AUGUST 30 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE BURNING
Ok, I usually look and see if there are many reviews up of a title before I review it. I was more than a little suprised that I could not find a review of The Burning, one of the best dvd releases of 2007. Sooo, without further ado,
Ok, this is a dvd that I have been waiting to watch for quite some time. The Burning is quite possibly one of the most overlooked slasher films of the 80s. This movie was originally released on my 9th birthday, May 8, 1981 and has not been released onto dvd until 2007
Let’s look at a few of the reasons that this is an important movie not only to horror fans but also to movie buffs. First off, this is the writing and production debut of the Weinstein Brothers, who are kinda big players in the industry now. This also features special effects by Tom Savini, who’s list of credits is way too long for this review but do include, Friday the 13th, Creepshow, Dawn of the Dead, The Prowler, Maniac, etc. This film features some of his best and bloodiest effects. Oh, also worth mentioning this movie features the film debut of both Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter.
Ok, about the story…Creepy alcoholic camp caretaker upsets several fine upstanding campers, so they decide to prank him to get even. The prank backfires and well, hence the title, The Burning. The caretaker, Cropsy, recovers to find himself a bitter and hideously mis-formed person, so he kills a prostitute that finds him repulsive and then we ominously fade to black. Anyway…there is now a new camp many years later, a few miles from the site of the original camp, and you can probably see where this is headed.
I love the horror movies of the 80’s anyway and always seem to stumble upon one I have not seen yet (I would love to see a definitive list of 80’s releases!) The Burning is long overdue for a DVD release and definitely worth checking out! If you are a big horror fan, don’t bother renting it, just pick up your own copy! It has great re-watchability and I already have it slotted for the 10 beer mark on our next monthly movie night. The movie is not that long, just over an hour and a half, so do yourself a favor and watch the Tom Savini interview that Michael Felscher did in the special features section after you finish the film. There is some great trivia in there and it only runs about 10 minutes.
AUGUST 30 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE BURNING
Charred dude is a little PO’ed at these camp counselors.
I had read an online review that was really excited about this movie, and recently a friend of mine watched it and asked me about it, so it went to the top of my list. We open at Camp Blackfoot, where a bunch of guys, including future hero Todd, are planning a prank to get back at Cropsey, the mean old camp caretaker. They sneak into his cabin and are going to scare him by leaving a wormy skull with candles in its eyes at his bedside. It’s not terrifying. If you woke up with it at your side, you’d go “Ewww!” and start calling out for whoever must have done it. But not Cropsey, he freaks and knocks the flaming skull onto his obviously kerosene-soaked bedsheets. You can tell that he must have doused his sheets and pajamas in highly flammable material prior to retiring by the way they instantly flare up at the merest proximity of fire. So Cropsey stumbles outside, burning up, and stumbles out into the lake while the horrified campers run away.
Then the credits start and we see that the music here is by Rick Wakeman, the effects by Tom Savini, and the story written by Harvey Weinstein and Brad Grey.
Five years later the doctors at the hospital tell the still-charred Cropsey that they’ve done all they can do—the skin grafts just didn’t take—and show him to the door. He goes out and promptly picks up a floozy hooker. It would seem that she practices seamstresship in her off hours, and has a rather long pair of shears just laying about next to her needle and thread. I think it’s so important for hookers to have a hobby. Anyway, the shears are used in a way they are not intended for, and the hooker buys it.
We now join the scantily-clad teens at some other camp near the first one. Among them is Jason Alexander, with a full head of hair and in wiseass jock mode. Also present, apparently, is Holly Hunter, although I made it through the whole movie without recognizing her. The kids engage in a softball game, and young Tiger runs into the woods to retrieve the ball. Tiger, below, clearly hails from the lost tribe of the mushroom people, and is at camp as part of an inter-tribal exchange program.
In the very next scene you will notice that Tiger DRESSES like a tiger, and this is disturbing, but is only for this one scene. I found her pretty delightful in an obnoxious 70s way. She also has a notable shot later—widescreen, to encompass the full width of her Portobello mushroom-inspired hair—where she tries to smoke a cigarette. So they all retire to bed that night, and in the morning one of the girls wakes up and goes to the shower, and hears a creepy noise, and spends what seems like 32 minutes going "Hello? Who's there? Hello? Who's there?" while your life slowly drains away. I haven't mentioned that we've already had a significant number of false scares in here, and they've all gone on way longer than they need to. And here's just another one—it was just Alfred, the nerdy guy who hates camp because everyone makes fun of him. He's also the target of scorn of Glazer, the big muscle moron who is the girlfriend of the lady he just peeped on. Because Alfred must know this, some kind of homo subtext starts to poke its head out of its wrinkled foreskin, as Alfred would have to be pretty out of it not to know that his course of action would only make Glazer [and, uh, GLAZER? Why not "Pearlnecklacer?"] come after him. So when they're all going swimming, Glazer pushes Alfred in! But Alfred can't swim! Then Alfred shoots a BB at Glazer's ass while he's posing for the ladies in his Speedo! Then Glazer complains that Alfred "keeps staring" at him, causing one of the girls to say "maybe he wants your body." So there's this bubbling homo subtext, for a while, but it goes nowhere and it isn't interesting.
SPOILERS > > >
Around this time I have written in my notes "10 million false scares—getting irritating." Then this guy takes a girl skinny-dipping, but gets pissed when she won't put out. When she gets back she finds that the lurking psycho [who thus far has done nothing BUT lurk—isn't he getting as bored as I am?] has taken her clothes, but since ALL these kids do is play pranks on each other, she just dismisses it. So then they all go on this long canoeing trip, and after wandering around for a while, find the rafts are gone! So what do they do? They whip up a raft! Seemingly in an HOUR! That Todd sure paid attention in Eagle Scouts. So some of them take off in the raft and after a while they come upon one of the canoes. Someone on the IMDb referred to this as "the infamous raft scene," so maybe it enjoys some sort of cachet, although I honestly can't understand why. The killer leaps up out of the raft and dispatches the three kids in one fell swoop with his garden shears. The blood is incredibly fake, garden shears are not the most terrifying of weapons, and—this guy is able to go from lying down to jumping up in a canoe in one sec without upsetting his balance? All I can say is "Wow." That's why I could never be a maniacal killer.
And at last someone fucking DIED! Took them a fucking HOUR.
Now the lame killings start coming thick and fast, but I had already checked out, and my thumb was permanently depressed on the fast-forward button. First this chick Sally and Glazer go off to do it, and Sally is not all that sensitive and understanding about the fact that Glazer apparently has no lead in his pencil. Then Alfred watches excitedly as Glazer gets it. Then Alfred runs off into the woods and soon finds this old concrete bunker—what the hell is that supposed to be? His snooping around there, like everything here, goes on forever. It's as if the rough cut of the film came in at 35 minutes, and they had to go back and extend everything to bring it up to feature length. Part of their strategy for that is to include the opening immolation—yes, the ENTIRE thing—again at the end. Alfred emerges as a kind of final boy, wow, and soon he and Todd are teaming up to take the killer out. And what do ya know—turns out the killer is STILL soaked in kerosene, all these years later!
< < < SPOILERS END
I thought it was terrible. Most of the comments on IMDb arrive at the conclusion that it's better than most in the slasher category, and the other review I mentioned was really excited about it that we had a final boy instead of a final girl. That may be, but for me the set-up isn't that compelling—we never get to know Cropsey at all, so we can have no feeling for what a bastard or how misunderstood he is—then the movie fritters away MUCH too much time in offensively long and useless false scares, and when he does start killing people, it's quick and stupid. Not to mention that there's only one person involved that was in the original incident that the killer is supposedly getting "revenge" for, and the killer is pretty much leaving him alone!
One small point of interest is that the trailer for this film is probably THE one that inspired Edgar Wright's "Don't!" trailer in Grindhouse, as this one follows the pattern used in that fake trailer: "If you're thinking of gong for a swim… DON'T!" But that's hardly worth renting it for. Ugh. This would have been a total bust on its own, but since I had heard so much good about it, and had my hopes up, it turned out to be a mega-bust. You can do better.
Should you watch it?
I wouldn't bother.
AUGUST 30 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE BURNING
A camp full of horny teenagers being stalked by an unknown murderer. Why does that sound familiar??? Because it's 1981's The Burning, one of the first films done by the original house of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Miramax Films.
FIRE, FIRE, FIRE! [Beavis voice]: Some kids at a summer camp play a prank on the mean old caretaker, Cropsy, which goes wrong and ends up horribly burning him. He leaves the hospital five years later and decides to go back and get revenge - starting a bloody murder spree on a new crop of kids trying to enjoy their summer.
This is another "dead teenager movie" that should have been lost and forgotten for being so similar to other popular movies from that time, but there are a few things about The Burning that make it take one step out from the crowd.
For starters, there is a pretty good cast. Only a few recognizable faces including Jason Alexander (and apparently Holly Hunter - but was I asleep or something because I never spotted her) but the other no-names are very good in their roles. Highlights are the head counselors Michelle and Todd; tough guy asshole Eddie; and even the camp bully Glazer, who turns out to be kind of a nice guy in the end. The side characters are your typical 80s teens wearing coochie-cutter shorts (that girl at the beginning in the yellow tank top really should have been wearing a bra) but their acting is surprisingly natural and realistic. There's even a fat chick, which is like, unheard of.
Can I just say something about the prank the boys pull on Cropsy? Okay, so what they do is sneak into his cabin one night and place a rotting human skull, with little candles in the eye sockets, on the table by his bed. He knocks it over which sets his sheets - and himself - on fire. Two questions. First, what the hell kind of prank is that?! A prank is when you freeze somebody's underwear or put honey on their door handles. These kids are messed up to think of something like that.
The second, and probably most important, question is: Where the fuck did they get a rotting human skull? I guess it could have been fake, but it looked pretty darn real to me which is more than a little suspect.
Most of the kills are quite well done, albeit uninventive and a little boring. Cropsy's murder implement of choice is his trusty garden shears and he never uses anything else, save for the hooker he killed at the beginning. That was done with a big pair of scissors, which are very much like shears - clever! People get fingers cut off, get their throat slashed, and get stabbed in the neck with this vicious instrument, all brought to wonderful life by that master of gore work, Tom Savini. I heard the gore was cut down a bit for the film, and I'm not sure if Netflix gave me the uncut version or not. Either way, the kills were nicely realistic and the blood was pretty much the most perfect color I've ever seen.
The most famous scene in the movie is the when Cropsy attacks the group of kids on the raft they built, trying to get back to camp after their canoes go missing. They spot one of these canoes floating in the middle of the lake and when they get closer, Cropsy leaps up shears in hand and massacres all of the kids in minutes. This is a great scene because it breaks some steadfast rules of slashers. Up until now in this film, Cropsy went after the kids one by one while they were alone but this attack was in broad daylight with five or six kids getting killed at the same time. It comes so unexpected and is such a blitz and violent attack that it really makes this movie so much different than other slasher films.
The editing and other shot choices in The Burning are sometimes... interesting. The POV-killer-vision or whatever is annoyingly familiar with the slow moving camera through the trees, blurry, spying on the kids. Nothing special. A few times in the movie, usually after a kill, the filmmakers do a very unusual thing. They use a fade to red transition between scenes, a pretty ballsy move because it can look very cheesy. But this is an 80s slasher movie so cheese is par for the course. It's only used twice so it never becomes overly ridiculous.
Overall, The Burning is an impressive genre film that does things just a little bit differently enough to get it noticed.
AUGUST 30 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE BURNING
The Burning Plain is like finishing a jigsaw puzzle when you’ve already seen the cover of the box. You’re thrilled about putting together all the pieces, but once that initial pleasure wears off, you’re left with exactly what you knew you were going to get and have nowhere to put it. Academy Award nominated screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga continues to use his signature multi-narrative structure in his directorial debut. Funny thing is, this first-time director’s film falters in the area he’s well seasoned in, the screenwriting. Just like his highly acclaimed films Babel and 21 Grams, The Burning Plain makes the viewer think. The problem is, you’re never compensated for your work.
In true Arriaga fashion, the opening of The Burning Plain introduces us to four stories on a collision course to becoming one. On one front, there’s Sylvia (Charlize Theron) and Maria (Tessa Ia). Sylvia’s story unfolds in Portland, Oregon where she’s the manager of an upscale restaurant. She’s good at what she does but her icy demeanor and sex obsession hints at a troublesome past. Maria is a motherless girl living in New Mexico who witnesses her father’s crop dusting plane crash in a filed only to be left in the care of his best friend Carlos (Jose Maria Yazpik). Then there’s Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Santiago (JD Pardo), who find comfort in each other after each loses a parent. Finally, we find Gina (Kim Basinger) enthralled with a passionate love affair in an abandoned trailer in the desert. The romance literally goes up in flames when a gas leak causes the trailer to explode.
You don’t go into an Arriaga film to sit back, relax and enjoy the show; you’re there to indulge in a serious amount of cinematic contemplation and put together a puzzle. You sit down with an open mind and accept the pieces that you’re given, ready to play his game of rearranging and reformulating to reach a riveting conclusion. The initial pieces you’re given are fine; it’s the interweaving that causes the problem. Arriaga tries to begin the melding process far too early and these premature hints at connection wind up being shoved in your face rather than subtly transitioning into the story.
Arriaga’s script comes off as pompous and melodramatic taking away from his characters that initially had the potential to be engaging. Gina’s attempt at eluding her family to be with her lover is pathetic, but her relationship with him is captivating. When you take your family of six to K-Mart it’s just not a smart move to ditch them to meet up with your secret lover. Another relationship that rings with authenticity is that between Gina’s daughter Mariana and Santiago. It’s a major departure from the typical boy-meet-girl story and introduces the audience to a fresh type of connection that can exist between two people. But it’s difficult to accept Sylvia. There’s nothing wrong with Theron’s performance; it’s a problem with the way her character is written. Sylvia had a permanent rain cloud over her head, literally and figuratively. You can’t expect everyone in the film to be likeable but Sylvia’s frustrating bad mood is unjustified.
If I had to pick one reason to see this film it’s for the work of cinematographers Robert Elswit and John Toll. Often the visuals are so breathtaking it detracts from the story. Not only are Elswit’s New Mexico desert scenes striking, but Toll has an uncanny ability to make a dreary, waterlogged Portland outstanding as well. If only the screenplay was on par with the imagery. Arriaga’s multi-narrative format has gotten the best of him. The Burning Plain lacks the climactic revelation of Arriaga’s other work. Rather than deliver a sense of shock and awe, the film is swallowed up by complexity, leaving you to wonder, “This is it?”
AUGUST 30 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE BURNING
by Peter Nielsen
”There used to be a camp not far from here, just across the lake. It was called Camp Blackfoot. No one goes there anymore. Everything burnt down. This camp had a caretaker, and his name was Cropsy. Now, this Cropsy was a drunkard… a sadist, and he got real pleasure out of hurting… scaring. And he had these garden shears. The kind with long, thin blades. He carried them all the time, wherever he went…”
It’s summertime and you have no worries in the whole world. No school and no obligations! What to do? Well, in the 80’s it was very popular to go to camp… and get killed! Not that that was the main reason obviously, but for some reason that always seemed to happen, right? So, the reasons to go to camp are more or less to cut loose, drink, have sex and get killed. The last one optional, of course! Well, maybe not in the slasher-genre, of which The Burning was one of the first. Another camp-movie was of course Friday the 13th which was released the year before. Also a good movie and more remembered than The Burning, I think, mainly because it has had a gazillion sequels.
What makes The Burning such a great slasher-gem is, one… Tom Savini did the special effects! And two… the characters are likeable and you don’t really want them to die. Not like in some later “slashers” were you actually root for the killer to slaughter the obnoxious teens.
But let’s go back to the beginning! The movie starts with a bunch of campers wanting to get back at Cropsy by playing him a little prank and thus scaring him. Well, needless to say, the prank goes horribly wrong and ends with both Cropsy’s hut and himself set ablaze. He spends the next five years in hospital and even the nurses have a hard time looking at him without being disgusted at how badly burnt he is. When he’s finally released he’s filled with anger and hatred and the only thing on his mind is revenge.
So, let’s go to camp! Meet Todd and Michelle, the two main counselors who tries to keep the teens somewhat in order and actually doing an ok job with it. Todd is played by Brian Matthews who’s also been in The Young and the Restless and Days of our Lives among other TV-shows. Michelle is played by Leah Ayres who was in the hospital TV-show St. Elsewhere.
You may also recognize some familiar faces amongst the campers. Brian Backer maybe? From Meatballs and Fast Times at Ridgemont High? He plays the slightly awkward kid Alfred. Or maybe you’ll recognize three other newcomers, who actually made their feature film debut in The Burning. Jason Alexander (George from Seinfeld), Fisher Stevens (Flamingo Kid, Short Circuit) and Holly Hunter (Arizona Junior, Broadcast News).
Well, the campers soon start to fall victim to Cropsy and his garden shears. There’s some pretty gruesome and gory kills in here, courtesy of Mr. Tom Savini. In fact, some of them are so visually nasty and brutal that The Burning was one of the first movies to be put on the UK Video-nasties list. One scene in particular to be singled out was the infamous “raft-scene”. And yes… it is pretty gory! There’s blood and body-parts flying all over the place.
I don’t really have to get to deep into the plot, do I? I mean, you all know what happens. Campers get killed, but in the end so does the killer and he actually stays dead in this one. At least that’s what I think, since no sequels were made, but then again… you never know.
I like the slasher-genre and mainly the movies made in the 80’s. They had a feel to them, a certain je ne sais quoi that I can’t quite put my finger on. It can’t be the poor acting skills (or lack thereof) or the fact that they were low-budget movies, because we have that nowadays too. I don’t know, but they just feel different and are, to some extent, better than many of the new generation of slasher-movies.
I’ve stated it earlier about the characters being real and likeable and they are, but of course they still behave more or less like teens do in these movies. There’s the jock, for instance, who gives Alfred a hard time for stalking and ogling his girlfriend, but to be fair, Alfred kind of brings it on himself, because his been told both by the counselors and the boyfriend to stop. The jock comes off as sort of a bully at first, but shares a surprisingly tender moment with his girlfriend, which I thought was kind of sweet. So, you don’t really want them to fall victim to Cropsy’s garden shears.
Cropsy is played by Lou David (The Last Dragon, The Exterminator) and is completely ruthless in his search for revenge.
The director, Tony Maylam, has mostly done minor things since then and in the last decade he’s only made a bunch of car-documentaries. However, he has also made another of my favorite movies, namely the futuristic thriller Split Second from 1992, set in a partly submerged London and starring the one and only Rutger Hauer.
But right now, let’s gather around the camp-fire for a little story, and remember… he might still be out there. So, don’t look, he’ll see you! Don’t breathe, he’ll hear you! Don’t move… You’re dead!
Until next time my friends…