, so it's hard to say whether or not THE BURNING is actually scary if you're heading into it for the first time. There are certainly a few startling moments which could find you jolting upright, but if you're a slasher film veteran, you already know what to expect. Personally, although I may not be turning down the volume and covering my eyes, there's always a part of me which flashes back to my younger self all those years ago, cowering under a sleeping bag as Cropsy made himself known in a spectacularly blood-spattered entrance.

READ MORE:

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE CHANGELING (1980)

My Favorite Scary Movie - JASON GOES TO HELL (1993)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE BABADOOK (2014)

My Favorite Scary Movie - DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

My Favorite Scary Movie - DON'T LOOK NOW (1973)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE THING (1982)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE EXORCIST (1973)

Source: JoBlo.com

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