The Burning is a 1981 slasher film directed by Tony Maylam, with music by Rick Wakeman. It tells the story of a cruel, alcoholic caretaker at a summer camp (nicknamed Cropsy, after the huge garden shears he carries) who falls victim to a particularly nasty prank which leaves him horribly burned and disfigured. Following his release from hospital, he returns to his old stomping ground and begins a murder spree.
The film opens at a summer camp, where a group of boys are planning to pull a prank on the weird, alcoholic caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David) during the middle of the night. They sneak into his cabin and set a rotting skull on fire, only to have Cropsy wake up and accidentally knock the skull onto his gas tank, bursting flames all over the cabin. The horrified boys then watch as Cropsy, engulfed in flames, stumbles out and falls down a ravine into a river, putting out the flames. He is taken to a nearby hospital to get skin grafts, and scares two medical students, by grabbing one of them with his charred arm. Five years has now passed, and Cropsy is finally released, wearing a heavy coat, sunglasses, and hat to hide his deformities, and quickly takes his revenge out on a prostitute by gutting her with a pair of scissors, after revealing his body to her. He then sets out back to the camp where he was burned.
The camp is filled with many characters, who are each going through their own situations: Eddy (Ned Eisenberg) wants to get it on with the shy hottie, Karen (Carolyn Houlihan), Todd (Brian Matthews) struggles as head counselor and trying to find time to be with his girlfriend, Michelle (Leah Ayres), and Alfred (Brian Backer) is trying to make friends with Dave (Jason Alexander), Woodstock (Fisher Stevens), and Fish (J.R. McKechnie), who are all trying to get back at cocky, cruel Glazer (Larry Joshua), who lusts for cutie, Sally (Carrick Glenn). Cropsy makes it to the camp as the whole camp is playing baseball, and almost kills a female camper, but hesitates too long. The whole gang then heads to the mess hall for supper, and Karen tells Michelle that she isn't sure if she wants to have sex with Eddy or not, then everyone goes to bed. The next morning, Sally goes to take a shower, and senses that someone is inside the showers, and pulls back the curtain, exposing a shocked Alfred, who runs out of the shower. Sally's screams bring Karen, Michelle, Todd, and Eddy who catch Alfred, Michelle insists that he be thrown out, but Todd takes him to have a stern talking-to. During this conversation, Todd learns that Alfred doesn't have any friends, and was just trying to pull a prank on Sally to make her laugh. After the discussion, Glazer attacks Alfred and warns him to stay away from Sally, but Todd breaks them up, telling Glazer to go cool off, and letting Alfred go and apologize to Sally. That afternoon, everyone goes to the lake to swim, and Alfred (who can't swim) is pushed into the lake by Glazer, who goes and swims over to the raft Sally's on. Dave, Fish, and Woodstock help Alfred out of the water, and begin to shoot a BB gun at Glazer, making him turn around and see them moon him, and to become susceptible to being pushed into the water himself by one of Sally's friends. Todd and Michelle, meanwhile have taken a walk out in the woods, to spend some time together, all the while being watched by Cropsy, who is now equipped with a pair of garden shears. Night rolls around, and Alfred spots Cropsy outside his window, but no one believes him, so him, Dave, Fish, and Woodstock go to the mess hall with everyone else. While everyone is eating, Karen tells Michelle that her and Eddy are going to spend the night together, and that she should be back before morning. After supper, everyone then goes to sleep, except for Karen and Eddy who sneak off into the woods by another lake, to skinny-dip. They begin to fool around in the lake, while someone takes Karen's clothes. Just as Eddy and Karen are about to have sex, Karen decides she's not ready, upsetting Eddy who tries to force himself inside her, making her slap him. Eddy begins outraged and orders her to leave him, which she does, only to discover that her clothes have been strewn all over the woods. She begins to collect them all, until she reaches her last article of clothing on a tree, where she is grabbed by Cropsy and has her throat viciously slashed with the shears.
The next morning, Michelle finds that Karen hasn't returned, and her and Todd go out and find Eddy, where they demand they know where she is, but he tells them she left. They take him and go back to camp, only to discover that the canoes have been cut loose and are floating around the whole lake around the island the summar camp is located on. Michelle doesn't believe Karen would do this, so she has all the campers fix up a raft for them to go on and collect the canoes, while other campers and counselors go out to find wood. Glazer goes with Sally and tries to pressure her into having sex with him, but she tells him to wait until nightfall, while Eddy, Fish, and Woodstock finish the raft and board it, along with two female campers, who then set off to find the canoes. Alfred feels that something is wrong, and begins to explore, while Todd reassures Michelle, that Karen is okay. Eddy and the campers spot a canoe and begin to paddle towards it, only to have Cropsy pop up with his shears and snip off Woodstock's fingers. He then swings his shears, chopping one of the boards apart, and hitting Fish through the chest, killing him. One of the girl camper's is then stabbed in the stomach, while Eddy falls back against a post, where he is stabbed through the throat. The shears then slash Woodstock's throat and face, and the last female camper is hit in the head, having her skull split and brains pour out. Michelle begins to worry when the raft doesn't return, but keeps the kids busy, while Todd takes Dave, Alfred, and a few other campers out on a campout. Night falls, and Glazer finally has sex with Sally, pre-ejaculating inside her, so he decides to make it up to her, and goes to get matches to start them a fire, and spark things back up. While he's gone, Cropsy appears behind Sally, and begins to shove the shears into Sally's chest, as she begs for him to stop. Alfred finds the spot where Glazer and Sally were, and watches as Glazer returns, thinking Sally is asleep, and uncovering Cropsy, who pops up from the sleeping bag, and rams the spears through Glazer's neck, pinning him to a tree. Alfred sees this and tries to make his way back to Todd and the others, finding them at sunrise the next morning.
He awakens Todd, and tells him to go over to the site, and Todd manages to get there, not believing Alfred until he finds the dead bodies. He is then attacked by Cropsy, who hits him in the face with the shears, and begins to chase Alfred. Alfred is chased all through the woods, becoming extremely dirty, and cut up, while Todd regains himself and chases after Cropsy, finding an axe and following Alfred and Cropsy's footsteps. Everyone else has awakened, and are waiting for the raft to return, and after awhile spot it floating towards them, but no one is moving. Dave thinks it's a joke and tries to swim in towards it, only to have a worried Michelle do it instead, and upon reaching the raft is bombarded with blood and the dead bodies, screaming and swimming back. Once back on the island, she has the kids and Todd took out on campouts to grab a canoe that is floating nearby, and begins to row them back towards the campsite. Meanwhile, Cropsy has captured Alfred, in a rocky hill, by forcefully dragging him by the throat towards an abandoned mineshaft. Todd follows nearby, and hears Alfred's screams, finally tracking him down to the mineshaft, where Alfred has the garden shears embedded into his arm, pinning him to the wall. Michelle makes it back to land with the campers, and calls the police to come by helicopter to save the kids, and anyone else still alive. Todd is then attacked by Cropsy, who steals the axe, and begins to swing it around, knocking Todd into a room, where Karen's body is shown, and cutting him up some more. Then him and Cropsy struggle, and Cropsy's disfigured face is shown, making Todd remember back to when he and his friends set Cropsy on fire by accident. Alfred is able to take the shears out, and finds Cropsy and Todd, stabbing the shears into Cropsy's back, while Todd makes him fall onto them. The police arrive by helicopter, while Michelle travels by boat to find Todd and Alfred. While Todd and Alfred are walking away, Cropsy pops back up, and attacks them, resulting in a struggle, until Alfred ignites Cropsy's clothes, and Todd hits him in the head with the axe, letting his corpse burn up. Then he and Todd make their way out to Michelle, who brings them to the helicopter to the hospital.
The movie was produced by the then new company Miramax Films run by Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob Weinstein. Harvey wrote and produced while Bob co-wrote the screenplay. With a budget of $1,500,000, they set out to capitalize on the booming slasher film craze that was soon to fizzle out. They also hired makeup effects maestro Tom Savini who turned down a job for Friday the 13th Part 2 to do The Burning. Savini has stated that he was only given three days to design Cropsy's makeup, which is why the murderer doesn't look like a burn victim, but rather it appears that his features have "melted". The movie didn't fare well with the MPAA, which demanded several scenes cut to receive an R rating; one of these scenes being the notorious raft massacre scene.
The movie also gave some of today's celebrities their start. Future Academy Award for Best Actress Winner Holly Hunter made her film debut here with a very small role as Sophie. She has very few speaking lines and is mostly just mingling with the main cast. Also making his film debut is Jason Alexander, who is known for his Emmy nominated role of George Costanza on the famous television sitcom Seinfeld. In this movie, he has a full head of hair and shows off his comedic timing as he plays Dave, the cliched wisecracking camper. Fisher Stevens, best known him as Ben Jabituya from the 1986 movie Short Circuit, also makes his film debut. Ned Eisenberg, who would later go on act in over 40 movies Million Dollar Baby and TV shows (Law & Order, The Sopranos), plays a bit part as Eddy. Brian Backer, perhaps best remembered as Mark "Rat" Ratner from the classic teen movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High, or from his stint in the Police Academy movie "Citizens On Patrol", also appears. Brian Matthews, who plays Todd, went on to star in several daytime soap operas, such as The Young and the Restless from 1983-1985.
Filmed in Western New York, according to the credits on the DVD. However, extras casting agent and location scout Mary Casilio Powell reports that the camp and river scenes in the movie were shot at various camps in Olean and Franklinville, New York while the infamous concrete ruins scene was shot in Model City, New York, a small town near Lewiston, New York. The film's climax was originally set in a cave system, but this idea was ultimately scrapped. Maylam and Savini give differing reason for this; Savini stated that there was a cave-in shortly before filming was to commence, while Maylam states that the cave was found to be heavily infested with bats. Whatever the reason, the filmmakers instead shot the climax in an abandoned copper mine.
The Burning found itself at the center of some controversy in the early 1980s, when the British video label Thorn-EMI accidentally released the uncut version of the film on videotape rather than the slightly trimmed version passed by the British Board of Film Classification. The tapes were impounded under the Obscene Publications Act, and The Burning was added to the video nasties list. The two major scenes of contention were Cropsy's frantic mass-murder spree in the "raft massacre" sequence, and the sight of a pair of scissors piercing a woman's flesh in the post-title sequence.
US DVD Release
The film was released on DVD in North America for the first time ever on September 11, 2007 by MGM. The DVD contains several notable extras, including a commentary by director Tony Maylam, a featurette covering Savini's make-up effects, a stills gallery and the theatrical trailer. Despite the DVD cover displaying the 'R' rating, the print used is the full uncut version.
Amazon.com had accidentally released the uncut version on VHS several years prior to this, and the video quickly went out of print, becoming a collector's item.
A soundtrack album featuring Rick Wakeman's score was released on LP in 1981 in Germany and shortly after in the United States and Japan. It features both the music from the film and remixes by Wakeman, known as The Wakeman Variations.
- Theme From The Burning (3:33)
- The Chase Continues (Po's Plane) (3:53)
- Variations On The Fire (5:13)
- Shear Terror and More (4:34)
- The Burning (End Title Theme) (2:01)
- Campfire Story (3:09)
- The Fire (3:25)
- Doin' It (2:42)
- Devil's Creek Breakdown (2:21)
- The Chase (2:02)
- Shear Terror (2:42)
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