[CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST OF THE BURNING!]
It out-Fridays Friday the 13th – despite lacking Jason Voorhees’ cultural cachet, The Burning is really the preeminent summer camp horror film.
With more compelling camp cannon fodder in the form of future stars like Fisher Stevens and Jason Alexander (who interestingly, starred in a Seinfeld episode called The Burning), the film also featured a better script, direction, soundtrack and effects than most entries in the Friday series, with the connective tissue, of course, being Tom Savini.
It’s a mystery as to how The Burning was lost in the shuffle with that kind of pedigree and with an understated rump-kicking score from cornball Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman.
Still, Shout Factory saw fit to offer this in Blu-ray form and we’re glad they did. Just because The Burning only barely earned back its production costs, overlooked during the early 80s slasher boom, doesn’t mean that Camp Blackfoot can’t go down in ignominy along with Crystal Lake.
While there’s nothing particularly original about The Burning (for instance, it’s got a silly prologue explaining away a killer’s motivations a la Hospital Massacre or Pledge Night, as well as a killer with a gimmicky kill method) it goes out of its way — to its debit, some would say — to really get us familiar with the cast of jubilant camp-goers in a way other films would not.
And it’s really all about them, a group of disparate folks with terrific interpersonal / sexual dynamics, in whom a viewer can really be invested, much more so than the cardboard hormone ragers of Friday. In that respect, it’s closer in spirit to the nearly equally compelling Sleepaway Camp.
You’ve got Alfred, the stunted Woody Allen weirdo whose gaze lingers on too long, the alpha Glazer who torments him and pursues coquettish Sally, jovial David (a then hirsute Jason Alexander) and trying to keep the peace, adult supervision in the form of head counselor Todd.
Filmed in Upstate New York, the state that gave us the legend that inspired the film (Cropsey), the Devil’s Creek campground / canoe getaway is instantly recognizable to those of us in live in Southeastern Ontario.
And really, the dense forest is a character unto itself, as this really is a remote territory. Who needs overblown kee-kee ma-mas when the mere rustling of leaves announces Cropsey’s about?
Top-flight kills put this in a league of its own as well, as Tom Savini really cut loose with those shears.
**** (out of 5)