Updated: Mar 10, 2020
Review by: Jessica
Synopsis: “At summer camp, some teenagers pull a prank on the camp's caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David). But the joke goes terribly wrong, and the teens leave Cropsy for dead after setting him on fire. But no one keeps Cropsy down. A few years later, the burned and disfigured caretaker returns to camp equipped with his trusty shears, ready to unleash his particular brand of vengeance on a whole new group of teens. The murderous Cropsy stalks the campers in the woods, one by one”
The Burning is a 1981 American slasher film that was made at the height of the low-budget slasher-film craze that was started by both Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). Directed by Tony Maylam and written by Peter Lawrence and Bob Weinstein, it is a summer camp horror story loosely based on the New York urban legend of Cropsey. This was a tale whispered around campfires that terrified teenagers in the 1960s and 1970s. It was about a crazed killer who lurked the woods with either a hook for a hand or a razor sharp axe looking to slaughter any campers who wandered too far from the campgrounds. This film brings the legend to life with special effects done by Tom Savini, who had also worked on Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th. It was also the film debut of famous actors Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, and Holly Hunter. Upon its initial release, the film was a flop at the box office and was labelled a ‘video nasty’. However, in recent years it has been considered one of the best slasher films made with a cult following due to the graphic kills and effects work of Tom Savini.
When you are in the mood for a classic summer camp slasher, this one should be on the top of your list. It is a slasher film that is similar along the lines of Sleepaway Camp and Friday the 13th series with its own unique blend of combining an urban legend with low budget aesthetics. It carries with it all the classic summer camp tropes, rowdy hyper sexual teenagers, pranks, nudity, bullying, misdirection and graphic kills by an unseen killer with large garden shears. Savini was attracted to the script because it allowed him to expand upon his work with practical and makeup effects that he previously used on Friday the 13th. When cast members found out that is was Savini working on the film, they were lining up to find out how they would die. This film has some classic kill scenes, most notably the raft scene when Cropsey springs upon the unsuspecting campers and slashes them to pieces with his garden shears. The effects in this scene are remarkable especially since it occurs during daylight. This alone is unusual in a slasher film since daytime is where everyone is supposed to be safe. However, not from Cropsey.
After viewing this film for a second time, I still find it to be an enjoyable watch despite some of the problematic elements to it. These things to me are the portrayal and treatment of women. Young women are sexually objectified as is the trope of all summer camp slashers from shoots of women in small bikinis and full frontal nudity in both a shower and a skinny dipping scene. Whereas for the men, nudity only occurs from the back side, leaving the men less exposed. This sexualization and the constant pursuit of the women is seen in the scenes with Karen and Eddie as well as Sally and Glazer. Both Sally and Karen are interested in Eddie and Glazer but find their constant aggressive sexual advances towards them off-putting and at times frightening. When Karen is trying to just have a good time with Eddie while skinny dipping without having sex, he constantly tries to force himself on her, not respecting her wishes. When she says no, he screams in her face to get the “fuck out” and she flees the lake, alone and scared, leaving her open to an attack from Cropsey.
Karen wanted to be more than just a “statistic” to Eddie, but he accuses her of being a tease and completely disregards her feelings. Whereas, in the case of Sally, you can tell she is in conflict with her ‘relationship’ with Glazer. She is constantly telling him “no” when he tries to force himself on her. She always has to stay on guard when he is around and inevitably gives in to having sex with him, which ends up being nothing but a disappointment for her. Unfortunately, she tries to soothe Glazer’s hurt feelings by sticking around to try again. This is before Cropsey dispatches of her. Both these women experience the struggles that women face when they are interested in someone but the men refuse to hear them when they are not ready for sexual advances. This brings about the topic of the importance of consent and that no woman should ever feel bad for saying “No” or shouldn't feel afraid to say it EVER!
In spite of this problematic element to this film, it is a decent slasher to watch. I found the ending to be a bit underwhelming and a bit of a miss despite some of the classic scenes throughout it. This is particularly around the ‘final battle’ with Cropsey and his demise. The fight scene is clumsy and feels rushed with Cropsey fighting with a weapon that deviates from his classic shears. The character development is just enough for you to be able to distinguish one camper from another but it leaves little to be desired. What I enjoy about this film is seeing the early practical effects work of Tom Savini.
Though when I am in the mood for a summer camp slasher, it is always on my list to watch. Sometimes it is nice to just sit back with a cider and watch a silent killer fill the movie with a body count of dead teenagers having too much fun at camp.